Weddings are life--not merely landmarks on the path of life, but life itself.

They are lives coming together, families merging, promises made perhaps of yet more lives to come. Two people, despite all the risks and dangers, despite the need to give up so much of their individual freedom in service of their common life, perhaps ignorant of the problems they will surely face, nonetheless commit themselves to one another in love. They are, as G.K. Chesterton once remarked, both reflections of the church and its continuation. Thus the church should celebrate a wedding with joy and wonder. They are special events in the life of a parish; indeed, in a certain sense they are the life of the parish. Can anyone seriously question these assertions? The answer is that for all practical purposes many priests and parish staffs do indeed question them. For them, a marriage is an attack on the life of the parish, a nuisance, an offensive demand on the clergy and the parish staff. Weddings require time, patience, work. Brides and brides' mothers hound the rectory. They demand everything be done their way. Brides and bridegrooms are indifferent to the obligation to deliver the required papers. One puts time and energy into the wedding and then never sees the couple again. One does one's best therefore to get rid of them. The couple doesn't really live in the parish even though one or the other may have grown up in it. They are not registered in the parish, even though they live in it. They have not given sufficient notice. There is no room at the church for a wedding for six months. No, we can't do weddings on Friday or Sunday.
If these strategies do not drive them away--and, perhaps, out of the church, but that doesn't seem to matter--one turns the wedding into an obstacle course, a series of rules that must be honored, requirements that must be fulfilled, hassles that must be overcome. I was a presider at a wedding once at the rehearsal for which the local pastor made the readers practice the readings over and over again, thus making them even more nervous. I think he was tempted to make me read the Gospel, but he didn't. Many priests--not all by any means--simply don't like weddings and they don't like to have to put up with people who are dizzy in love. How many? I don't know. Too many. One would be too many. The urge to punish those who want to get married becomes almost irresistible for many priests when there is reason to think the couple might be living together. Then with all the power of the Roman Catholic Church these priests endeavor to punish them for their sins: they must stop living together before the marriage or at least they must promise to stop sleeping together. The marriage must be delayed until their good faith is established. They must absolutely go to confession the night before the wedding so their marriage will not be sacrilegious. Again we might be driving them out of the church, but the church doesn't have much room for cohabitors anyway. In truth a couple that is cohabiting has as much right to the sacrament of matrimony as anyone else. Canon law says the laity have the right to the sacraments by virtue of their baptism, not their registration in the parish, and clergy may not deny them that right. Whether they are sleeping together or not is none of the clergy's business. Even if they have the same address, priests have no right to ask them whether they share the same bed. God punishes sins, we don't.
I don't believe cohabitation is right. It is not a good preparation for marriage and it is often an exploitation of the woman, even if she initiates the exploitation. However, their sexual life when they present themselves at the rectory is between them and God. We may not deny them the sacraments or put special obstacles in the way of their reception of the sacraments without violating canon law. Quite the contrary. One could argue there is a special reason to turn such a marriage into a celebration. A couple has decided they want there to be more to their common life than the pleasures of the bedroom. They want to make a permanent and public commitment to one another in the presence of their families and the church. How wonderful! Are they sorry for their sins? Did they even think it was a sin? That's up to God to judge, not the parish priest or anyone else! Let us celebrate their courage to begin a family. How many people are driven out of the church by what priests do when they want to marry? How many have only bitter memories? A lot if one is to judge by their stories. God also forgives priests and parish staffs who do that to people in love. What should you do when they try to do it to you? Appeal to the bishop and if that doesn't work, appeal to the pope!
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