Can You Risk Not Knowing the Truth?
The Catholic Standard in Washington, DC runs an annual section
on marriage, perhaps the most helpful edition of the year. However, no
where mixed in with the nostalgic stories, preparation programs, pithy
articles regarding Catholic principles, and attractive advertisements,
is there any solid recognition that Christian marriage is in desperate
trouble today. I may be guilty of some cynicism and exaggeration, but let
me detail some of the concerns which make marriages difficult for priests.
Preparations of the couple:
- The bride's mother calls the priest on the phone because her daughter
is timid and not really a churchgoer (at least the mother is not timid).
- A couple which wants to bring in their own priest becomes upset at
local rules which require one of the parish priests to receive the vows;
confused by these turn of events, they call their priest friend and announce
that the local clergy feel he's unfit for their church.
- The bride's mother invites the priest for dinner to fatten his stomach
and to soften his judgment, saying "Look here Father, I'm an expert
on marriage, I've gone through it five times."
- The priest knows he is in trouble when he asks, "What makes Christian
marriage different from other kinds?" and they simply answer, "It'll
make it harder to get a divorce!"
- The couple does not understand marriage as a public sacrament or why
the priest wants to marry them in their local church; after all, it would
be romantic and novel to have it conducted in a pool while wearing scuba
- The couple, who just met, wants to get married three days from next
Wednesday and cannot understand why they must wait six months.
- The bride is no longer pregnant, but it is okay because she received
pro-choice referral at her Catholic college (named later in this list?).
- The couple resists going through marriage preparation since it cannot
improve their whoopee, which is great already. (Is that all there is?)
- The priest becomes suspicious when the bride translates a grunt from
her immigrant boyfriend in twenty minutes of high speed English.
- The couple have been living together over a year and the priest only
finds out when their answering machine squeals the truth over the phone.
- If the answering machine does not tell him, the priest gets a call
after midnight from the groom with some last minute worry; when he fumbles
the question, his fiancee rolls over in bed and takes the phone away from
- Not appreciating self-control, the couple frequently have sex, but
can justify it since they are using every kind of contraception they can
get their hands (or any other anatomical parts) unto.
- They maybe want children if it does not interfere with career goals,
however, they would prefer a poodle.
- The bride's mother accepts that her only grandchild may be a pooch,
but on the bright side, unlike a child, a dog is much easier to potty train,
and if need be, put to sleep.
- The Catholic parties are not registered in any parish but they feel
they have a right to a church wedding in any case because they are Irish,
which is even better than being Catholic.
- The bride or her mother phone an unfamiliar, but traditionally designed,
old church because farmers want to rent their new one as the best looking
barn they've ever seen.
- The bride or her mother might also call an outside parish because they
either do not know or know too well their own pastor.
- The bride or her mother call another priest because their pastor knows
them all too well and refuses to have anything to do with them.
- The couple insists upon an impossible time for their ceremony because
reception plans have already been completed; thoughtfully they ask, "Can
the Sunday Mass be moved or can the parishioners go somewhere else?"
- Even though non-Catholics are not permitted to lector at Mass, the
couple desires Mohammed Abdul to read.
- They drop the Mass for a simple service so that Abdul can read, and
because communion did not make much sense to them anyway, at least not
without the raisins.
- The priest tells them again that the way they have rewritten their
marriage vows, "...until the death of our bank accounts do us part..."
is neither civilly nor ecclesially legal, not to mention proper English.
- In the midst of all this, the priest finally gets another couple who
is doing everything they are suppose to do and then he receives 23 letters
from her father, who has left the Church, saying that the boy is unfit
for his daughter because his great great grandfather is rumored to be a
Republican and that it is wrong to mix the races.
Before the wedding:
- Interrupted by the doorbell, the priest who thought he had finally
stolen a few moments to rest, discovers three hundred people outside waiting
for a wedding, one for which the couple had done everything but notify
- The minister at a nearby Protestant church has disappeared, and the
upset wedding party calls the priest next door to substitute, after all,
the groom is a fallen away Catholic!
- At the rehearsal, the groom forgets to bring the marriage license (indispensable)
and swears he'll remember the next day (want to bet?).
- A marriage coordinator comes to the rehearsal and spends an hour-and-a-half
telling everyone their business from the bridal couple to the ushers, even
listing bathroom tinkle time as tightly managed at 7:13 AM.
- After the same marriage coordinator is finished, she asks the priest,
"Do you have anything to add?" and he says, "Yes, if it
isn't too much to ask, can I marry these people tomorrow?"
- The groom's old girl friend is one of the maids of honor and she has
been giving the bride tips on how to keep her man happy in bed.
- The bride goes "all the way" with the best man the night
before, for old time's sake.
- They want to use rice at the wedding until the priest explains that
it bursts the stomachs of birds and makes a terrible mess.
- They then want to throw bird seed until the priest explains that it
violates insurance clauses, making it hazardous to walk, and thus making
another kind of mess.
- They decide to throw rose petals instead, and because their donation
will not pay for a sacristan, the priest spends the rest of the day sweeping
- The mother and bride get into a fight over the proper way to have the
guests seated and whether for the procession it is better to walk, skip,
crawl, or run backwards into the church.
- The mother of the bride, still believed to be thoughtful, nails ribbons
and decorations into the side of the pews.
- Uncle Fred comes to the service drunk and begins to get sick right
as things begin.
- The service begins 90 minutes late and runs into a scheduled Mass and
- The florist drops off ten truckloads of flowers when the church is
already packed from Easter and asks you where he can put them -- the priest
is tempted to answer.
- The priest spends an hour before the wedding, now delayed once again,
moving furniture and squeezing flowers into unavailable spaces.
- The bride and her mother dislike the priest's expertise flower-arranging
and begin to order him to rearrange them.
- A heavy downpour of rain hits just as the bridesmaids leave the limos
for the church, transforming their gowns into large full-body wet tee-shirts.
(Now, the priest really has seen it all!)
- Even though the wedding party is perplexed as how to get the bride
into the church without getting her drenched, the priest saves the day
by wrapping her in a large plastic trash bag and carrying her inside. (Why
is it no one thanks him?)
During the wedding:
- Even though the priest has come down with the flu, a 104 degree fever,
and a throat which can barely utter a husky whisper; the couple want the
priest to sing the Mass prayers and to stay all evening at their reception.
- The celebrant and groom are shocked to see the bride coming down the
aisle in a punk-style dress, purple hair, and with carpentry nails exposed
through leather for arm and ankle bracelets.
- The train on the gown is so long that two kids carry it while it runs
on training wheels, and still her father trips over it.
- The bride is all dressed in white, but, being seven months pregnant,
who is she trying to kid?
- The runner comes unglued from in back and begins to trail the bride
and her father up the aisle.
- The photographer, with his shirt hanging out and suspenders coming
undone, follows the bride and her father all the way down the aisle, ruining
the runner and making a spectacle of himself.
- High-powered television lights are used to video-tape the historic
occasion, blinding the celebrant and the wedding party.
- The photographer, already persona non gratis, sneaks into the
sanctuary for side and frontal shots; the ceremony stops when the congregation
smiles to have their picture taken.
- Uncle Fred, who is still tipsy, comes up to mumble the readings (well
at least he's Catholic).
- Uncle Fred gets confused and starts singing "When Irish Eyes Are
Smiling," of course, all join in.
- A "cute" child (ring bearer) drops the pillow, losing the
rings into the floor heating grill, requiring a flashlight and screwdriver
to retrieve, which they expect the priest to have hidden under his vestments.
- The bride has her friend, Bertha, sing a solo of "Ave Maria"
(what she has neglected to say is that Bertha can not read music and is
- A middle-aged hippie hired by the couple, unbeknown to the organist
and celebrant, begins strumming the guitar and singing that ballad from
Godspell, "I don't know how to love him, . . . I've known so many
other men before, etc.," telling the whole congregation more about
the bride than it needs to know.
- Everyone thanks God that the solo is not a Barry Manilow song.
- Nerves, consequently, have caused the couple to forget the marriage
vows which they insisted on memorizing.
- The bride forces her wedding ring unto a finger which must have grown
two sizes during the night.
- With cultural additions to the ceremony, like ritual coins, flowers,
crowns, veils, nuptial ropes, wedding candles, poems, and what not, the
priest and congregation become confused, even with their programs.
- Being liberated, the couple dispenses with a best man and opt for two
maids of honor, or rather one maid and one best woman?
- The bride goes into labor during the ceremony, and her mother implores
the priest to hurry to the vows so that the kid will pop out legitimate.
- Although the rite does not explicitly include it, the priest invites
the couple to kiss and they practically consummate the marriage in the
- The priest finds out afterwards that the so-called groom is only suppose
to be a proxy for some thrice-married disgruntled Marxist in Europe.
- At the sign of peace, the non-Catholics shake hands with everyone in
sight and start speaking loudly, thinking the marriage ceremony must be
- The people applaud, after all, even P. T. Barnum could not have put
on such a good show!
- The bouquets of flowers are given to the couple's parents instead of
being presented to Our Lady's altar, since Mary as a virgin seemed out
of place at this wedding anyway.
After the wedding:
- A visiting priest to a nearby military chapel leaves the marriage records
at a local parish which he presumes has jurisdiction, which it does not,
after performing a wedding for which he neither had delegation nor a civil
- A rabbi of questionable repute, doing a Jewish-Catholic wedding, turns
to the priest who will offer a little prayer at the end and asks, "I'm
getting $500 for this deal, what's your take?" The priest says, "Nothing,"
to which the rabbi responds, "Sucker!" (A true story!!!)
- A couple which the priest could not marry without an annulment of a
previous bond, calls to mock him, saying that the next door Episcopalian
did it with no questions asked. (Where is ecumenism here?)
- If the service does not, the photographs afterwards, extend throughout
confessions, causing penitents to leave, especially when the camera is
turned toward them to take undercover shots for the next scandal expose
of The National Inquirer.
- After the service, children race backwards and forwards in the pews,
and Uncle Fred, still drunk, bets on Secretariat to win.
- A child, unattended and "still cute" takes it into his mind
to open the priest's door during confessions and the priest briefly wishes
the little boy's mother had attended Boston College (see earlier reference
to a college?).
- More thoughtful ladies, with sharp-edged heels, stand for elevation
on expensive and decorative kneeling cushions, thus puncturing them and
costing the church thousands of dollars in repair bills.
- Tired bridesmaids show their reverence to God by sitting their fannies
on the altar rail. (Why is the priest reminded of European gargoyles?)
- The couple has been so busy that even on their wedding night the bride
says that she is too tired to consummate the vows; what is even more unusual
is that her groom agrees with her, for a change.
- The priest decides not to go to the reception because as a Christian
and as a minister, he has little or nothing in common with these people
who have delighted him -- also he does not dance well to either heavy metal
- The families have spent $300,000 dollars on the wedding and give the
church a $50 dollar donation.
- The marriage coordinator gets a check for $1500 dollars, the florist
gets $950 dollars, the photographer gets $780 dollars -- and then the really
important people -- the organist gets $90, the cantor $75, the altarboy
$30, and the priest gets the best of all, a crisp $5 dollar bill as his
- The priest is not really concerned about the server and the organist,
not to mention the others getting paid more than him, after all, he prefers
to seek spiritual treasure, and because the couple's checks bounce anyway.
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Revised on May 2, 1998.