. . .This column was to be entitled, “Why Priests Hate Weddings,” but I thought that might be a bit too strong. Nevertheless, ask any priest about his work and he will quickly share with you the challenge of dealing with the Sacrament of Matrimony today.
The problem, in a nutshell, is that the real practice of weddings and marriage today is far different than the ideal of Holy Matrimony as instituted by Christ and taught by the Church.
It begins with the fact that so many couples (perhaps 40%) are living together before they are married. This cohabitation, along with the sexual activity that presumably accompanies it, reveals a lack of understanding about the sanctity of the marriage covenant. . .
. . .Wedding rehearsals are a constant irritant. Bystanders become liturgical experts, infusing the liturgy with every sort of personal preference and creative innovation.
Wedding liturgies themselves become parties rather than prayer, making it nearly impossible to maintain any sense of decorum, any sense of the sacred. Guests arrive late, the bride goes into hiding, the groomsmen have been sitting in the church parking lot drinking; flower girls and ring bearers are very cute but too young to walk up the aisle without crying; the music is chosen from the “top forty list” and the photographer scrambles over the pews to direct the action rather than record it.
It’s exceedingly difficult for the priest to stand in the pulpit with any degree of conviction; to speak about the permanence of marriage when guests are involved in their second or third marriage; about fidelity when spouses have been or will be unfaithful; about sanctity when the newlyweds process out of church never to be seen again; about children when so many brides and grooms carry a contraceptive mentality into their marriage.
The celebrant at my wedding, the late Msgr. Cornelius Burns, bypassed a lot of these wedding problems by giving us no options. We did have a range of approved readings, but beyond that, the whole ceremony was determined by him. The only other option available to us was presented dismissively - "We're not going to do the unity candle, are we?" I had one recessional song I liked and he "suggested" an alternative - which was "accepted".
He directed the rehearsal wholly by his own desires and went through it twice only. "We will not be waiting interminably for the bride," he said, "Even the Pope enters as part of the procession." And since a Jesuit friend who concelebrated (yes, I do have Jesuit friends) was not at the rehearsal, he ended up with no particular role on the wedding day.
And my wife and I greatly appreciated it, well, except that last part. Nothing to worry about or plan. Most especially, no competing interest from family or friends to navigate. There was only one interest that mattered - Msgr. Burns.
He was not a killjoy. He was red in the face and in tears from laughing at the reception where my best man, Tom Hoopes, made him the butt of several jokes in the funniest best man toast ever.
No, he simply understood marriage and the Mass are sacraments and made sure we and all our guests did too.