Wedding Balancing Act - 15th March 2015

For parish ministers, working with couples to plan their wedding ceremony can often be like walking a tightrope. It is no easy matter to strike a balance between the expectations of the couple (and their parents and friends) and the vision of Christian marriage as contained in the wedding ritual of the Church.

Many readers will have experienced, or heard stories about, weddings where the organisers have gone overboard in a misguided attempt to keep the couple happy and make the wedding “user friendly”.

The Church has guidelines and rubrics that regulate the celebration of all liturgies – “the work of the people”- including weddings. There are books like the missal, the lectionary, the marriage rite, and other official liturgical documents which must be respected.

Sometimes it is claimed that making concessions such as allowing readings from non-scriptural sources and music that is totally inappropriate in a church setting is permissible because it is a matter of inculturation which the Church encourages. Inculturation does not mean doing anything you feel like doing in liturgy. It is unreasonable to expect the Church to embrace fully the culture in which we live, one which often does not reflect the goodness of God.

Some parish priests and wedding coordinators are afraid to alienate couples who come seeking marriage by refusing their requests for odd inclusions in the liturgy. The feeling is one of “unless I do it the way they want, they might leave”. But sometimes the Church has to say “no”, even when that is unpopular.

For example, it is not always possible to meet expectations about the time when weddings are held. I had an email last year from a couple who wanted to get married at around 4pm on 2nd April this year. For various reasons, this was the only date they could hold the ceremony. They were quite upset at having been told by several parishes that they could not accommodate them on that day because it was Holy Thursday. They asked me which churches in Brisbane would be available for a wedding on 2nd April because “surely not every Catholic church would have a service on Holy Thursday evening so there must be some churches available that we could use”.

I responded that because Holy Thursday is one of the most sacred days in the Church calendar, no Catholic church in Brisbane, or anywhere in the world for that matter, can schedule a wedding on that day. Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are solemn days for commemorating the passion of Christ and are not appropriate for celebrations such as weddings.

The four days Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday are also the busiest time of the year for priests and deacons because they have many services to conduct and other commitments during this period, so clergy would not be available to perform a wedding even if they were permitted to do so.

There are also practical reasons for parishes not permitting weddings at certain times, such as late on Saturday afternoon to avoid conflict with the Saturday evening Mass.

It is not always possible to meet the wishes of couples wanting a Catholic wedding whilst remaining true to the faith and tradition of the Church.

Elizabeth Harrington