Friday, September 03, 2004

One of the things that many priests told me before I was ordained was that they would rather do 10 funerals than 1 wedding. I always thought that this was a bit odd, but I tucked it away as something to evaluate once I became a priest. While I am not yet at a point to concur with my priestly brothers' opinion, I am starting to appreciate why this is the case. For funerals the family are understandably mourning the loss of a loved one. The grief and shock of the death, plus all the decisions that seem to need to be made "right now," often leaves them wanting someone to tell them what to do, so when you sit down to plan the funeral Mass (or, what seems to becoming more popular here in NJ to my displeasure, a service at the funeral home) the families often are very willing to let you guide them in what to do. Of course the one exception is the question of eulogies, but even that is often easily address so that something consistent with the Church's Burial Rites and tasteful is done.

Things are often different with weddings. Often couples want everything to be done THEIR WAY, because it is their day. It can be worse if they have heard that THEY are the ministers of the sacrament, not the priest (which is correct, but that only emphasizes why it is so important for them to be PROPERLY FORMED so that they know what they are doing when they administer the sacrament to each other). One of the accretions (and VCII did want us to remove much of the accretions) which has been "added" to the marriage ritual is the Unity Candle. The lore is that the Unity Candle was first used on some soap opera 30 or 40 years ago and being that so many people take TV to be the source of behavioral guidance more that they do the teachings of Jesus Christ, everybody then "needed" a Unity Candle at their wedding. Since this was right at the time when too many priests were following a misguided sense of what being "pastoral" meant, they just went along with whatever the couple once ("after all, they might leave the Church if we say no," which of course most of these couples did anyway, de facto, by contracepting and aborting their children mostly so life could be more "convenient" and they could get more things; yet I digress).

My Diocese tends to be on the "liberal/progressive" side of things (not to my liking), yet I have been very pleasantly surprised by several "pushes" that the Office of Worship, with of course the backing of my Bishop, have been making. First, they are big time promoting doing RCIA as the Church calls for it to be done, including the fact that the Catechumenate (not including the Inquiry stage) no less than one (1) year so that the Catechumens can receive a more complete proclamation of the Gospel by going thru a complete cycle of Sunday readings. Yet I digress again. Another thing we are trying to stamp out is the Unity candle. We have been told explicitly not to allow it during the wedding ceremony, but rather encourage the couple, if they insist on having one, to using it at the reception. Well, yesterday I met with a couple whose wedding I will be officiating at. Previously I told them that we would not be doing the Unity Candle during the ceremony, but discussed how they could use one at the reception. While the bride at first seemed upset by this, because she had "dreamed" of her wedding for a long time, a patient discussion seemed to get her OK with using the Unity Candle at the reception. Then they met with the person handling the music for their wedding who told them that they had just done a wedding a couple of weeks ago which had a Unity Candle, and that the "new policy" does not take effect until this coming Advent. Even when the couple told them what I had said, the musician said that I was wrong, and then could have a Unity Candle at the ceremony. Apparently most people believe a musician over a priest, so they put it in their program that they would "light the Unity Candle." All my patient instruction was undermined in less than 5 minutes. Now it is the whole "but it is in print" thing. Now, I have never been married, but I do have 2 married sisters and remember their weddings well. There is a lot of stress right before a wedding (hopefully all good stress, but still stress). The last thing a priest wants to do is add to that. They want the ceremony to be a spiritual event that will firmly root the marriage in Christ, so that the marriage can truly be a sacrament in the service of the Church. Of course the expectation is that the Church "should be flexible, and bend the rules." They would never ask that of the municipal clerk's office where they need to get the civil license. "We want it OUR WAY." ugh!

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