The sacrament of our sexuality: the Mass is an offering, and they offer themselves to God to increase the love in the world, and even to create life.
By Joseph T. Nolan
Published by the author, $15
Yes, it is a sacrament and we should teach this early before the whole concept is lost. Nothing reflects more our secular society than the increasing practice of passing up any kind of church ceremony to locate the whole thing wherever the reception will take place.
Or for invited guests to skip "the religious stuff" and go straight to the party. We are not quite in a losing game, but every minister of religion will tell you that weddings are difficult, a challenge to give a sacred dimension to a social event.
Why is it a sacrament, when it was not for so long? Because the church decided wisely that the love of a man and woman, pledged for life, is a sign of God's love for us. Christ the bridegroom, we the beloved, the bride. Of course, it is a biblical image. Another description came recently from a perceptive person who called it the "sacrament of our sexuality."
Never mind how badly the church understood and taught about sexuality in the past; a new day is here when we affirm what we are, what is God-given, and now, should be called God-blessed. Where love is, God is. why would anyone want to exclude God from the most important act they undertake, made possible by the Creator?
If either or both parties are Catholic, the sacrament should be given as part of a Mass. Dismiss the arguments that it will take too long, is too expensive, etc. The church does allow simply a service of the Word, but that's a mistake. Look at the symbolic expression of the Mass and how it relates to the two who come before the altar. The Mass is an offering, and they offer themselves to God, to increase the love in the world, and even to create life, as God does. The Mass is a communion, and they seek the most intimate and loving union of all. And in the heart of the Mass the words are spoken which are directly applicable to the man and woman: "This is my body--my life--given for you." Let them give each other Communion, and then perhaps assist in giving the sacrament to others.
The service of the Word is always important, but on this occasion it is probably ineffective; people are not inclined to listen well, and if the readers are chosen from the wedding party, and unrehearsed, the Word is not usually proclaimed well. The choice of scriptural readings should go beyond the official listing. The actual Catholic wedding ceremony that takes place after the homily is too short, too legal. As ceremony, liturgy, it needs more expression.
Compare it to an Orthodox wedding. If not a crown on the head, perhaps we could be enriched by gestures like a binding of the hands and an embracing of the book of the Gospels. I preface the rite with the sublime passage on love from the Book of Ruth. And at the end of the nuptial Mass I extend the stole to their shoulders and give them a fourfold blessing, skipping the one prescribed after the Lord's Prayer.
The preparation for this sacrament has been richly improved by the required marriage preparation courses, the pre-Cana, even a kind of retreat. The Catholic couple discover to their pleasure that the church considers them the actual ministers of this sacrament, each to the other. None of this richness was present in "the old church" when marriage was strictly viewed as a contractual situation, a legal business.
One Catholic reform has been suggested officially but has not succeeded; it is an alternative beginning of the ceremony to escape the Emily Post etiquette now called "traditional." The new approach suggests that both parents escort their son and daughter in the opening procession. Have done with the old "father gives away the bride." The father of the groom is totally ignored the way it is done now. We have not even succeeded in 'arousing feminists to the fact that the father giving away his daughter is an old feudal custom; she was formerly handed over in exchange for much property, cattle, land and the "the bridal"--the bride ale--was drunk to seal the contract. Slowly all this came into the church, where it belongs.
In Germany I saw a wedding that began with everyone gathered outside the church, mingling and enjoying each other. Then the priest and a cross-bearer came out and led the whole crowd in a really joyous procession into the church, with the organ thundering welcome. And, yes, this means there are no ushers ostentatiously seating the mothers. The whole surge of people divides by families on either side of the church and their attendants, who step into the sanctuary.
Have you noticed something here? There is no need for a rehearsal.
For the church to discover that marriage should be a sacrament was a great gain: A celebration of human love, of sexuality, in very truth. Of creation: a new family, and very possibly of new life.
[Fr. Joseph Nolan taught theology at Boston College and was founder and editor of the homily service Good News. This article is an excerpt from A Life in Liturgy: Rediscovering the Mass, published by the author. Reprinted with permission.]
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|Title Annotation:||A Life in Liturgy: Rediscovering the Mass|
|Author:||Nolan, Joseph T.|
|Publication:||National Catholic Reporter|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 12, 2009|
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