A Time to Speak – Time for a wedding shake-up

Dr. Karen Shadle
Dr. Karen Shadle

May we ride down the aisle on bicycles? Can I substitute a passage from “Jane Eyre” for one of the scripture readings? Can we incorporate live butterflies into the sign of peace? We’ve been working on a choreographed version of “Love Shack” with the wedding party — where can that go in the service?

A favorite guilty pleasure of liturgy-and-music friends is to sit around and swap stories of weddings gone wild. Couples sometimes come to the Catholic sacrament of matrimony with skewed expectations and liturgical requests ranging from the downright bizarre to the patently sacrilegious. And it’s not their fault.

You see, the challenge of the Catholic marriage ritual is that it has a secular counterpart. There are no secular first Communions or secular penance rites. But the secular wedding is a cultural behemoth.

Have you ever flipped channels and stumbled upon Bridezillas? Rich Bride, Poor Bride? Beach Weddings? Bridalplasty? The Wedding Planners? My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding? Wedding Cake Masters? Say Yes to the Dress? Cool, me neither. But if I had, I could tell you that these shows all suffer from two major flaws. First, they focus on weddings, not marriages. Second, they esteem creativity as the highest virtue of a wedding ceremony.

This cultural pressure to create a one-of-a-kind wedding “experience” is what drives well-meaning couples to their odd requests.

It is not hard to see the potential for conflict with the Catholic marriage rite. A ritual, by definition, is repeated. It is never drawn up from scratch. While it is somewhat flexible, the essential elements remain the same, generation after generation. This is a profession of our Catholic faith.

In his apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” St. John Paul II said, “The [wedding] celebration should be simple and dignified according to the norms … of the Church.” Simple. Dignified. Faith-filled. This is not the stuff of reality TV.

How can we bridge the gap? You may be aware that the church has recently made some small revisions to its marriage rite. For example, the old title “Rite of Marriage” is replaced with “Order of Celebrating Matrimony.”

I see this new emphasis on the word “matrimony” as an effort to draw more distinction between “marriage,” a legal and cultural phenomenon, and “matrimony,” a specifically sacramental and covenantal relationship.

Other changes include an expanded introduction, some new prayer and scripture options, and two optional ritual adaptations from Hispanic culture — the Giving of the Arras (coins) and the Placing of the Lazo (veil).

This revised rite presents an opportunity for all those involved in ministry to engaged couples in the church. Now is a great time to assess wedding policies at the parish and diocesan level so that these are not simply a list of “don’ts” but truly a joyful invitation to the sacrament.

We must work with charity and sensitivity to the cultural challenges that couples face while remaining faithful to the church’s ritual.

The Office of Worship is committed to helping with this effort by providing workshops on the new rite for clergy, music ministers and any other parish staff or volunteers who help prepare wedding liturgies (information and registration at archlou.org/worship). We also have a number of helpful publications for sale and diocesan marriage resources online at archlou.org/worship.

If you are not closely involved in this ministry in your parish, you still have a role. I invite all of you to pray for renewed focus on the sacrament of matrimony and to encourage the couples you know who are preparing to receive this gift of the church to do so with faith.

And if you simply must watch Bridal Week on TLC, please do so with healthy skepticism and a sense of humor!

Dr. Karen Shadle is the director of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese of Louisville.

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