For those who had a wedding planned this year, the disruption imposed by Covid19 has created all sorts of complications, frustration and additional expense.
Last week, a young man from New Zealand called us. His fiancé lives in Canada and neither country will permit the other to enter for a wedding. Fortunately, they discovered that they could meet in France, get married there, and then he could return to Canada with a spouse visa to take up married life as planned.
Getting married in France was not what they planned, and it’s not going to be the typical destination wedding in a picturesque country villa. They are determined to marry and have found a way despite the challenges.
They are one of thousands of engaged couples who’s plans have been turned upside down by the pandemic lockdowns, travel restrictions and limits on gatherings.
Faced with an uncertain reopening, engaged couples have been forced to think carefully about their values as it relates to their wedding. They are dealing with their own disappointment and frustration, as well as the expectations of friends and family.
In a crazy way, it’s actually good training for being married: faced with a multi-factor challenge they need to reflect on their shared values and plan how to move forward with their unity intact.
This will not be the only challenge they face throughout married life. We have heard from many couples over the past months who have discovered deep differences in their values and expectations as they re-negotiated many aspects of their life.
Downsize, divide, delay, or deluxe?
In responding to this, some engaged couples have chosen to downsize like our NZ-Canadian couple – to shed the trappings and just get it done. Others have divided the event in two or more parts, formally being wed with limited guests but with plans to celebrate with extended network at a later date.
Many couples have chosen to delay. They hope to have the wedding celebration as close as possible to their original plans. Though international guests are unlikely to attend, and there’s still some risk of a second delay, they hope to have the wedding they originally planned.
A fourth pathway is the deluxe option. Faced with restrictions on the number of guests, some couples are forging ahead with a smaller guest list and a more luxurious celebration. They’re dedicating the excess budget to indulgent items like lavish decorations, select wines, abundant flowers and exclusive reception venues.
One thing that does not change for Catholics, however, is the church ceremony and the vows we make. For thousands of years, Catholic couples have stood before their community and the altar of the Lord as we committed our lives to serving each other in marriage.
The words of the vows have endured essentially unchanged for centuries. They speak of an eternal truth – that married love, freely given, images the love of the Christ for his bride, the Church.
This is the heart of why we get married; we want to commit the rest of our lives to serving each other and building a shared life.
When bride and groom stand at the altar and pledge to love each other for the rest of their lives, they are participating in a great mystery. In human terms, their vows are seemingly impossible to fulfill – and yet here they stand eagerly embracing that radical commitment.
Marriage is considered a Sacrament by the Catholic Church because it recognises that married couples, by the way we live out these vows, are a potent witness to the invisible presence of God in our midst. Matrimony makes visible the invisible nature of God.
It is the couple relationship that is sacramental: it’s not the ceremony or rings or the veil, though these are also significant. It’s certainly not the party that follows. It is the couple themselves and their life of love that witnesses to the steadfast, urgent, and total self-donation of Christ to his Church.
Though we do this imperfectly through good times and in bad, in sickness or lockdown or unemployment, here’s the thing; we don’t do it alone. In marrying in the Church, Christ promises us the grace and the help we need to sustain and our marriage throughout our lives.
Unsurprisingly, we all want to celebrate something as important and exciting as a couple making a commitment like this. But we need to remember that it is the wedding ceremony that really matters on the wedding day.
Everything else is a mere accessory to this magnificent reality. No fine wine, gourmet meal or spectacular venue can come close to the splendour of such a profound mystery.
As parents, family, friends, and communities, we need to remember this and encourage our engaged couples to focus on what’s really important when it comes to getting married in the midst of this upside-down world. We need to keep our expectations for the event in check and free our engaged friends and family members to find their own way through these difficult choices.
Every engaged couple needs to discern their own path in this pandemic. Downsize, divide, delay, or go deluxe – whatever path they decide in this era of uncertainty, the vows they make on their wedding day will be one thing that stays the same.