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For many young people their first contact with the Church after leaving school is when they get married.
Unfortunately this occasion sometimes turns out to be a time of unhappiness and lost opportunity. Such unpleasantness arises because there is conflict between the expectations of the couple (and their parents and friends) and the visions of Christian marriage as contained in the wedding ritual of the church.
Cultural ideas of marriage are shaped by popular movies and the televised pageantry of royal weddings. Couples want their marriage ceremony to be unique and personal – it is, they claim, “their / the bride’s day”. Nothing is spared in an effort to make the day special – invitations, dress, photos, transport, reception. The bride and groom often expect to be able to prepare their own marriage ceremony as well – writing their own vows, choosing readings from modern writers and using popular songs that mean something special to them.
It is generally understood that the sacrament of marriage is as much a grace-filled experience for the whole Christian community as it is for the couple who come to profess their love for each other. The Rite of Marriage belongs to the Church, and so the Church regulates its celebration. Marriage in the Church is not the private celebration of the couple or their families and friends; as liturgy, it is the celebration of the whole faith community. In it, the couple publicly give witness to their love for each other and express their hope-filled desire to share their lives as husband and wife, but it also speaks to the gathered people of Christian love and the relationship of Christ and the Church.
To help make it clear that the celebration of marriage is an action of the whole Church, people from the parish should assist in preparing the couple for marriage and help with music, decorating the church, doing readings, etc. Parishes might also consider extending a general invitation to parishioners to attend the marriage liturgy. Every effort should be made to encourage all present to participate actively in the ritual and not to be mere spectators.
The Rite of Marriage celebrates the distinctive way in which Christian couples experience Christ’s saving love. The sacrament of marriage immerses a couple into the mystery of Christ’s saving love, which touches and transforms their lives.
The rite, through the rich texts, the words of Scripture, and the symbolic gestures, draws them together as a couple and enables the faith community to be strengthened and nourished and renewed.
The celebration of this rite involves entering into a way of life where the couple grow in love and holiness, and are transformed in the mystery of Christ. They witness to the world that God’s love and power are present in the real world, and they share in the mission of Christ to bring the gospel of peace, love and freedom and justice to all people.