Y NEXT WEDDING is scheduled for May, which means that, this year, I am spared the difficult task of balancing the joy of a ritual Mass with the somber character of Holy Lent. What does the Church have to say about weddings in penitential seasons?
She says very little, actually. According to the General Instruction:
Ritual Masses are connected to the celebration of certain Sacraments or Sacramentals. They are prohibited on Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, on solemnities, on the days within the Octave of Easter, on the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), on Ash Wednesday, and during Holy Week, taking due account of the norms given in the ritual books or in the Masses themselves. (GIRM, 372)
It is within the purview of dioceses and parishes to add further limitations, if they so desire, but these are the only universal restrictions. You will notice that, while weddings are permitted on Lenten weekdays, they are forbidden on the Sundays of the same season. Are priests and others involved in liturgical matters supposed to see in the rule for Sundays of a particular season a model for what is desirable on the weekdays of that same season? The letter of the law is not in question; it is clear that weddings are permitted on all days except those noted above. But, would the spirit of the law dissuade us entirely from celebrating weddings in penitential seasons?
Before the Second Vatican Council, it was not allowable to celebrate a nuptial Mass or impart a nuptial blessing during Advent or Lent. Only a wedding ceremony outside of Mass was permitted. Ought this former practice to influence our current practice?
The USCCB offer this information on the marriage section of their website:
There are no legal restrictions on when the Rite of Marriage may be celebrated, with the exception of the Triduum, as long as the various guidelines specific to the particular parish are respected. When the Rite of Marriage includes a Mass there are limitations as to dates and readings. . . . When a wedding coincides with a major feast the readings for that feast must be respected. Weddings during penitential seasons must respect the church tone and décor appropriate for the season.
The strictures of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, available on their website, are more narrow than the present regulations of the Roman Catholic Church. Personally, I find the Greek Orthodox policy admirable for its fidelity to a sense of sacred time. Following are their directives concerning days when marriage is not permitted:
Marriages are not performed on fast days or during fasting seasons; these include the Great Lent and Holy Week; August 1-15; August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist); September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross); and December 13-25. Nor are marriages celebrated on the day before and the day of a Great Feast of the Lord, including Theophany (January 5 and 6); Pascha; Pentecost; and Christmas (December 24 and 25). Marriages may be performed on these days only by permission of the diocesan Bishop.
When weddings are celebrated in Advent and Lent, many issues arise that do not surface at other times. How festive is too festive? What sort of flower arrangements are permissible? If it is a Friday night wedding, what food will be served at the reception? Perhaps the better, larger question is whether a nuptial Mass is really in keeping with the spirit of a Friday in Lent.
Musically, there are other dualities that yearn for reconciliation. The Gloria, for instance, is omitted on the Sundays of Lent and Advent; according to the third edition of the Roman Missal, however, the Gloria is prescribed for all weddings, even in the seasons of Lent and Advent. In another place, the Missal states that, “during Lent . . . the use of musical instruments is allowed only so as to support the singing.” Does this rule out instrumental music during weddings within Lent? When celebrating a wedding in Lent, which takes precedence: the ritual or the season? It would seem that the ritual takes precedence, but its celebration ought to be mitigated by its seasonal context.
Not many of the couples we deal with as priests and sacred musicians use the Liturgical Desk Calendar as their personal planner. For most, the cycle of the liturgical year probably registers as hardly a “blip” on their wedding preparation radar. It is therefore all the more incumbent upon us to be that “blip.” We could try not only to steer couples away from selecting a date in Advent or Lent, but perhaps even encourage them to choose a date during the Christmas or Easter seasons.
If we prepare ourselves well, the routine meetings we regularly schedule with couples can grow to be something more than occasions to arrange mundane details. They can become moments for formative catechesis, given in charity.