Weddings and novelty

In a thoughtful post on the First Things blog, Anna Williams explores the joy of a Catholic wedding, namely that it frees her and her fiancé from having to be original, something so many couples attempt to execute in the arena of the wedding sacrament.

One blessing of getting married in the Catholic Church is this unoriginality. Besides sparing the bride and groom the burden of originality—writing their own vows, playing good but not overused music, finding meaningful yet not excessively obscure readings—the Catholic rite of marriage reminds the couple of a truth easily forgotten: Your wedding (like your marriage) is not only about you.

This last sentiment is important because it lacks the overbearance of sentiment. My generation and perhaps the generation before me have made the wedding about the couple and have showcased the bride and the groom and their intricate personalities. They strive to show how their wedding is unlike any wedding you have attended.

Too often we strive to overcome our place in the order of creation. Resistant of own creaturehood, we aspire to become the new creator. Or novelty has, it seems, become a virtue: I create new and thoughtful things (nova et mirabilia) for others to marvel so that they lavish me with their praise and wonderment.[1] What better place to do this than at a wedding?

Instead, Williams continues,

[T]he Rite of Marriage takes place the middle of the nuptial Mass, embedded between Scripture readings and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, is no mistake. It situates the marriage in what is, for Catholics, its broader context: its divine origin and graces, its connection to the community, its symbolism of the covenant between God and man.

The Rite of Marriage is better located amid the liturgy and the life of the Church, not a novelty insulated from them. The liturgy forms the days, weeks, and years of the Church and its members: days are formed by specific hours of prayer; weeks by the days given over to fasting and feasting; years by annual feasts and liturgical seasons, like Advent and Lent. The Mass itself, which is at heart of the Rite of Marriage as Williams points out, is received as a gift, not a formula of optional texts and movements able to be cast off at will.

I write this, in part, because my own nuptials lacked the blessing and sacrament the Rite of Marriage bestows. My wife and I are a “mixed marriage,” namely a Roman Catholic and a Presbyterian Protestant. We considered the wedding Mass at our Catholic parish church but ultimately sided with an event that wasn’t sectarian. We also wanted our wedding to be a Scottish wedding, complete with kilts for the bridegroom and groomsmen, Celtic artwork on the invitations and wedding programs, and a bagpiper to lead the wedding party from the rented, denominationally-independent chapel to the reception party.

Our wedding displayed many of the trappings of a traditional Christian wedding: Christian Scripture readings (e.g., the wedding at Cana, John 2.1-11), a Christian hymn (“Be Thou My Vision”), and the blessing of the rings in the Triune name. Our wedding was a safe wedding made novel by a Scottish theme. But our wedding lacked the Sacraments—the wedding wasn’t a part of the Mass, and the wedding didn’t include the presence and partaking of the Eucharist.

Our wedding was fun for our guests, joyful for us as a newly married couple, and a great party for all, but in many substantive ways, our wedding lacked the goods that the Rite of Marriage offers. Since our wedding, my wife and I have committed to having our marriage blessed and validated by our Catholic priest in concert with the baptism of our daughter. Such Sacraments mark our bodies and souls in specific and necessary ways that give the patterns of our lives meaning and intelligibility in the liturgical life of the Church. The patterns involve a necessary submission, which preclude the novelty our generation finds so spectacular and marvelous.

[1] An informing text on this is Paul J. Griffiths’ chapter “Novelty” in Intellectual Appetite (Catholic University Press, 2009), 203-15.

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