By Fr. Martin Diaz
Special to the Intermountain Catholic
Scheduling can be the most difficult part of preparing a couple for their wedding. Often, when the couple finds a reception site they like, they book a date and then call the parish to book the church. If the church is not available they go back to the reception site, only to find that the day the church is available the reception site is not. What I wish couples knew before they arrive in the church office is that many couples are planning their weddings at this same time, not to mention the Quinceañeras, which are also being scheduled in the church a year in advance. I suggest that couples check with their parish early for the most dates available and to be flexible, and also that they set the day first with the church, then look for a reception site.
A corollary to scheduling the day is scheduling the time of the wedding. A couple may not realize that in the afternoon on Saturday most parishes have Confessions and then an evening Mass, so weddings are scheduled for earlier in the day. At the Cathedral of the Madeleine we offer two times for weddings and Quinceañeras: 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. These times allow the bride to get ready before Mass, if needed, and a period for photos after Mass. Most couples prefer the later time. Already, the cathedral schedule for next summer has only the 11 a.m. time remaining because most weddings are scheduled more than a year in advance. The exception is those who want a winter wedding: The dates after Christmas and before Ash Wednesday remain open.
Next to scheduling the difficulty that arises is who can marry in the Catholic Church. Some people think that only Catholics may be married in the Church, and if their spouse-to-be is a non-Catholic they think they cannot be married in the church. However, a dispensation is available for a Catholic person to marry a non-Catholic person. The non-Catholic person can be a baptized person or a person who is not baptized. The non-Catholic person does not need to become a Catholic for the Catholic to have the marriage in the church; your pastor can explain the details.
Another misunderstood area is that of a person with a previous marriage. Some Catholics think if they were previously married only in a civil ceremony and not in the Church, then they are free to re-marry. However, he or she must go through the Tribunal to determine that the civil marriage was not convalidated; that indeed the Catholic person is free to marry. In addition, the non-Catholic person who was married previously may require a formal annulment. A formal annulment can take up to a year to process.
Most couples come to the parish because they want a Catholic wedding. I wish they were coming to the parish for us to assist them in preparing for a Catholic marriage, because as the adage has it, “A wedding is for a day, a marriage is for a lifetime.” I ask that couples attend the Engaged Encounter weekend, during which the presenters are married couples who speak about their experience in marriage. The weekend of talks and dialogue prepares the young people for the ups and downs of married life. Sometimes the married couple speaks of a major problem overcome in their marriage. This is most helpful to the young couples.
Minor problems with a marriage can be overcome with some flexibility and planning. Both husband and wife grew up in a family that has its own ways of being a family. It comes as a surprise that the other person’s family has a different way of doing something. Christmas is an example. When does your family open Christmas presents? For some families it is Christmas Eve, and others Christmas Day. Another problem that arises is the celebration of holidays such as Thanksgiving. The manner of celebrating birthdays can be a source of tension. What I wish young couples knew is that major and minor problems are the normal stuff of marriage.
My final wish is that a young couple would know that society, especially the Catholic community, wants their marriage and their family to flourish. We want them to be happy. We want them to be one in their love in and for each other. We understand marriage to be a sacrament. Every sacrament manifests God. If possible, one outward sign of the love that husband and wife have for each other is the children of the marriage. We know God because we know families that are in love. No family is perfect; no family is without sin. What I wish the young couple would know is that God is working in them and with them. I hope they know that the more they love each other, the more will God be known.
The Very Rev. Martin Diaz is rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine.