Monday greetings from the steamy Midwest.
Two couples were married this past Saturday. I attended one of those weddings. Mary Brewick, our worship resources editor here at WLP, married Ryan Kiefer at 3:00 P.M. at Saint Francis Xavier Church in LaGrange, IL. Here's a shot of the interior:
Mary and Ryan are graduates of the University of Notre Dame. Their attention to the liturgy told me a lot about their understanding of marriage as sacramental. There were about fifteen of us in the choir. There was a marvelous mix of musical styles for the wedding. The pipe organ was used extensively, as were piano, guitar and percussion, flute, violin, and trumpet. There was vigorous hymn singing (Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee) was the recessional. The celebrant was pastoral and sensitive to the needs of the congregation. His preaching was excellent. This was a joyful and honest celebration of the sacrament of marriage. Two young adult Catholics were joined together as one and it was obvious that they chose to make Christ the center of their relationship. All of God's choicest blessings upon Mary and Ryan.
Another wedding took place on an island off the coast of Rhode Island.
For several months I have heard about this wedding from a friend, a retired pastor in his early 80's. The young woman getting married had worked in his rectory for many years. She was an involved and dedicated Roman Catholic. This former pastor has expressed frustration to me over the past months because of this young woman's choice to be married on a beach, without a Catholic priest or deacon officiating, without any sense of Catholicism or sacramentality. His pain was obvious. He keeps asking the question, "Why?" "Why would young Catholics choose to get married like this?"
And I guess these two weddings on the same day really showed me a few things. First, I remember the hundreds and hundreds of Catholic weddings at which I was the musician. When I think back on all those weddings, all those music planning meetings with brides and grooms, or brides only, or brides with their mothers, I begin to wonder. For the vast majority of those weddings (maybe 80 to 85 %), the only time I ever saw the bride or groom at the liturgy was at their wedding ceremony. Musicians out there, you know the feeling. After you play the processionals, the priest or deacon begins with the sign of the cross and greeting and you are pretty much the only person in the building who says "Amen" and "And also with you." Dare I say that these kinds of weddings use the parish church as the "backdrop" for the ceremony? I know this sounds harsh and perhaps my interpretation is way off here. Sometimes during these weddings I asked myself if the couple perhaps should have had a civil marriage in another venue, rather than pretending that they were committed Catholics entering into a sacramental marriage. Perhaps a beach wedding on an island would have been more honest.
Then, that optimistic side of me takes over; the side that says that, even though there may not be much investment in the Catholic faith, in the meaning and potential of the sacrament, the potential and the meaning is still there. Perhaps for this young couple who do not attend Sunday Mass at all right now, something about those vows taken in a sacramental context will one day lead them into a fuller Catholic life.
Two weddings. Two choices. Statistics are showing a very steep decline in the number of marriages taking place in Catholic parishes, particularly in some areas of the country. Is this because young people are just more honest? Is it because the Catholic experience has begun to have little or no influence? Is it because these young people are embarrassed by a Church that has shown its sinful side through the clergy sexual abuse crisis? And what about Mary and Ryan? I don't think these two would have even conceived of a wedding outside of the Roman Catholic Church. It's just "in their bones."
What do we need to do to get the Catholic experience back into peoples' bones?
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.