Marriage at Sunday Mass, in U. S. Catholic

Thanks to Timothy Johnston, who called my attention to this intriguing article over at U. S. Catholic.

Matt and I strongly considered asking to have our marriage celebrated at the 5:30 pm Sunday mass that we had been attending together for three years, at which we were lectors, eucharistic ministers, and active in the RCIA and Newman Club. We did not, for no better reason than that we did not know anyone who had done it, and thus did not know how to handle the pragmatics of it. We had a 7:30 pm Saturday mass instead, which fulfilled the mass obligation, and we invited away perhaps a quarter of the regular Sunday 5:30 pm assembly (including a considerable part of the choir who asked to attend and ministered at our wedding, which deeply moved us!).

If I had it to plan again (though on the whole, I’m really glad I don’t have to), I would at least ask. We needed the assembly there to witness our vows. We were blessed to have such a large part of our worshipping assembly with us, but to have it at our regular Sunday mass would have been an especially powerful symbol of the importance of that place and those people in the formation of our relationship.

On the related topic of using the readings from the regular liturgical calendar, we did not do this for our wedding, but we did for our son’s baptism, which took place six years ago today on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Having the readings recur every three years is a deep pleasure I did not foresee. Ephphetha!

27 comments

  1. My sensibilities conclude that wedding ceremonies, whether “sanctified” or secular is of no concern, have become anachronistic. They provide a more elevated rationale for the occasion of having yet another party, except that it’s not all that necessary to even “dress up.” (An aside, our wedding coordinator had to twice ask a guest this last Saturday to remove his baseball cap, whilst another middle aged male guest felt entirely comfortable “witnessing” and receiving the sacraments in his bermuda shorts and sandals.)
    Virtually every wedding this summer evidenced the following:
    A couple whose understanding of anything ecclesial or liturgical was indecipherable.
    An “aggregation” of guests devoid of any evidence of knowing why they were there save convention and the reception to come, virtually any vocal or visual assent or participation, and as mannerly as any audience at the local cine-plex.
    A wagon train of limousines, videographers, maids and groomsmen decked to the nines, flowers every other pew (we seat 750+) and every other sort of seriously expensive trinkets (crystal lasso’s etc.), and these weren’t rich people.
    And so on…. I intuit that even many of our clergy (in the general sense) have also resigned themselves to the decadence that overlays this generation’s understanding of sacramental marriage, and have allowed themselves to be lulled into a pro forma performance of their duties. Can’t blame them, really.
    I don’t determine this as discouraging. But I wish the church would not do what it does, typically pay lip service to the basic question “Why do you two want to get married in a church?” It’s almost as if the answer “Because” suffices and everyone sighs a breath of relief and starts ponying up large amounts of cash.
    And btw, we receive the same stipend we did 39 years ago, hundreds less than the market calls for now. And I’ve known of couples who think nothing of leaving a sawbuck honorarium for the priest/celebrant.
    Arranged marriages and kidnapped brides in Asia almost seem romantic compared to our cultured mediocrity.
    I still advocate that nuptial vows/rings can be exchanged at scheduled Vigil and Sunday Masses with little muss or fuss. Benefits?
    Witness to the “faith community” that does attend Mass regularly.
    Witness to the visiting guests who don’t, or aren’t RC.
    Impressing upon the consciences of wedding “stakeholders” the theological, life-long communal aspects of sacramental marriage, ie. Christ in the household, the Church as Bride of Christ.
    Elevation of the “we” ideal, rather than submission/suppression of the “me” ideal.
    Elimination of the false economy of stipends.
    Separation of church and state issue is somewhat mitigated, and the role of the church and her ministers clarified. As an added benefit (!)- some lengthy, redundant homilies could be truncated because of schedule demands. Ahem. Done now.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #1:
      Well, where I live, fewer and fewer people are bothering to darken the doors of Catholic churches to get married. Even fewer funerals, despite the pending bulge of demographic mortality… More and more people are taking their ritual needs elsewhere. The Small Church Getting Smaller camp perhaps approves the honesty of this.

      1. @Karl Liam Saur – comment #2:
        I dunno, Liam…
        I think we all should admit freely that any “one size fits all” perspective on our part that diagnoses symptoms into prognoses, especially as regards any Euro-USA perspectives on “the State of the Church” remain both myopic and arrogant to some extent. Ask a random 1000 souls “What makes a Mass vibrant and vital?” and you’ll get how many different answers? 1000.
        This old enigmatic, curmudgeony faux hippy observer seems more prone lately to quoting Stephen Stills than Avery Dulles, ala “if we want things to improve, we need to remember-the love you get is equal to the love you give.” Or worse, Grace Slick: “You gotta find somebody to love.”

    2. @Charles Culbreth – comment #1:
      What you describe would never happen at Walsingham. It’s literally dumbfounding that such cultural dumbness exists, And that it’s tolerated. Have priests forgotten how to say ‘no’? There is something dreadfully wrong with people who can comport themselves in a church for a wedding or anything else in such manner… and.. Not Even Act Embarrased so to do.

  2. In our wedding guidelines, we have what is called a “no cost, no frills” wedding that takes place at any of the Sunday Masses. The liturgy is the Sunday’s Mass as it is normally planned. The bride and groom walk in front of the priest with their two witnesses as the processional chant is sung. They sit on the front row and we allow no more than four pews to be reserved. They come to the altar with their two witnesses following the homily, exchange vows and rings, return to their pew for the Creed and Intercessions, may bring up the offerings, receive the nuptial blessing following the Our Father and recess with the liturgical procession.
    We’ve only had one so far and it was at our anticipated Sunday Mass and everyone commented that it was nice to have at a Sunday Mass–so it is available and I suspect older couples might want to take advantage of it who are more mature in their faith and don’t want all the fuss that most weddings entail.

  3. I’ve celebrated perhaps a dozen weddings at the Saturday vigil mass over the past nearly 40 years. I’ve offered the opportunity to dozens of others. Nearly all of those weddings involved two practicing Catholics. Overall these wedding masses bore witness to what it means to become a sacramental couple. The procession began with the customary gathering song and the entire mass was sung as is customary here. I gave the regular folks a heads up a week in advance but nearly all came anyway. They seemed impressed. The biggest issue involved assuring the family that the people would know who was going to the reception (ones with invitations) and who was not.

  4. Good on ye, Fr. Jack. I’ve only been so privileged to provide music at only one such Vigil Mass at St. Jos.Worker, Berkeley, about a quarter century past. It remains fresh in my mind to this day: the true liturgical wedding. Now if only the groomsmen hadn’t worn red, hightop Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers!
    Nah, still the best wedding ever. Ironically, just provided music for the runner up Wedding Mass in Flagstaff this last Saturday. One of my former students and a music staffer at our CA parish. I love it when everyone gets it rite!

  5. The material on weddings at Sunday masses in the introduction to the rite of marriage, and the rubrics for the ritual mass, are so perfunctory that it seems clear that it’s considered by the writers of the liturgical books to be a pretty common thing. (Compare that to what needs to be done to celebrate a baptism during a Sunday mass). Our parish does do Sunday weddings from time to time, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done during a regular parish Sunday mass, neither in this parish nor any one I’ve ever belonged to.

    Besides some of the issues discussed in the US Catholic article about cultural expectations, there is also the commitment of the parish: if Couple A is permitted to be wedded at the 10 am Sunday mass, then in the spirit of fairness, any couple should be extended the same opportunity. Some of the issues that raises are legitimate – e.g. it may greatly complicate the music preparation needed for a given weekend. I’m not saying these aren’t solvable problems, but they do entail a commitment by parish leadership that some teams may not be willing to make.

  6. My wife and I did it on Saturday in Jan ’96. And we were not the first among our friends. We picked the weekend with the Beatitudes after our pastor got back from vacation. We later befriended a family whose oldest daughter (then 6) related to us that she was amazed to go to Mass and see a wedding break out.

    Close friends did it four years ago, and had to contend with the pastor scheduling a baptism just before the 11:30 Mass at which they were wed. What a mess.

    My suggestion is to encourage it as a legitimate option, but treat it similarly to baptisms at Sunday Mass. The Rite of Marriage takes place after the homily. That’s it.

    1. I KNEW there was some reason i’ve liked you all these years, Todd! (I’ve always loved you as a brother in Christ, and a reasoned fellow traveler in LitMus.)
      You’re a Mensch! Ganz gut, und Gross Gott!

  7. It’s common enough in our parish in Seattle. Sometimes it’s for truly active parishioners, who couldn’t imagine not celebrating as part of their worshipping community.
    Sometimes, it’s for less than “honorable” reasons, but it fulfills a very pastoral need. Imagine, if you will, the couple who are barely involved in any church, who planned years/months ago a big outdoor wedding up on a mountain top, and only later discovered our diocese doesn’t allow outdoor weddings up on a mountain top. In such situations, the big Saturday mountain top party continues, but the wedding happens at our Sunday evening Mass. It’s an excellent easy gentle pastoral solution. So many brides and grooms are so appreciative, and their families, that our parish grows by leaps and bounds, as we’re welcoming and friendly. 9 months later there are baptisms, etc. 😉

    (PS. All of our weddings are free to any parishioner–Sunday Mass or otherwise. For non-parishioners, the cost is 10% of their wedding reception, musicians extra.)

  8. I love this idea and I love what it says about sacramental marriage. With all the recent hue and cry about such things, what better way to express what this really means.

    Our marriage was on a Saturday afternoon in 2007. It would not have occurred to me at that time to consider having the wedding during the Sunday liturgy, but I wish that I had. It is a longer story than I have time to tell here, but that wedding not only further united Mark and me, I always say – we married an entire community! And very happily so!

    FWIW, at the parish where I am employed, we do not “charge” for weddings. People are often surprised, as they often see everything as transactional. Many people are interested in this parish as a wedding site, because it has a long aisle.

    When couples ask what it will “cost” (oh, now there is a question!) I simply tell them that they should give what they can or wish from their heart and ability. Very often I hear in return, “Can’t you PLEASE just give me an amount?”

    With so many couples removed from the everyday life of the church, I am not surprised, nor do I judge. I hope and pray that something starts to germinate as they navigate this sacrament, and who knows what will come and when?

    I do imagine that seeing others get married at mass would be a particular sign to the community.

  9. I have participated in a few weddings done like this, usually either the Saturday evening vigil or Sunday evening. it works beautifully and reminds people of the sentimentality of marriage – which like all other sacraments ought to be celebrated in the context of the regular Sunday Eucharist, if possible.

  10. “I do imagine that seeing others get married at mass would be a particular sign to the community.”

    It also may be a sign to the community to stay away from that Mass as many do on Sundays where there is a baptism, First Holy Communion, or Confirmation.

  11. I think the issue of having a Marriage ceremony at a regular Sunday Mass brings us back to the problem of parish as community. How many people at that Sunday Mass will be at the wedding of two people who they saw as babies, toddlers, First Communicants, high school grads etc, and how many will be watching two strangers get married? It’s not a community celebration if the parish is a group of strangers.

    Some of the comments above seem to complain of modern day weddings that are exhibits of wretched excess. I agree that some people spend money they do not have or spend money that could go elsewhere. On the other hand, did anyone suggest that Prince William and Kate should have toned it down a bit? The time and place to establish a culture that celebrates without excess is every Sunday, not on someone’s wedding day. Let us not forget, that when they ran out of wine at Cana, Jesus did not suggest it was time for everyone to go home but rather produced some mighty fine wine!

    1. @Brigid Rauch – comment #18:
      wrote Some of the comments above seem to complain of modern day weddings that are exhibits of wretched excess.
      For myself, I would clarify my comments as reflecting a loss, or a lament more than complaint. If there is, and I believe it so, a culture of pro forma rather than engaged sacramentality and mystagogia at weddings in the Church, we do NO ONE any good service to maintain the pretense that doesn’t even register as symbol, much less substance. It’s not about the money or the accoutrement.
      The time and place to establish a culture that celebrates without excess is every Sunday… (truncated)
      I couldn’t agree more. That’s why a well-thought, well-honed and time-sensitive wedding on a Saturday Vigil or Sunday Evening would speak volumes to the fact that “this parish” doesn’t view the Sunday Obligation as a “Get and Go” corner market. Insofar as such enterprise at the parish would “drive” folks away, that is an even more lamentable, cynical capitulation to the practice of our faith.

    2. @Brigid Rauch – comment #18:

      And to John in #17:

      I think your concerns about people skipping out because of an extra sacraments and people having ceremonies in front of strangers, are overblown. Yes, I’ve experienced that. But I’ve experience the opposite as well, in communities both large and small. I think it’s up to the presider (and preacher) to make the obvious connection for the assembly.
      “And what about you, St. N’S Catholic Church, will you support these Christian parents as they raise their child in the faith?”
      “And what about you, St. N’S Catholic Church, will you support NAME and NAME in their married life together?”
      Etc.
      If it’s asked every time, asked honestly and with conviction, the community will get it.

      And for every stranger who quickly passes by the doors of our church for a wedding or baptism, whom we welcome were it Christ himself…there’s another wedding or baptism, of someone the community has known from womb to tomb.

  12. Why not use this concept as a way of sacramentalizing folks who have been married civilly? I know a lot of folks these days are being married by friends and family who have been ordained via email or by JPs or non-Catholic clergy.

    In this way, someone who wanted an outdoor wedding could have one civilly then go to church to get the Sacrament of matrimony. I understand this is the way it is in many European countries.

    1. @Antonja Cermak – comment #20:
      Given the closing of so many parishes because of the priest shortage, the reasons for requiring Catholic weddings to be witnessed in a church seem more and more trivial. These days, a park or beach is more likely to still be around in 50 years than the church building!

      1. Brigid Rauch – comment #21:
        > the reasons for requiring Catholic weddings to be witnessed in a church seem more and more trivial.
        Brigid, as Professor Emilio Lizardo once cried, “Buckaroo, donna you realize-a-whaddyou saying!?”
        Sacramental weddings (merely witnessed for ecclesial purposes) is likely the most tenable future given the political horizons of the secular agendae on the cultural and governmental horizons. And that may be one lynchpin of the survival of the rights separating church/state dominions, given the outcome of the Nov. elections and the rulings of SCOTUS and US Circuit Districts.
        I don’t care if anyone wants to paints this turn as celebrating “smaller and purer.” A truly sacramental wedding witnesses to the best “affects” of our faith as does a well executed funeral for those on the edge of doubt or seeking.
        I really don’t believe you meant to portray the “reasons” requiring a sacramental wedding as literally trivial, so “no harm, no foul.”But, if there is a remnant of cynacism regarding obligation and blind fealty, then call for the cessation of any and all rationales for singing/hearing the Divine Liturgy. Period.

      2. @Charles Culbreth – comment #22:
        To clarify – I was referring to the requirement that the marriage ceremony be held in a church building. I know a young woman who was told that her wedding could not be held in a park because of the importance of the church building as a sign. Today the only sign that building bears is a “For Sale” sign out front. The requirement seems to be more for the benefit of clergy than for any other reason.

  13. Many thanks, Kimberly and Fran (if I may address each of you by your first names).

    FWIW – my view is that the sacrament of marriage is something that we need to evangelize, and making marriage more visible to our Sunday assemblies seems worthwhile.

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