HATE WEDDINGS. There. I said it. It’s not that I’m an unromantic grouch who hates love and happiness and puppies. It’s that I look at most wedding liturgies and think about how much better they could be, how much symbolism is already packed into the Nuptial Mass and completely missed because of silly accretions and omissions.
Yes, I know. Ranting doesn’t serve anyone, and it does nothing to fix the problem. Before I dive headfirst into a series of wedding advice for both musicians and married-couples-to-be alike, though, it would be helpful if we could identify what the problem is with most Catholic weddings. It goes beyond simple ignoring of the rubrics or bad choices of music. I can get both of those things at a normal Sunday Mass without having to buy a gift. The primary obstacle to good worship at most Catholic wedding Masses is the American wedding industry.
Is there a “wedding industry?” Only if you consider a business that racks up $40 billion a year an industry. Just think of your “average” wedding. It costs over $28 thousand. That’s more than a new car and a down payment on a small house for mostly frivolous things that won’t last longer than the day. We have made a huge business out of spending money for useless additions to weddings and pushed aside any preparation for actual marriage.
The over-planned, over-spent wedding contributes to many of the oddities and distractions that inhabit the usual bad wedding. You spent several thousand dollars on dresses and suits, so you had better have the equivalent of a fashion show runway as your procession. You opened one of your six different wedding planning books and saw a list of music in there that you listened to on YouTube, and I just love Canon in D so much. You just can’t choose between your multitude of friends, you popular person you, and now you have nine bridesmaids (and groomsmen) in the sanctuary with you.
None of these things is truly bad, per se (except Canon in D. Screw that piece), but the emphasis on all of these absolutely insignificant details (that all cost lots and lots of money) draw the focus of both the couple and the congregation away from what really matters. Do you need a test to see if you’re ready for your big wedding day? Answer one question. It’s not “What color are the bridesmaids wearing?” It’s not “How long is this ceremony so we can get to the reception?” It’s not “Where is the photographer, videographer, and the other photographer allowed to stand?”
The Are you ready? question is:
Can you recite your wedding vow right now? It’s three sentences; it’s not long or hard. This is a commitment you are about to make, a bond for the rest of your life. You should know what you are promising. If you can’t remember that, you are not ready, no matter how awesome the bagpiper that’s going to play the recessional is.
You don’t need anything else. Heck, did you know that you don’t even need to have a special Mass, that you could get married at your parish on a Sunday (if your pastor allowed it, and he should)? You don’t need to spend thousands on costumes and whatnot. This is a sacrament, a celebration of the Universal Church. It is not Your Big Day. The Mass is most certainly not Your Celebration any more than it is mine, except in a corporate sense.
What ends up happening is that because the culture, television, and the wedding industry have convinced us that “this is what you need for a wedding,” and we have bought it, it alienates people who don’t want or can’t afford all that. The Catholic marrying a Protestant who is already a little shaky on their faith might just throw his hands up and get married down at the JP. The poor couple who can’t afford even a fraction of the (let’s not forget) $28 thousand wedding might just choose not to get married at all. That is what happens when you make image more important than content.
There’s hope, however. It is possible to have a Catholic wedding Mass that actually looks like a Mass and might even contain a reference or two to God along the way. It is possible to have a beautiful, edifying liturgy that is truly reflective of God’s plan for marriage and gives a good starting point for what is truly only the beginning of a vocational sacrament. I hope I can offer some helpful advice in the coming weeks, giving some tidbits of what the liturgy actually calls for and what, in my experience, works best in these cases.
So here it is. Now that I’ve settled the problem of The Wedding Industry and everyone agrees with me about what is good and what is not about weddings, we can move on to details of making the wedding liturgy better. For these and more delusions, tune in next week!
Series by Andrew R. Motyka: “Weddings: Some Practical Advice”
Stay tuned for more additions!