The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Are weddings a threat to marriage?

wedding_money_325x445.jpg A writer at the BBC is posing that question, and I can think of several members of the clergy who might agree:

Are today’s weddings a danger to the couples getting all the attention on The Big Day? [Rev.] Giles Fraser’s warmed to that theme in a Thought for the Day this week, and, judging by the media coverage his piece has received, he struck a nerve. (Read his entire Thought here.)

Money quote: “I’m delighted for Chelsea Clinton and her new husband Mark. But judging by some press reports, the most important thing about the wedding was her two Vera Wang dresses. And yes, I blame the media here, not the happy couple. For the pervasive influence of the media on the look and feel of weddings – not least those weddings that are featured in celebrity magazines – has encouraged an atmosphere of narcissism and self-promotion to work its way into the very fabric of the modern wedding celebration. Little wonder that, at their worst, some weddings can feel like an overblown vanity project, all justified by foot-stomping references to “my special day”.

I’ve heard some clergy wonder if the excessive costs of some weddings today might constitute a “sinful” excess, though thankfully they resisted the urge to reflect on that theological point during their sermon at the nuptials. Even if you are uncomfortable with religious labels such as “sin”, most people would accept that seriously excessive expenditure on a party is difficult to defend in a world where millions are starving and in need of shelter or clean water.

There’s a lot to chew on.  Check out the rest.

Meantime, as an antidote to big, overproduced weddings, take a look at this lovely account of two 80-somethings tying the knot. Be sure to check out the video at the bottom of the page. Keep a Kleenex handy.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 9:18 am

My parents financed the wedding of one of my countless nieces and nephews a few years back – it was the most expensive our neck of the woods had ever seen and they didn’t even get a slice of the cake.
When, a year later, the next niece was up for tying the knot, both my parents were in the hospital and the financing fell to me.
I offered her a simple, dignified wedding (would have been about $10,000) and double that as a nest egg to start life. She demanded a larger wedding than her sister had had.
This excess goes hand in hand with absurdly high expectations of the ‘perfect’ wedding. All to the detriment of the best possible preparation for a solid partnership in marriage. You are wedded on one day, your marriage is forever.
Frankly, I think the European solution – everyone has a civil union, recognized by the state and ‘marriage’ is performed by the church to be much more practical. We do see excess, but pastors are free to demand a far higher degree of preparation for being married and these obscene sums of money are not wasted.
Perhaps, like Hummers and MacMansions, this is a remnant soon to disappear of an era of hubris and waste.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 9:22 am

At a recent wedding I attended there were three planners and great expectations for a perfect wedding.
During the wedding the bride’s veil fell off and could not be put back on. The best man forgot the rings so the couple exchanged plastic rings. So much for planning. I wonder how long it will last.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 9:53 am

We are in agreement on this thread. Let us celebrate that.
I recall a friend’s wedding a few years back. They thought it would be ‘cute’ to have her dog carry the rings down the aisle.
The dog did OK during the rehearsals. When it came to the real thing, some fool of a ‘designer’ had decorated the dogs carrier with sugar roses. She made it ten feet down the aisle, dropped the ring carrier then ate it avec rings.
Their ring exchange were two rings from the café curtains in the parish kitchen.
That was 13 years ago and they are still married. Their now 12 year old daughter runs their household, and I mean that literally. Great friends but not the best organized.

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Gerard Nadal

posted August 6, 2010 at 11:13 am

On a billboard outside of Dallas a church had this message, white letters against black background:
Loved the wedding.
Invite me to the marriage.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 11:36 am

That is perfect. I could not agree more.
I wonder how many more stable marriages 87 million dollars could have bought over the last years, had the money been invested in educating young couples about the responsibilities of marriage.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 11:41 am

Oh, the wedding thing has been totally out of control for a long, long time. But cost, extravagance, tackiness and all that aside, the focus is absolutely too much on the trappings, the stuff, the show and not enough on what marriage is, and why a good marriage is such a blessing.
It’s fun and girly to plan and to want the poufy white dress and the flowers and everything, but all that nees to be tempered with serious introspection on the vow you’re making (emphasis on “vow” and all that word entails…) and the journey you’re about to embark upon. The parents and grandparents and various “elders” involved should focus less on using the celebration to make a display of their wealth (which is really an awfully primitive instinct, IMO) and more on sharing all the good things they’ve been blessed with through their marriages.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 12:02 pm

Deacon Kandra,
Before you edit my last comment, allow me, please to extrapolate on my thoughts.
This year, as every year, we tithed 10% of our pre-tax income to the order down the road from us. It please my despite-everything Catholic husband to support the Church and I like the open books and clear policy of the Sisters – that money goes, locally, to the aged, the poor and girls who would otherwise seek abortions.
Every year, we sit down and have a nice chat. For the last three years, donations, charitable spending, tithing have been down – way down.
Much of the reduced financial support is, of course, do to the awful economy – those who give most are nearly always those who have the least to give (not us). A great deal of the money, energy and volunteer support goes, however, to other concerns.
I grasp that you consider my marriage disordered and you consider yourself obligated, to God, to fight my civil rights. It is, however, well worth considering whether the exclusive focus of the last decade has truly furthered our mutual goals of advancing Christian charity and preventing unnecessary abortion? Anne Rice may not be quite the cause célèbre for ending our culture wars she desires to be (I suspect the tick upward in the listings has not exactly made her regret her very public utterances), yet the basic conflict is indisputable.
Back to weddings and marriages. In my home country, the moment we signed the registry, we were immediately bound to each other financially and in all legal regards, even were we to divorce. The ‘no fault’ divorce which I see nobody spending a cent to fight here in the US is at the core of much precipitate dissolution of marriage.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 12:07 pm

My 18th and 29th wedding anniversaries are coming up. My second wedding (my husband’s first) was in our parish church. No planner. No bridesmaid dresses or tuxes for groomsmen (we relied on the good sense and taste of our small group of friends). Cake ordered from the bakery down the street two weeks ahead of time, ditto for the very simple flowers. I spent the most time hand lettering the ritual book — all the readings, prayers, vows, slowly and carefully written in my hearts and on paper. Still on our shelf.
It was a graced filled celebration of a sacrament, surrounded by loving friends in the presence of God.
(First wedding was in the church with no floor or pews…and similarly low key on the froth and high emphasis on the sacrament.)

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Gerard Nadal

posted August 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm

I don’t think the extravagant wedding is the threat so much as it may be symptomatic of deficits in understanding the sacramental nature of what the exchange of vows entails. The real indicator is how the couple approaches the Church-based component.
With Catholics the first sign of trouble is the request for a ceremony as opposed to the Mass. Then comes the gown (do we really need to see half of the bride’s torso uncovered?), the music, etc.
Deacon Greg,
I’ve helped a number of friends with their annulments in answering questions, walking them through the paperwork, writing witness letters. It’s been bracing, and eye-opening for me, as I’m still in my first marriage. As Regina and I approach our 18th anniversary in a few weeks, we agree that many issues we had along the way probably could have been headed off if the questions from the annulment process were a part of our marriage preparation. They really are provocative questions and searing. Are you aware of any marriage prep in dioceses where these questions are incorporated?
It seems to me that this would be a good place to start.

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Deacon Norb

posted August 6, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Please clarify for all of us why you seemingly disapprove of a simple Wedding Ceremony instead of a Nuptial Mass. Both are sacraments. Priests can do either one and deacons (since we cannot do the Mass) generally do only Wedding Ceremonies but that does include the couple requesting a deacon to do the ceremony within some priests’ Nuptial Mass.
In many of the diocese of the Midwest, the bishops refuse to let “mixed-marriages” have a Nuptial Mass because of the inter-communion issue.
I have ten wedding ceremonies scheduled between now and mid 2012. All are mixed marriages. BTW: my divorce/annullment ratio is about one in twelve marriages where I am the presider — still way too high but I really cannot control that.

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posted August 6, 2010 at 9:19 pm

First let me say: Congratulations Gerald, on your up coming 18th Anniversary!!
IMO, the size of the wedding doesn’t mean the marriage will last. Those folks who spend very little and those who spend huge, outrageous amounts probably have the same chances of having a lasting marriage. Many couples marry at a courthouse, and live happily ever after. Many couples have a huge blowout and are separated within a few years. Often wonder who the folks who have those huge “celebrations” are trying to impress.

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Gerard Nadal

posted August 7, 2010 at 12:15 am

Deacon Norb,
There is nothing inherently wrong with the ceremony, as you rightly point out that both are sacraments. However, the attitude toward Mass and the Eucharist in couples where both parties are Catholic is often chilling. In my peer group from college, the dismissal of the Eucharist has not portended well for the future. At our wedding mass we had three priest friends and a permanent Deacon who helped run our young adult retreat program. All shared in the the wedding ceremony. It was beautiful beyond words, and though we had a large reception, we put as much into our mass as we did the party.
Thank you! Regina has been my greatest blessing.

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posted August 7, 2010 at 12:58 am

We are indeed in trouble when a standard as low and as simple as this,
can be so “high”, resulting in so many nullities:
Canon 1096.1 For matrimonial consent to exist, it is necessary that the contracting parties be at least not ignorant of the fact that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman, ordered to the procreation of children through some form of sexual cooperation.
It IS NOT about marriage prep. It is about keeping your word, repenting, forgiving and persevering. As an institution, the Church is way, way, way too supportive of those who walk away and not at all supportive of those who seek to make things work, especially those who have been abandoned and who ask the Church to act to bring their errant, Catholic(supposedly)spouse to an awareness of the reality of their promises and to behave accordingly.
It is deception to hold that the Church is powerless to do anything to make a spouse return to their marital partner. It can and should use the, medicinal, excommunication, after a spouse abandons a marriage and refuses to work at reconciliation.
This should be done 100% of the time when validity is upheld and the abandoned spouse remains faithful and wishes to seek reconciliation.
It is never done.
The bishop who refuses to issue a formal excommunication, in such a situation, should be expelled from the priesthood and excommunicated, with said excommunication being lifted only when he agrees to work to help heal the marriage he refused to defend, for the rest of his life and even if it is healed to work to support that same marriage as his vocation, if the couple so desires it, for the rest of his life.

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posted August 7, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Karl says:
“It is deception to hold that the Church is powerless to do anything to make a spouse return to their marital partner. It can and should use the, medicinal, excommunication, after a spouse abandons a marriage and refuses to work at reconciliation”
Excommunication is ONLY medicinal in the sense that amputating the cancerous body part will likely provide the rest of the body with a new lease on life. Cancer is not healed by amputation. It is only healed by an effective treatment that preserves the whole body as an integrated unit. There is also a negative after-effect. It is called “amputation ghosting”: the human being whose body part has been amputated can still “feel” it and thus believes that it is still there — often with disastrous accidental results.
In the 1940’s, 1950’s and early 1960’s the American Catholic bishops used excommunication rather frequently in marriage cases. It really did not work at all. All it did was to force the “ex-catholic” to become an “ex-catholic/anti-catholic evangelical fundamentalist.” Hundreds of small independent church congregations were formed by folks who fit this pattern. They did not leave Catholicism because of any dispute with dogma — they left because of some totally incompetent priest (or maybe even laity) hurt them spiritually, refused to deal with them because they were sinners and hounded them out of the church. They were no longer worthy (or sinless) enough to be considered Roman Catholic.
That sense of “false-triumphalism” is still with us today even though its most blatant form — Feeneyism — was declared a false teaching by the Vatican in the last days of Pius XII.
Karl, you are right. No bishop will ever make that mistake again but why don’t you ask one of them yourself why they will never take your suggestion seriously. The answer might surprise you.

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posted August 9, 2010 at 2:31 am

Capitalism is a threat to marriage.

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posted October 27, 2010 at 5:29 am

Yes, now a days everyone wants money. If anybody founds money. So I think…

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posted November 18, 2010 at 6:33 pm

I do believe that the primary focus of the “wedding” as opposed to the “marriage” is what threatens marriage today. Purely a case of misplaced priorities. How lavish an event is isn’t the issue really, the bigger issue is whether or not the couple has their priorities straight when it comes to marriage.

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