I recall many months ago, in happier times, a television commercial of a bride getting married in the middle of a forest. Her mother, seemingly confined to a nursing home, was unable to attend. Now it is evidently not right that a girl should forgo a dream wedding in a forest just to have her mother attend. Not to worry. The bride simply called up her knight in shining armor to amend the situation, that being a company specializing in providing temporary internet to remote locations. And so, the commercial ended with the bride saying her vows, then turning towards a screen and greeting her mother electronically. The mother, watching devotedly from a screen in her room, cried tears of joy. My wife and I nearly cried tears of laughter. What a stupid make-believe commercial. How can people think up these asinine situations?
My wife and I would do better to mock people who become millionaires instead. In other words, the joke is on us. The live-streamed wedding situation is precisely what happened to us recently. Coronavirus travel restrictions made it virtually impossible to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding across the country. So there we were on a late Saturday morning, dressed in shorts and t-shirts, eating sandwiches, all while sitting on the couch with our children and watching the wedding Mass. The coordinated masks on the faces of the wedding party were spot on. The priest’s liturgical masking, sanitizing, and distancing was perfectly executed according to the rubrics of the Roman Rite of Coronavirus. As for the actual marriage, as if a scene out of the commercial, my wife did get a little choked up watching her youngest brother say his vows. It may have been the sandwich though. I watched without the least bit of emotion. But that’s just me.
In the end, I commend my brother-in-law and his lovely bride for getting married during the “new normal” of the coronavirus. I actually have several other family members and friends getting married over the next few months. Typical crazy Catholics. At the best of times, wedding planning is akin to spending hours every day getting teeth pulled – with your future mother-in-law acting as the dentist. I can’t imagine the appendages, like having to pick out “cute masks” to go with bridesmaid dresses, or needing to inform your rich uncle Bill that there is no longer room for him, but that you hope he under$tands? In a sense, I don’t blame the many couples who have been saying “I don’t” to getting married since coronavirus arrived. Why bother with the hassle?
Here we see a general separation of the wheat from the chaff. Let’s be honest, many couples, though not all, have indefinitely postponed their weddings for puerile reasons. Many already live together, or at least do not abide by the sixth commandment. Getting married for them may be a nice gesture, or even meaningful on some inexplicable level, but it is ultimately unnecessary. The question of “why bother?” is not just rhetorical. Why bother with a frustrating low-key ceremony – the point is to be a princess for the day? Why bother with planning a lame party that even forbids a dance – the point is to have the best day of your life? Why bother with a sacrament in a nearly empty church– what even is a sacrament? The answer is simply to not bother.
For such couples, coronavirus may be a hidden blessing. They have postponed a wedding, and now have unknowingly been given time to reevaluate their intentions towards marriage. I hope that the Church, not just bishops and pastors, but all of us who know such couples, contest their idea of marriage, offer “tough love” as needed, and earnestly pray that God touch their lives with His grace. As a necessary add-on to this, now is especially the time to pressure bishops and priests to stop performing weddings for every couple who approaches this sacrament without the slightest inkling of what they are doing. If not now, when?
Alas, I speak of pandemics, separating wheat from chaff, tough love, obeying commandments, and hard logic to abide by when getting married. My wife, I suppose, would heave a sigh and concur that I can easily get caught up in such deliberations. Perhaps, then, it is also necessary to present a more positive, whimsical, or even romantic, glimpse of the sacrament.
Imagine the following. It’s a Sunday morning. A recently married couple has just stepped out into the sun after Mass. Perhaps it is a new church for them, in a new city. They step out not just as a couple, but a family. The young wife is expecting. They are at the same time exhilarated and scared to death. But they knew this would happen.
The newlyweds look around and see families, young and old, standing outside after the Mass and talking with each other. They’re all in their Sunday best. A look to the left reveals a woman hugging another. The two women are sharing a little cry. Maybe one of them is having a miscarriage? Or her father has passed away? Or she’s worried about one of her kids who suffers seizures? For her, this place is peace.
Glancing to the right the newly weds notice a group of men sharing laughs. Do they know that one of the men is out of work? For three months he hasn’t been able to find a job. His wife is expecting their sixth child. He struggles inside with feelings of not being adequate enough, or a good provider. But still he laughs. For him, this place is peace.
Straight ahead our recently married couple observes a gathering of young boys. The boys are trying to climb a tree in their Sunday clothing. One drops out of the tree and gets up, grass stains on his knees, face beaming. The boys all laugh before one of them tags another and says, “you’re it!” The game is on. Without even knowing it, for them this place is peace.
The newly weds observe cluster upon cluster of families. Laughing. Crying. Abundance. Anguish. Is this what the new couple has signed up for? Yes. A thousand times yes! We call this living – living with a peace the world cannot give.
And finally, the newly weds notice a man beckoning to them. He is standing with his wife and many children. As the young married couple (and baby) approach, the beckoning man holds out his hand for a warm but strong handshake. Then he winks and says, with a knowing assurance, “we’re glad you could join us.”
For the faithful Catholic couples persevering towards marriage, such an anecdote is precisely what makes their hearts soar. Quite simply, they are still getting married in the midst of coronavirus because they want to get married. They want the joy of children. They want to follow the sixth commandment. They want Christ at the center of their union. They want a life of sacrifice and surrender which will ultimately be the means of their salvation. They want to share these joys and sorrows with others around them. In short, they know in the depth of their being what marriage is, and want to partake of it, cost what it may.
I can only conclude by saying that, for now, less is more. The general lack of coronavirus weddings can be a good sign, if we seize the opportunity to guide couples, perhaps for the first time, through the reality and demands of Holy Matrimony. As for the couples who, for all the right reasons, persevere towards marriage in the midst of inexplicable obstacles, I commend you sincerely.
It turns out that watching a Catholic live-streamed wedding, done for all the right reasons, can be a beautiful thing after all.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.