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The Sacrament of Marriage: “I do or don’t?”

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” —#1601, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Did you hear about the groom who turned up drunk for his wedding? Or the couple who had the extravagant wedding but separated not long after? A couple decided to go for photographs before they were actually married and kept guests in the church waiting for hours.

I was told about a groom who fainted at the altar and when he was revived at the presbytery, he whispered to the officiating priest that he had been drugged by his bride’s mother. The priest did not proceed with the wedding. The Church takes consent very seriously.

“The Sacrament of Marriage is the one sacrament in which the consenting parties are the ones who gives themselves freely to each other. The minister and the witnesses are there to establish the fact of the free offer and acceptance within a legitimate form prescribed by the Church,” Fr Roger Paponette said.

He added that consent, “the free act of the will”, is what establishes the marriage.

Fr Paponette clarified, “Many things can overwhelm the will or impede it to the extent that we can clearly establish freedom was not present, thus any action under such circumstances is deemed null and void.” For example, shotgun weddings, or “similar situations” where pressure is exerted, or intoxication.

“Then there are those situations that are permanent such as, persons who do not have sufficient use of reason or children, and those who are psychologically considered children.” Fr Paponette said.

A wedding or a social occasion?

Although couples go through a marriage preparation programme as mandated by the Church, couples and/or their families can go overboard executing the image of the perfect wedding. The sacramental aspect seems secondary.

“A wedding is for a day; a marriage is for life,” Fr Harold Imamshah said.

A particular concern for priests is the attire . He shared, “Brides, bridesmaids female wedding guests ought to cover their shoulders and backs. A wedding guest recalled the late Fr Michael Moses giving a bride an “ugly Hawaiian shirt” to cover up. Sometimes people need to “get a little embarrassment to learn they can’t come in and disrespect the church,” she said.

Fr Paponette commented, “There is a general loss of the sense of the sacredin our society… People take their imagination for Church functions largely from television.” Let us not forget the internet.

Wedding planners’ perspectives

Catholic News got feedback from wedding planners Melena Simon-O’Neil Managing Director of Emerald Designs and Event Services Ltd, and Simone Sant-Ghuran, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of www.trinidadweddings.com about the “wedding day” for Catholic couples.

Sant-Ghuran said in planning, the priest’s guidelines, Church protocol, and appropriate hymns are taken into consideration. In addition, “any sacred areas where wedding vendors, especially photographers/videographers, should not tread/touch”. On the “most unusual requests” received, Sant-Ghuran said most of these centre on the bride’s attire, “with some brides wanting to ‘push the envelope’ of fashion, but we must always adhere to the Church’s requirements. So, it may mean suggesting the bride wear a shrug/cover-up to hide a more revealing gown which would not be appropriate at the altar”.

Simon-O’Neil said weddings are generally not held on certain dates e.g. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Glorious Saturday.

She said some priests may refuse to solemnise marriages during Lent and Advent. “Where weddings are permitted during these periods, clients often request that no flowers or décor be added to the church as per church guidelines”. Simon-O’Neil made an important point regarding marriages in the Catholic faith: they must be conducted within a church building.

She added, “Catholic clients who dream of using an outdoor venue for their wedding ceremony are often disappointed when they are told they must comply with the view held by the Church that the church building is the most appropriate, sanctified and sacred setting for the Sacrament of Matrimony”.

She said requests are often made to include parents of the bride and groom, sometimes the bridal party in the ceremony rituals. “Parents play an important role in the spiritual development of the bride and groom and are often included during the lighting of the Unity Candle etc. Members of the bridal party who are Catholics will also be called upon to do the readings etc.”

Simon-O’Neil said Catholic weddings are rich in tradition and planners work closely with the parish secretariat and clients to ensure protocols are observed.

Photo courtesy: The Archdiocesan Family Life Commission

Of paramount importance are: time of year given the restrictions and exclusion of certain dates, availability of bride’s parish church/ parish priest on day selected, timeline for completion of mandatory pre-marital and spiritual counselling, retreat programmes, proximity of reception venues to bride’s parish church, and Church guidelines e.g. modesty guidelines and the selection of music as guided by the church.

Sant-Ghuran said the majority of Catholic couples view marriage as a sacrament but with changing times and many couples choosing to live together first “it is inevitable some will see it as an ‘event’.”

Simon-O’Neil said many clients are very much in love and understand they are making a big step in life. Some clients seem “caught up with the details of producing a classy and incident-free dream wedding rather than the religious or ceremonial ritual of the marriage. However, this is not the case in most instances, especially for Catholic brides”.