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Surveying Sacraments: a Global Snapshot of Traditional Weddings

Catholic with a small c, my catechism taught me, means universal. Our Faith’s long history, unique claim to the Truth, and geographic spread make it an ideal and never-ending source of visual projects.

Daniel M. Koenemann’s cheering article on the global spread of Latin Masses is one of the latest Catholic map-based projects on the Internet. Like any good data project, Mr. Koenemann has a clearly defined purpose, which gives us a model to do our own assessments going forward on Latin Mass availability.

The increased availability of Latin Masses is undeniable; what is similarly consoling is the rise in other traditional sacraments, such as weddings. While it is impossible to do any comprehensive project on traditional weddings (for one thing, there is no central place where globally churches report sacramental data), social media makes it easier and easier to notice trends.

In August 2020, I took 100 weddings featured on the Instagram account Latin Mass Brides (@1962bride) and turned them into a map. I created an updated version of that map with 42 more weddings, in honor of Mr. Koenemann’s article. My only parameters were: I needed a date, and a location.

So, what does a map of 142 traditional weddings from @1962bride tell us?

O God, by whom woman is joined to man, and that union, which was instituted in the beginning, is still accompanied with such a blessing, as alone, neither in punishment of original sin, nor by the sentence of the deluge, had been recalled…

(Nuptial Blessing)

The weddings ranged from 2003-2020, and are from all over the world. 101 weddings were in America, 24 in Brazil, and the remainder were from Albania, Austria, Gabon, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, Canada, England, Poland, and Australia. From 2003-2017, there were 36 weddings. In the past three years alone, there were 106.

A closer look at the numbers can show interesting subplots. It is not surprising that St. Mary’s, Kansas, and Brazil were well-represented. More surprisingly, for example, given the state’s less robust (but growing!) availability of Latin Masses, was North Carolina hosting at least 3 traditional weddings since 2018 – each one in a different city.

The weddings took place in every setting, from school chapels to cathedrals, with big wedding parties and small, some with no bouquets and some with elaborate crowns, in hometowns and far-flung cities.

The information readers may be most interested in – what kind of church did the wedding take place in (diocesan, order, or other), and what kind of Mass was it (solemn high, missa cantata, low) – was rarely included in the testimonials, making it impossible for us to say anything of substance on those points. Nevertheless, there was a healthy representation of all types of churches and Masses.

About 30% of the weddings happened in 2020, which means of course, the dreaded COVID. While many states banned large gatherings, thus cancelling or delaying many weddings, many of our 1962 couples kept their wedding dates and ditched their original plans. (In fact, one couple moved up their wedding date.) The celebrations were much smaller, sometimes in an empty church and in opposition to the desires of extended family and the wedding industry. In such a bleak time for many of us without sacraments, these couples’ clear-eyed faith insisted on what mattered: the grace of the sacrament of Marriage.

May the God of Israel join you together: and may He be with you, who was merciful to two only children: and now, O Lord, make them bless Thee more fully. 

(Introit from the Missa pro Sponsis)

What the numbers can’t tell us, the testimonials from the couples can.

Most couples did not grow up with the Latin Mass, but exposure to the Mass sparked conversions and reversions. The testimonials  are well worth reading for those in need of encouragement. Each one springs from the heart and articulates a deep love for the Mass.

Traditional Catholic romances were frequently international and digital. Couples met in all sorts of settings, from World Youth Day to online dating. Long-distance relationships were not uncommon, as are long hours driving to Latin Mass each week.

One of the most encouraging things I discovered is that at least one couple said their wedding was the first traditional wedding at their parish since the Second Vatican Council, breaking a nuptial fast of traditional weddings of almost half a century.

A sonnet, Madeiline L’Engle rhapsodized, offers complete freedom within rigid rules. Similarly, traditional weddings, with almost no ‘optionitis’, lend themselves to many beautiful customs. From colors to flowers to music, from war-torn Albania to royal Austria, couples add aesthetic touches that honor family traditions, cultural customs, and devotions to their favorite saints. (The ancient custom of the velatio nuptialis even makes an appearance!)

Once they discovered the Latin Mass, for most couples, that was only the beginning. They rooted themselves in the liturgical calendar (marking on what feast days their anniversaries fall), devotions to saints (Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Therese of Lisieux lead the pack) and many traditional devotions (such as adoration, the Rosary, adoration, St. Louis de Montfort’s Total Consecration to Mary, Ignatian retreats, and novenas).

In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped: I said, Thou art my God; my times are in Thy hands.

(Offertory from the Missa pro Sponsis)

Just like a map of non-diocesan Latin Masses hints at many more diocesan or unreported Masses, a rise in traditional weddings does not exist in isolation. Betrothals – consistently the most popular search term on Latin Mass Weddings – are on the rise. (The last time that solemn betrothals rose in popularity was after World War II, which may speak to the spiritual desolation and hunger for the sacred that many young people feel.) Traditional weddings suggest more traditional sacraments; Catholic websites have covered not only traditional sacraments, but traditional pontifical sacraments.

Like any project, this one has its shortcomings. It relies on self-reporting; that is, on people sending in their own stories. So, there will be heavy representation from English speakers, social media users, and those who married recently. It is not intended as a complete picture, but as the start of a conversation and a reason to give great thanks.

Just like Mr. Koenemann’s map that, while narrow, suggests a beautiful bigger picture (think of how many unadvertised or private Latin Masses are being said!), this diverse, universal snapshot of traditional weddings can still tell us something.  Traditional weddings are on the rise, and they bring with them betrothals, traditional baptisms, the revival of old wedding  customs, devotions to saints and spiritual practices, and a hunger for God they can find only in the silence and unity of the Mass.

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