Wedding Season Blues

May 7, 2014 | 13 comments

The wedding bells are beginning to ring, and the scent of orange blossoms is filling the air. It is the start of Wedding Season, the most dreaded time of the year for priests and deacons. Not a few of them will comment, in private, that weddings are the part of their ministry they despise the most. (Nota bene: For the sake of this post, I am distinguishing the wedding ceremony and the travails necessary to plan and celebrate it from the rest of pastoral care for engaged couples.)

I could probably fill a book with all of the things that couples preparing for marriage do that drive clergy to drink. But since this is a blog post, I will limit myself to the lowlights that we here at Catholic Answers hear about most often—not from the clergy, mind you, but from family members and friends of the happy couple who want to know why clergy seem to be so unaccommodating to those engaged to be married.

Scheduling. One of the first problems that usually arises when an engaged couple calls up a church is conflict over the date of the big day. Particularly in cases in which the couple is marrying in a Catholic church simply to keep the parents happy, very often a date has already been selected. Not infrequently, this date is selected based on the caterer's calendar instead of the parish's (and sometimes non-refundable deposits will already have been paid out to reserve that date). Then tensions rise when the pastor must inform the couple that the date they want will not work for the parish for any one of a dozen reasons.

Unless a couple has an objectively serious reason for needing to marry by a certain date (e.g., relocation, military deployment), they should not set a date until after they consult with the parish. In those cases in which a couple does have serious reason for needing to be married by a certain date, flexibility as to the rest of the planning would go far in encouraging parish cooperation. For example, if you are open to getting married on a day other than Saturday—the Saturdays in a parish calendar can be booked up to a year in advance—let the parish know and ask for options.

And let's not forget the question of weddings during Lent. I have heard from many people wondering whether the Church "allows" weddings during Lent. Oftentimes they have heard from their parish that "weddings are not held during Lent."

Weddings can be held during Lent, but many parishes do not schedule weddings for Lent—both because of the penitential nature of the season and because parish calendars during Lent are already filled with other events during this important season on the liturgical calendar. Again, unless there is an objectively serious reason requiring marriage during Lent, ordinarily a couple should respect the policies of the parish.

Payment. Left to their own devices many Catholics can be stingy in compensating priests and deacons for their time and labor. I once received a flurry of angry missives after suggesting that a Catholic who wanted to take a priest along as a chaplain on a trip provide the priest with a stipend of at least $100 per day over and above all travel costs, room and board, and chaplain-related expenses. (A stipend of $100/day is a "wage" of around $12/hour for an eight hour day.) One woman told me that "the privilege of holding the body and blood of Christ is payment enough" for a priest. Others suggested that a priest expecting adequate payment for his service is engaging in simony—evidently forgetting the scriptural dictum that "the laborer deserves his wages."

The very fact that many Catholics tend to be close-fisted in compensating priests for their time and labor in ministry may be one reason why many retired diocesan priests struggle to pay their bills. I once read the account of a Catholic who met a retired priest who actually had to eat his meals at the local soup kitchen because he was hungry and had no other way to afford food! (For anyone who is inspired by this account to help struggling priests in need, I recommend checking out the work of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, which provides services and financial assistance for priests in straitened circumstances.)

Frankly, Catholics who are shelling out thousands of dollars—and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars—to wedding vendors to create My Day can afford to be generous with the priest or deacon who is presiding at their wedding. They can also afford to be generous with the parish that is facilitating the wedding. That means coughing up any set stipend without complaint and giving more if possible. In cases where the couple does have serious financial difficulties and is struggling to pull together a modest wedding, they should let their presider and the parish know about their circumstances and ask for options.

Cooperation. Ever wonder why you seem to hear the same wedding homily, hitting all the same points, at every wedding you attend—no matter which readings are selected? Oh, maybe there will be a quick mention of the readings, but they seem like they were dropped into the storyline like Mad Libs insertions. That's because they can be if a couple doesn't give serious attention to the readings they select and give their choices to their presider quickly enough for the homilist to do more than pull a prepared homily from his files and fill in the blanks with the couple's readings.

This is one example of a larger problem: While couples oftentimes expect service with a smile from clergy and parishes—to the extent that they can become grumpy when they do not receive it—couples can sometimes be less than cooperative with clergy. From not honoring appointments, to not completing pre-marital counseling and other prerequisites in a timely fashion, to dithering over liturgy selections, couples sometimes do not consider it important to be respectful of their presider's and parish staff's time and needs. If you make an appointment, keep it (or call and apologize); if you have a commitment, honor it; if you want a homily tailored to you as a couple, get the homilist your choices for Scripture readings ASAP.

Liturgical add-ons. Speaking of the liturgy, the marriage ritual in the Roman rite of the Catholic Church already offers a couple wide latitude in selections. They can choose readings from dozens of scriptural options; they can choose prayers they would like to hear prayed during the marriage rite; they have several options for saying their vows and, in the U.S., more than one choice for the form of the vows (although they are not allowed to edit those approved forms for the vows according to their personal vision of marriage). Not only that, but they can choose their liturgical music and invite friends and family to participate in the liturgy to varying extents.

Even so, complaints are heard when clergy draw some boundaries. Some presiders dislike the American custom of the unity candle, pointing out that the unity candle is a wedding industry fad. Others place limits on music, pointing out that "Here Comes the Bride" is not actually liturgical music but is taken from an opera by Richard Wagner. Some will suggest that popular wedding customs that are not found in the Catholic marriage ritual—jumping a broom; pelting the couple with rice; even, believe it or not, laying flowers at the feet of a statue of the Blessed Virgin—be done outside the nuptial liturgy (either after the ceremony or during the reception). Engaged couples or their families will protest, assuming that these customs are a fundamental ingredient of the Wedding Experience and that My Day won't be the same without them.

Assume that your presider wants as much as you do for you to have a memorable experience and is not acting punitively. It is not disrespectful to ask for clarification about why he prefers to do something a certain way, and a presider should be careful not to make his preferences mandates (i.e., saying things like "Because the Church says so!" when the Church is silent on the matter). But a basic willingness to defer to the presider's judgment on non-essential, extraordinary customs to be included in the nuptial liturgy is only reasonable, and does not mean you cannot observe those customs outside the nuptial liturgy.

Respect for the premises. Rather than provide a laundry list of all the ways in which couples and their families have (mis)behaved during weddings, I'll provide a quick list of a few Do's and leave the Don'ts to your imagination—and to your pastor to outlaw:

  • Do ride herd on your photographer. He should not be dangling over the altar for just the right shot of your first kiss. He should also be reminded to take posed shots quickly and not linger unnecessarily over arranging your cast and crew. And ask your ushers to keep an eye on guests armed with their own cameras, herding back to their pews anyone who rushes the sanctuary for snapshots to be live-blogged on Facebook.
  • Do leave the church in better condition than you found it. Programs left in pews (or on the floor) should be gathered; the pews should be checked for lost belongings; and no one should be allowed to release anything, throw anything, blow anything, or smoke anything anywhere on church property.
  • Do leave the furniture alone. No moving of pews or kneelers or any other sanctuary furniture (don't even ask to do so!) unless the parish offers you the opportunity. If you need extra chairs for overflow crowds, offer to take responsibility for setting them up according to the church's specifications. Then be sure to instruct your ushers not to leave for the reception before they either load the chairs into vehicles for removal (if the chairs were rented or belong to you) or store them properly for the parish staff (if the chairs belong to the parish).
  • Do save your receiving line for your reception. The church is God's house, not yours. Clergy, as God's representatives on earth, have the privilege of greeting congregants after Mass. Your greetings to family and friends should take place at your reception site, where you will be the host. On a practical note, saving the receiving line for the reception means that you will be able to clear the parish premises of your wedding guests and accoutrements in a more timely fashion, making it easier for the parish's staff and maintenance crew to convert the parish back to its everyday set-up (especially if there will be a Saturday vigil Mass following your ceremony).
  • Do cooperate with reasonable modesty standards. The clothing of the wedding party should meet any guidelines given by the parish. Pass on those guidelines to your guests, and arrange to have on hand a few shawls for any guests who did not get the memo. (Feel free to blame the parish for the standards if you need to. Just ask your ushers to smile sympathetically and say, "I'm so sorry, but the pastor insists.")

Give thanks. Finally, when all is said and done, try to remember that your presider and your parish are not mere wedding vendors, who do a job for pay and need nothing more than a check and a handshake at the end of the day. When you are writing out your thanks to family and friends for all that they did and gave to make your wedding day special, remember to also write a letter of gratitude to the pastor of the parish. Try to recall for him one or two special memories of the day that he and his staff had a hand in making possible. A memento of your wedding, such as a snapshot of the two of you standing with your presider, would be charming.

The bottom line is that weddings shouldn't be the most dreaded part of ministry for clergy. While weddings can become a routine part of a priest's or deacon's years of ministry, Catholic couples should do all they can to share the joy of their special day with their presider and parish by taking care to be courteous and considerate.

These days, the effort on your part to be courteous to and considerate of your presider and parish staff while planning your wedding will make your wedding stand out for them in their memories as one of the best days of their lives.


Michelle Arnold is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers. You can visit her personal blog or contact her online through Facebook.
Good News About Sex And Marriage: Answers To Your Honest Questions About Catholic Teaching
This book is a kind of catechism of Catholic teaching on sex and marriage...perfect for marriage prep courses, RCIA, adult education and marriage enrichment.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  P Edward Murray - Yardley, Pennsylvania

How about realizing that not everyone gets married and many of us are still single, may want to marry but for some reason God has chosen for us not to marry?

It's always all about weddings, marriage 24/7 but very little attention paid to those of us who are single and will remain so for the rest of our lives...

Do you understand that you are telling us that we do not count?

May 7, 2014 at 8:24 am PST
#2  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

"Do you understand that you are telling us that we do not count?"

Um, no, actually I don't—especially since I too am single and have written before on the single life here at the Catholic Answers Blog. This time I chose to write about something else. I'm sorry that this post didn't meet your needs, but not every post can be relevant to each and every person all the time. I hope the next one I write will be more helpful to you.

May 7, 2014 at 8:37 am PST
#3  Cherie Kaufman - La Crosse, Wisconsin

I enjoyed this post; and it had some good tips for weddings, some that I had not thought of, such as making sure that the photographer is not distracting from the Mass, and saving the receiving line for the reception.

I have to say though, that I would never dream of passing out shawls to guests deemed to be dressed inappropriately. I can't imagine publicly embarrassing someone like that at my wedding. Certainly, the bridal party is responsible for dressing according to any guidelines that the parish has set, but there is no way to control what your guests wear without being downright rude. Nor would I feel the need to control what they wear.

May 7, 2014 at 8:47 am PST
#4  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Cherie, engaged couples "control what [their] guests wear" all the time. That's why you see notations like "black tie," "formal," etc., on wedding invitations. If a couple can expect their guests to meet their preferred standards of formality, they can also inform guests of the parish's modesty standards. Guests who either did not see an invitation or did not follow the parish's guidelines can indeed be handed a shawl and told, kindly, "I'm so sorry, but the pastor insists."

May 7, 2014 at 9:09 am PST
#5  Mark Scamp - Pekin, Illinois

I am speechless as to the first two comments. Sad.

Great article Ms. Arnold. God bless.

May 7, 2014 at 10:51 am PST
#6  Carlin Tesoro - San Diego, California

Agreed, this is solid advice for newly engaged couples. In regards to gifting the priest: When my husband and I were looking at gifts for the priest, I couldn't help but think of how many wedding pictures, crosses, rosaries, etc. that he had received over the many years he has been serving his parish. It had been suggested to me that along with a monetary gift, provide a gift that benefits many. An example of this would be purchasing a gift from a monastery who provides goods that your priest can enjoy or share knowing that the church is also being supported. There are tons of options and most of these things are completely affordable. Not to mention, it will be a completely unique gift that will surprise him! We got our gifts from http://www.monasterygreetings.com/

May 7, 2014 at 12:09 pm PST
#7  Phil Petrucci - Ft. Washington, Pennsylvania

Cherie - I've been to a number of Jewish weddings and they always give out yarmulkes to the Men. I've also seen at a conservative Jewish wedding where shawl.

I'm Catholic, but I was told that I still must wear on out of respect to the Rabbi, Synagogue, and Jewish people. I never felt I was being forced to wear one by the bride and groom.

This is the same thing. Have Shawls for some of you guests is actually a service you are providing them. I've been to some weddings where a girl/woman felt awkward for showing too much when other women were either modestly dressed or wearing a shawl.

Finally, my in-laws are Jewish and whenever they attend a wedding at a Synagogue or Church, they always bring a shawl.

God Bless

May 7, 2014 at 1:28 pm PST
#8  Christopher Travis - Huntsville, Alabama

A little while back I went to confession at a Church that had just had a wedding. There were people knelt down praying inside preparing for confession yet a few of the girls from the wedding kept coming in and out of the Church gathering left over flowers, they were extremely loud, both in talking and laughing. They were Catholic girls because they did seem to know the correct ruberics, although done sloppily and without reverence. If that wasn't bad enough they all had on short skirts, and not only were they much too short, they were also skin tight. It is a shame that people do not get it that they are in the Lord's house and not a soroity house! Ok I'm done complaining for the day lol.

May 8, 2014 at 5:12 am PST
#9  Marty Goforth - Davidson, North Carolina

Just like everything else, wedding day should be a celebration of the two highest commandments. Love God with all our hearts by remembering that marriage is a sacrament and giving it the proper respect. Love our neighbors by respecting the needs and desires of priests and parish staff. I wish I could go back and correct my own attitude and actions at my wedding... :(

May 8, 2014 at 8:59 am PST
#10  Katie Lou - Portland, Oregon

Michelle: that picture of the sour bride--what a riot! So funny! And, from what I've read about some weddings these days, more accurate than one would think. Thanks for bringing up some gentle reminders. There are probably some who could do with more heavy duty reminders.

May 8, 2014 at 11:25 am PST
#11  gwen green - Cobble Hill, British Columbia

Good article, overall. Actually our daughter is getting married this summer so was interested in what you had to say. There were some good reminders, particularly of remembering to pay the priest. I think though, that you may be misinformed about the laying of flowers at Mary's feet. My daughter is probably marrying according to the EF (Latin) mass since she directs that choir normally, and it is definitely part of the liturgy. Perhaps some people have tried to add it to the Novus Ordo (new order) Mass.

May 8, 2014 at 2:10 pm PST
#12  Michelle Arnold - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Gwen, I looked into your assertion about the flowers for the Virgin, and that custom is also not found in the marriage ritual in the extraordinary form:

http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/rituale-romanum/67-matrimony-rite.html

The closest it comes to approval is this notation: "Wherever other praiseworthy customs and ceremonies are used in the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony, it is fitting that they be retained" (6).

My guess, and it is solely a guess, is that this custom started as a spontaneous public gesture by some now-forgotten Catholic couple that other Catholic couples found spiritually uplifting and retained.

This often happens with wedding customs, and not just in the Catholic Church. For example, the British royal family's wedding custom of laying flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey began in 1923 when the then Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) did so as a spontaneous gesture of love for her deceased brother.

May 8, 2014 at 3:21 pm PST
#13  Monica Turner - Casper, Wyoming

Michelle,

Thank you so much for writing this. My fiancé and I are having great trouble with our preparation for marriage and I am hoping you can help. Our troubles seem to center more around the actual marriage preparation than the ceremony itself (we've had several parishes tell us that they'd be happy to perform our ceremony).

This is our story:
We got engaged at the end of 2012 in Pennsylvania, shortly before moving to Wyoming. We set a date for 2015, assuming this would naturally be plenty of time to prepare for the sacrament and save money to pay for the reception.

When we moved to Wyoming, I picked a parish because I liked the name and went to mass there. I asked the priest about marriage preparation. Recognizing me as a newcomer, he asked if we planned to marry in his parish. We do not. Upon hearing this, he quickly (and somewhat rudely) sent me along my way.

We chose a new parish (we were lucky enough to have moved to an area with three to choose from!). Here, everybody was quite friendly and we were soon put in contact with the deacon to begin our preparation. In this experience, we definitely found scheduling to be difficult, because the deacon had a very busy schedule, as did we - my job requires me to travel during the week to various regions of the state and neighboring states, and the deacon was only available during the week, so we could only meet during weeks that I was working in town and he happened to be available. Nevertheless, we made it work for probably 8 months and met 4 times. At that point, we had to move again, this time to another city in Wyoming, one in which I work even more infrequently. When we shared this with the deacon, he told us that since we had met so infrequently and have more than a year before our preferred date and every parish handles marriage prep differently, our best bet would be to start all over in our new parish. He threw our paperwork away in front of us.

At this point, I started doing some online research into how each parish and diocese handles marriage prep and found that the Diocese of Scranton (where we hope to be married) conveniently bundles all of the classes required for marriage preparation into a single "Pre-Cana Day of Reflection" which can also be done online if necessary, whereas parishes in the Diocese of Cheyenne tend to spread these classes out over numerous Saturdays throughout the year (difficult with my fiancé's new 7 day/week work schedule).

We had looked at a venue in Pennsylvania for our reception that we liked and would be convenient for family to get to (of course we did no planning other than to look - we were not about to put the cart before the horse), so I called the church near the venue to see if they could help us, only to find that they only performed weddings or did marriage prep for parishioners.

It occurred to me that it may be better to get in touch with the parish priest of my old parish (new to the parish since I had left the area) and see if he could possibly help us. When I spoke to him he congratulated us on wanting to marry in the Church and said he would be happy to perform the ceremony - if only we finished our preparations elsewhere.

That brings us to where we are now. I feel as though nobody is interested in helping us to prepare for marriage, like we've been put down, and also as though it may be God's way of telling us we are not worthy of His sacrament.

We have not spoken to anyone at the parishes in our new city about marriage preparation. Quite honestly, I am terrified to be told "no" again and feel very much like this is our last chance.

Is there anything you can share to increase our chances of being offered help in preparing for marriage? Are we doing something terribly wrong? Is marriage a sacrament only for people who have already found single geographic location to stick to permanently?

If the new parish we are attending does not want to prepare us for marriage, are there any other resources or tips you could offer?

Thank you so much, sorry for the long comment.

June 24, 2014 at 8:38 pm PST

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