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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Promised and Long Overdue Wedding Post

This is for George
So, the wedding:

It’s been nearly two months since my first wedding, and so I’ve had some time to reflect. It was both a wonderful experience and, in some ways, a lonely experience. This is not a criticism, or an effort to make anyone feel bad. I think it’s meant to be that way for what one realizes are obvious reasons. The focus is not meant to be on me at the wedding, but on the couple. Thus, the more I fade into the background, the more the attention is properly placed. It seems to me that, if you’re doing it right, as a priest you do become something of a fifth wheel. You don’t want people fawning over you. You want people’s attention to be focused on the couple, and on enjoying the celebration. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bit of loneliness that comes with it. The same thing is true sometimes, as I have written about before, right after mass on Sunday.

All that said, what a privilege! What a privilege to be there to witness two people in love making a lifelong commitment to each other, and to witness the love and care that their families and friends have for them. From this perspective, the rehearsal dinner the night before provided some of the most moving moments. The parents, brothers and sisters shared great and humorous stories and expressed with emotion and honesty their love for Cara and Paul, the bride and groom. I teared up a little myself when, while listening to the words of his brother and best man, Paul began to cry. Nothing stirs more emotion in me than when people unabashedly express their love and affection for each other. These are the moments in the movies—and in real life—when I always get a little choked up. I knew that I didn’t want to be up too late the night before the wedding, but I waited until the parents, the best man, and the maid of honor had their say, before making a stealthy exit. I didn’t want to interrupt the great things that were happening by making a show of my departure. And, given the lay out of the room we were in, there was no way to say goodbye without attracting much notice.

The rehearsal and the wedding were not unlike what happens when I visit a parish to say mass for the first time. I want to know how they do things, and they want to know how I want them to do things. Eventually, I have to make some kind of affirmative statement about how I want to do things, even if it’s the way they usually do things anyway. And it usually is. There are, of course, a few things I don’t compromise on, but usually these things are not at issue. So, I say, why don’t we do this . . .

This situation was a little bit different, because I had never witnessed a wedding before. So, I tried to tell the wedding coordinator, “Tell me what to do, because you know what you are doing, and I don’t.” Still, there were a number of times that I was asked, “What do you want to do, Father?” We got through it. One of the groomsman was actually getting ready to enter seminary (interestingly, I was in the same situation as a groomsman just before I entered the novitiate), so he and I had some things to talk about. What I soon learned as we went along was that the rest of the wedding party knew as little about what we were doing as I did. The only problem was that they were counting on me to know what I was doing! I told them—and myself—to try to remember things as best you can. If you forget, somebody will point you in the right direction.
So, the time for the wedding arrived. I was told that things were laid out for me in the sacristy. Here’s where I gained a little confidence about what I was doing. I knew enough to realize that the vestments on the table were the wrong color! So, I went sifting through drawers and closets to find the right ones. Well, at least I know enough to spot that something is wrong, I thought. As we went along, I learned a few things.

The first misstep was when we got to the Gloria. I waited for the music ministers to begin, and nothing happened. And, of course, everyone was looking at me like I’d forgotten something. When this happens, I always have a moment of panic—did I forget something?! Then I realized that the look was not because I’d missed something, but for one of two reasons: 1)They had no idea what was supposed to come next, or 2)They were waiting for me. Now this whole thought process didn’t take as long as it seemed. When I realized it was just that the music ministers were not singing the Gloria (and that I had not forgotten anything), I began: “Glory to God in the highest . . .” Note for the future: Be sure to check before the mass what the musicians are doing, and especially what they are not doing. I spent the rest of the evening looking over to the piano at any time which might call for music. Strangely, the Alleluia wasn’t sung either. There must have been some miscommunication there.
The rest went more or less as planned. The homily had to include mention of the Yankees, as this was the week which they won the World Series, and I had been teasing Paul, who is a fan, from the very beginning about it. This, of course, is required of any self-respecting Red Sox fan like myself. The Saints, who may yet win the Super Bowl, were not to be excluded either! Of course, this was just in passing. My homily focused mostly on the readings, and on my experience of Paul and Cara during the many months they had been preparing for their marriage. At the reception, by the way, there were two cakes: The traditional wedding cake, and a cake made in the shape of a Yankees cap. The latter was obviously made by someone not well schooled in baseball, as the frosting was the wrong shade of blue.

A well-established, though perhaps little known fact, is that the priest usually gets seated at table with someone’s aunt(s) or uncle(s) and, frequently, one of the crazy ones. Those at my table didn’t seem too crazy. This is actually one of the more interesting—and apostolic—parts of the wedding experience. You get to meet some very interesting people. Not only relatives, but friends of the family, parents or significant others of members of the wedding party, etc. Most of them haven’t really had the opportunity to sit down and speak with a priest for a long time, if ever. So, it is an excellent opportunity to be for them a positive experience of Christ and the Church. Many priests I know have told me how so often at weddings they have the opportunity to reconcile somebody with the Church in some way. You never know when you might have the opportunity to do that for somebody, or that it might happen without you ever realizing that you had that impact. This is another reason why I think it is important to keep in mind that, while I sort of get to be at center stage for part of the time, the wedding has little to do with me. Yet, hopefully, my presence for those days, and during my privileged time of guiding them through their preparation, will help them to make God a lasting part of their love, their family, and their life together. Ultimately, the sacrament is about them and God, not about me. But what a privilege it was—and is—to be there!