Monday, August 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Weddings

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.


Steve Raml said...

Sure wish I had an answer to your parting question, Jerry.

One of our staff members has been stressing for the past year our need to be "relevant" to our parishioners. I think that's a bad choice of words, but he's expressing the same concern as you did.

He points to a mega-church about two miles away from us - - one that packs so many people in on Sunday morning, they need off duty police officers directing traffic to manage the parking.

They have a bunch of activities not related to worship that get attention: barristas making coffee at various carts on Sundays, day-care for both infants and seniors,
organized sports teams for kids. A true sense of community, engaging young and old.

And there's the worship services - high energy music and powerful preaching. They advertise special preaching series, like one this past spring on sexual and internet addiction.

One of my altos used to attend there. Raised Catholic, she took her kids because those services were entertaining. But she said there was something missing - something she just couldn't put a name to. I asked if it was the Eucharist, and she said perhaps in part, but there was just something inside her (in her bones?) that drew her back "home". I felt like I was hearing a modern Prodigal story.

So maybe we do get into some bones after all - in ways we do not know and can't name.

Our parish strives to be welcoming, with lots of ministries that reach out beyond our walls but are still grounded in the liturgy as the source and summit. Liturgy is very important to our pastor and while I wouldn't describe our music as high energy or the preaching as powerful - both those elements are are solid at all our masses. We try to do our best with Religious Ed, youth ministry and adult ed, teaching the values of our faith.

In other words, we do the best we can and hope people appreciate it enough they want to join us, both for mass and for our ministries.

Congrats to Mary and Ryan!

Anonymous said...

Well Jerry you have given an example of very differing approaches to weddings. One of them involves the Sacrament of Matrimony and the other a civil marriage. to me our church should be concerned about the sacrament and still encourage people to shareit. The couple according to catholic teaching are the ministers of the sacrament. the priest or deacon is the official church witness. After that I am totally confused about decisions made today. Today I will only say, this is another corruption of catholicism by the American system of pleasure and freedom in all matters. How many so-called Catholics support the Pope"s call being peacmakers.

Anonymous said...

Jerry, what does "without any sense of Catholicism or sacramentality" mean, in the second wedding?

Can we assume those two things ("Catholicism" and "sacramentality") to be synonymous??

I'm beginning to feel more and more as though the question we ought to be asking isn't "why don't they stay?" as much as "why should they come?". What IS it really that Catholicism, in identity and practice and place and experience, has to call to people in this second decade of the 21st century that they can discover no place else?

And, whatever it is, ARE THEY FINDING IT IN OUR SUNDAY LITURGIES? And in the day to day, year to year flow of parish life? If we as Catholics can't ourselves put our finger on what "it" is, how can we really hope that "it" will be sufficient to call the Body of Christ around the Eucharistic banquet?

I think for many of these couples choosing not to marry in a Catholic church, their decision may indeed be more honest--and possibly, more sacramental (even if less Sacramental)--in their choices than those who choose to marry in the Church for appearances' sake.

I also think you are asking an important question...but I wonder who it is who has lost their way. Is it truly beyond a doubt those who choose not to be part of parish life? Could it be that WE may the the ones who have lost our way?

Scripture tells us that sheep hear and know the voice of their if we, who consider ourselves to be Church, are calling and people do not long can we assume it is because the sheep aren't paying attention?

It breaks my heart to even ask these questions...but at some point, I think we have to ask them.