Congratulations! You are engaged! You finally met the one! Now it’s time to start planning. Do you go with roses or lilies? What color scheme do we want, if any? Which limo company and photographer do we go with? Should we get married at that church your brother got married at or that one my friend chose?
Has choosing a church been diminished to an item on the wedding to-do list? Picking the pretty church, the new one, the one with the longest aisle. What takes place in that building and on the altar has become less important than choosing the church that will look good in pictures. The ceremony is just a block of time on the schedule right after “take pictures” and before “cocktail hour.”
The wedding ceremony should be – and is – so much more than part of the schedule.
Marriage is a sacrament. The sacraments are “an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” The Catholic Church has seven sacraments; they touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life. They are Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. Matrimony and Holy Orders (being ordained a bishop, priest or deacon) are the only two sacraments that give the recipient graces, but also entrusts them with the task of building up others. In marriage, specifically, we are responsible for our spouse’s salvation. Meaning, when we get to the gates of Heaven, we will be held accountable for what we did or didn’t do to get our spouse to heaven.
With that great responsibility, we need to be properly equipped. God knows this task is great, so in the sacrament, on that altar, when the priest and the people are praying, He is bestowing graces on you. Graces to help you in your marriage. Grace is a word that is thrown around a lot in church, but what is meant by it? Grace can only come from God and it is a gift. Without getting too technical, it is important to know there are two kinds of grace: actual grace and sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace stays in the soul and is what makes it holy. Actual grace is a supernatural push and provides encouragement. We receive sanctifying grace in all the sacraments: every time you receive the Eucharist and every time you go to Confession, and during the holy sacrament of Matrimony. With these graces, God is giving us the tool to get to Heaven. We need only to embrace it.
Even when I was getting married it was tough to keep focus. My husband and I met at church and as soon as we got engaged, we started attending Mass together every Sunday. But there are so many details, it is easy to get distracted by the lists and busy-ness of it all. I remember walking down that aisle with all the nerves and emotions, but once I was on that altar holding my future husband’s hand, all I wanted to do was to take in all the graces. My favorite part of the wedding ceremony is when the priests give the blessings to the bride and the blessings to the groom. I just remember listening to every word and praying along with the priest. When you attend weddings, pay attention and truly pray for the bride and groom on the altar and remember your day and when you received those same blessings.
Let’s go back to wedding planning for a minute and talk about your invite list. All the relatives and friends that you have to invite. There is something so encouraging about being surrounded by so many people that are so happy for you, love you so much, and truly want the best for you. Are you inviting God into your marriage? Who could want better for you than Him?
Jesus was invited to the Wedding at Cana. We read in scripture (John 2:1-12) that Jesus turns water into wine at this wedding. What is so significant about that? They ran out of wine and Jesus did a nice thing by making more. But let’s look a little closer. In those times weddings lasted several days. It was late on the last day when they were running out and Jesus turned the equivalent of 180 gallons of water into wine! That is more than enough to satisfy everyone. That is exactly what Jesus wants to do in your marriage. He doesn’t just want to give you enough, he wants to bless your marriage super abundantly. But the only way He can do that is if you invite Him. A simple way to invite Him into your marriage is to pray together daily. One big takeaway from my marriage prep class was when Bishop Ibrahim told us to pray together every night. My husband and I used to do it over the phone when we were engaged. Now that we are married and have 3 children, we still pray an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be before bed every night, but now we pray with our children. Getting into these simple habits helps you to keep your focus.
Marriage is a lifetime and a wedding is a day. By attending that wedding at Cana and performing his first ever miracle, Jesus blessed the ritual of marriage. In His wisdom, God knows that marriage can be tough, and we would need all the help we could get. In the bigger picture of the day, the ceremony is such a short time. Try not to get so consumed by all the details of the day and the rushing around, try for that moment in that church, on that altar, to be present to your spouse and to truly invite God in as the third person in your marriage. “All the days of my life” is a long time, don’t you want God there to help support you through it all.
Patrice Abona is the Executive Director of ECRC.