Friday, May 06, 2005

Do-It-Yourself Wedding Vows, Redux

My previous post about do-it-yourself wedding vows seems to have sparked some dismay, and even disbelief. Apparently the idea that the Church can and should define the manner in which its members ought to be married seems oppressive and unreasonable to some.

One commenter asked, very reasonably, whether the Church would "discount" the marriage and lives of those putatively married with self-created vows "because of a technicality". Another commenter worried that we could go back to the era of "Gosh, Father, I got a couple of words out of order in the 47th Hail Mary! Does my rosary still count..." .

Firstly, neither the Church nor I advocate the sort of rubricism envisioned by the comments excerpted above. But the sort of thing I was referring to in my previous post was much more serious than slipping up on a technicality or two. We're not talking about how many candles are lit on the altar, or whether Dad gets to walk the bride down the aisle. I was trying to convey my point in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek way, which I suppose is always prone to misinterpretation.

The Rites of the Church are intended to confect or minister sacraments, and the sacraments are the principal source of sanctifying grace for the Church. The Church, as custodian of the sacraments, which were entrusted to Her by Christ, is very concerned that their integrity be safeguarded. This is for your own good, so that you in fact receive the very sacraments instituted by Christ, and not some counterfeit. Therefore, the Church's rites are normative for the manner of receiving or ministering the Sacraments with which they are associated. The instructions contained in the liturgical books of the Church, and their associated rubrics, have the force of law and are binding upon all Her members. The Church has the right to bind her members in this way, because she has been entrusted with the sacraments, and because of the Power of the Keys given to the apostles. That is why the duty to marry according to the laws of the Church is one of the Precepts of the Church.

The Sacrament of Marriage, like all other sacraments, has certain essential ingredients. They are Fidelity & Indissolubility, Communion, and Openness to Children. A couple must give consent to one another publicly, before the Church's designated representative and witnesses, in a manner expressing sincere intent to undertake those essential ingredients, in order to validly enter into a sacramental marriage. If one or both parties does not intend the good of Fidelity, for example, then the marriage is not valid. An essential ingredient is missing. The Marriage Rite of the Church is designed to contain or embody all of these aspects, so that all of the necessary ingredients, or goods, are represented. If the couple sincerely intends what the vows given by the Church contain, there can be certainty on their part and among the faithful that they are indeed sacramentally married. This kind of certitude is a Good Thing.

Now, if you start monkeying around with the Rite, you risk obscuring the essential goods. If you go too far, you can obscure them so much that they're indiscernible. In the example of self-written vows I gave below, I defy any of my readers to find the good of fidelity and the good of openness to children within them. Those vows would be patently invalid. If a couple got "married" with such vows, the Church would judge the marriage invalid, not because it wants to "discount" whatever good the couple has lived in their life together, but because an essential ingredient is missing. The lack of that essential ingredient must be remedied. Fortunately, such things can readily be remedied. One such way is the procedure known as convalidation.

Is it possible to come up with other formulations of marriage vows which would contain the same meanings as those supplied by the Church? Of course it is. That is why, as some commenters noted, Catholics can, with permission from their bishop or his designate, get married in non-Catholic churches. But the permission is required. Why? To make sure that (a) the couple is properly prepared and disposed to enter a sacramental marriage, with all its essential ingredients, and (b) to make sure that the marriage rite celebrated in some way actually reflects the goods contained in the sacrament. If a Catholic man wants to marry his Baptist fiancee in her Baptist church, such permission will be readily granted, because we know (at least so far) that, while the Baptist church does not share our view that a christian marriage is sacramental, nonetheless the rite expresses the goods contained in a sacramental marriage. If you ask for episcopal permission to get married by a Wiccan priestess in a sunset ceremony invoking Gaia and the spirits of the four winds, you'll be disappointed.

But the real question is why would you want to use "do-it-yourself" vows in your Catholic wedding ceremony? To express your individuality? Sorry, but that's not what a wedding ceremony is about, at least for Christians. To make the ceremony "more personal"? Sorry, but wrong again. Such an attitude is indicative of the modern American privatistic attitude about marriage, rather than a Catholic understanding. The wedding is not about "me & thee", it is about the couple being united in Christ through the Church, which is the only way we are brought into union with Christ in any form.

In approaching the Church for any sacrament, a certain degree of humility is required. We need to recognize that we are in need of Grace, Grace which only Christ can give us, Grace which He has chosen to give us through his Church. To say, in effect, "I can come up with something better than Christ's Church", does not speak of such humility.

Are You Reading The Anchoress?

If you aren't, you should be.

Today at the The Anchoress there are two excellent posts: one is on the increasingly incredible mythology concerning Hillary Clinton being propagated by the MSM.

The other is a great essay combining themes concerning the vigor and growth experienced by orthodox dioceses, as compared to the moribundity of "progressive" ones, the left's constant drumbeat about "theocrats", and Terri Schiavo. If you wonder how these ideas could be combined into a coherent essay, then you really ought to read it, and be impressed.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Planned Parenthood:
Why Let The Law Get In The Way Of Giving Out Contraceptives?

John Bambenek has a story about the local (Champaign, Illinois) Planned Parenthood chapter planning an Emergency Contraceptive giveaway next Wednesday:
Free Emergency Contraception!!

Emergency Contraception is for you when you want it.

The Great EC Giveaway
May 11 5:30-7:00 p.m.

At Planned Parenthood Of East Central Illinois
302 East Stoughton

No exam, no hassle, and NO MONEY!!

Fill out a short application and receive a box of Plan B - absolutely free!

Tell your friends, bring them with you, and come yourself.

Hey, why bother with things like prescriptions and other burdensome, oppressive stuff like that? We just want to give away contraceptives. Don't worry about things like risks and side effects. Stock up on some "Plan B" for the next time you have casual sex and that "emergency" strikes.

Lovely, isn't it?

Do-It-Yourself Wedding Vows

In the '70's and '80's it was all the rage for couples to write their own wedding vows. While I've never personally been subjected to it, some of you out there have no doubt witnessed couples getting up in front of their wedding guests and embarrassing themselves with this kind of drivel:
You are the sunshine of my life, the star around which my world turns. I wake each morning with your name on my lips. I want to make you complete, to actualize your potential. I want to energize you the way you energize me. I love you just the way you are. I promise to always give you space to be yourself. I promise to be your equal, your partner. We will walk side by side, as co-discoverers in our journey. I promise to keep on truckin' with you down the road of life. I will give you the best of me, all of my positive energy, and I will always be open to receive your positive energy. We will be Peace for each other.

Well, if your wedding vows consisted of this kind of maundering, and you were permitted to do so by Fr. Feelgood at an allegedly Catholic wedding, guess what? You're probably not married, after all.

That's right. Using vows of your own composition, rather than those prescribed by the Church, potentially invalidates the wedding. Acccording to the canon lawyers I have spoken to, unless the self-composed vows are a fairly close approximation of those provided in the Ritual (in which case, why bother with writing your own?), they are quite possibly defective, thereby rendering the marriage invalid.

So, if you, or someone you know, got married in a ceremony which featured such "groovy" vows, it might be a good idea to talk to your parish priest and see if you need a convalidation.

Wedding - Bell Blues

According to this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, brides in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are singing the blues because the Archdiocese is discouraging the cherished tradition of the bride's father walking her down the aisle at the wedding.

Apparently, the prospect of proscribing this custom had one mother "nearly choking on her astonishment at the suggestion of change". One father was described as getting "teary just thinking about it."

There's quite a bit of high dudgeon at Amy Welborn's as well. Commenters on the story are ascribing this change, variously, to "Feminazis", and "liberals".

As at least one commenter there correctly pointed out, the tradition of the bride's father walking her down the aisle at a wedding is of English origin, and is, generally, not observed outside of English-speaking countries. The whole business of the bride making a grand entrance last of all is part of the whole "it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding" superstition. Needless to say, neither element is at all Catholic, nor even particularly Christian.

But the one thing missing from the Inquirer article, and something I'd be surprised at if Fr. Dan Mackle (head of the Office of Worship for the Archdiocese) actually omitted from his discussion, is what the Rite actually says. Fr. Mackle taught the Introduction to Liturgy course in my first year of Theology at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, and we discussed this matter in class.

The Instruction from the "Rite For Celebrating Marriage During Mass" provides:

19. At the appointed time, the priest, vested for Mass, goes with the ministers to the door of the church, or if more suitable, to the altar. There he greets the bride and bridegroom in a friendly manner, showing the that the Church shares their joy.

Where it is desirable that the rite of welcome be omitted, the celebration of marriage begins at once with Mass.

20. If there is a procession to the altar, the ministers go first, followed by the priest, and then the bride and bridegroom. According to local custom, they may be escorted by at least their parents and the two witnesses. Meanwhile, the entrance song is sung.

The instruction for the "Rite For Celebrating Marriage Outside Mass" has identical provisions on these points.

Note that the actual rite presupposes that the bride and groom process in together and are greeted at the entrance of the church together. If you've ever been to a Catholic wedding in a non-Anglo country, that's usually what you'll see.

So, what the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is trying to do is bring the practice of weddings into consistency with the Universal Church.

Admittedly, it would appear that they have done so in a hamfisted and insensitive way. You can't expect people, conditioned by decades of American custom, TV shows and movies, etc., to just accept such a change overnight.

Personally, I think the entrance rite of the Catholic rite of marriage, as indicated above, is a much better exemplar of the sign and meaning of the whole marriage ceremony and the sacrament of marriage than the Anglo-Saxon custom. As many others have pointed out, the Anglo-Saxon custom has led to a diminution of the groom's role to that of mere appendage in the rite. It has also led to the distortion of the wedding becoming "the bride's day", with the bride as "Princess" whose every whim must be honored.

What I do, when I meet with a couple I am preparing for marriage, is to point out to them that the American custom is not actually part of or really consistent with the Catholic rite. I show them the part of the instruction I excerpt above. I tell them that I would really prefer that they use the Catholic rite as provided, for all the reasons explained above. Then I leave the decision up to them.

Of the 20 or so weddings I've done, two couples have decided to celebrate their wedding according to the Catholic entrance rite. Interestingly, they were two of the more seriously "gung-ho" Catholic couples I've married. Which suggests to me that the place to start in getting Catholics to follow the authentic Catholic rite isn't in preparing them for marriage, but in evangelizing and instructing them to be truly faithful Catholics.