Once the date for the wedding has been set, the engaged couple must prepare spiritually and materially for the wedding, fulfill legal requirements and requirements of their religious communities, and plan for the wedding ceremony. This article centers on these matters.
Preparing spiritually for the wedding
If a man and a woman want a happy, lifelong marriage they must give special attention to their own spiritual well-being in getting ready for their wedding day. For Catholic couples it would be a very good idea for them to make a retreat, and they ought surely to make an effort to attend daily Mass together and to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Couples of other religious faiths might be able to go on retreats sponsored by those communities or take part in undertakings of a similar kind. All couples should pray together and ask their friends to pray for them. They will obviously be concerned with the material details of the wedding—the dresses for bride and bridesmaids, attire for the groom and ushers, flowers, wedding cake etc. But concern over their spiritual preparation takes priority.
Preparing materially for the wedding
The bride to be should plan to make her wedding dress and that of her bridesmaids modest, for modesty, as we have seen, is the moat around the castle of chastity. She and the groom ought likewise to keep the expense of wedding gown and other attire reasonable in relationship to their and their wedding party’s financial situation. Similarly, care regarding expense ought to be taken in having the wedding cake made, in arranging for a reception and dinner after the wedding ceremony. If the bride’s father (family) carries the expense of the wedding reception both bride and groom ought to make him aware that they do not want him to spend so much money that he needs to take out a loan or in any way endanger his own family’s economic well-being. If there is to be a “bachelor’s party,” care should be taken that it not be marked by excessive drinking, ribald jokes, filthy entertainment, etc. Other matters include where to go on the honeymoon and its expense etc.
Of greatest importance is the need to keep in mind that preparing spiritually for the wedding takes priority over preparing for it materially.
Fulfilling Legal Requirements
All states and local governments require certain matters to be taken care of prior to the wedding: a marriage license, perhaps a blood test, and, depending on the state and local government, other assurances that the couple is free to marry. Naturally these requirements must be fulfilled.
Fulfilling Religious Requirements
Different religious communities have different requirements here and some do not have any. The Catholic Church is one religious community that does have very precise requirements. At the present time most dioceses in the United States require persons planning for marriage to register with their pastor six months prior to the time when they want the wedding to take place and to take a course on marriage preparation that many times meets only 4 times prior to the wedding. The value of these courses depends in large measure on the quality of the marriage preparation course offered in particular dioceses and on the persons who conduct the meetings. At least one is usually devoted to a presentation of contemporary natural family methods or what can perhaps better be described as presentation of fertility awareness methods.
Planning the Wedding Celebration or Ceremony
Many times for both Catholic and non-Catholic Christian marriages, the wedding takes place in church during some liturgical ceremony (a nuptial Mass for Catholics is usual), and this is also true for Jewish weddings and for many other religious communities. Here I offer suggestions only for liturgical or scriptural readings for Catholic and non-Catholic communities.
For a Catholic nuptial Mass there are usually a reading from the Old Testament, another from some book other than one of the Gospels for a second reading, and a reading from one of the Gospels. For the first two readings lay persons, usually related to the bride and groom, are readers whereas the priest celebrant or priest (or deacon) friend reads the Gospel text selected.
There are many excellent readings from the Old Testament that can be used: one is Genesis 1’s account of the first marriage when God made man in his own image and likeness, “male and female he created them and blessed them and said, Increase and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28 f). Note that in Genesis 1 God creates man, male and female, simultaneously. Another is Genesis 2’s more poetic account of marriage, where the male, Adam, is created first and, because it is not good for the Man (Adam) to be alone, God cast him into a deep sleep and from his rib fashioned his wife, and the man, on awakening, declared: “Here at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two will become one flesh” (see Genesis 2:18-24). Other good texts from the Old Testament are found in the Song of Songs or in Tobit.
In the New Testament a favorite text for the second reading used to be that of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, 5.21-33. St. Paul in that passage commands that wives “be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just at Christ is head of the Church…As the church is subject to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in all things” (5.22-24). Thus many today think the text is chauvinistic and fails to recognize that wives are persons equal in dignity to their husbands. But those who make this criticism fail to note that before saying this Paul had written: “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). Moreover, after commanding husbands to love their wives “even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her, to sanctify her…” (5:25), he then declares: “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself, for no one hates his own flesh but nourishes and cherish, even as Christ does the church, for we are members of the his body” (5:28-29). Thus I think that this text is still very appropriate. Other good texts from the New Testament are from St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, the famous chapter 13, his paean to “love” as the greatest of the virtues
Appropriate texts from the Gospels are: Matthew 19:3-9, Mark 10:2-9.
I believe that the following “Instruction,” formerly given by the celebrant of the nuptial Mass immediately before the bride and groom voiced their consent to marry each other, is most beautiful and appropriate, with proper changes, for the celebration of any marriage that is based on the truth that God is the author of marriage and its blessings. It reads as follows:
Dear Friends in Christ:
As you know, you are about to enter into a union which is most sacred
and most serious, a union which was established by God himself. By it he
gave man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the
continuation of the human race. And in this way he sanctified human love
and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by
sharing a common life under his fatherly care.
Because God himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a
holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and
unreserved giving of self. But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of
marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the
love of marriage to describe his own love for his Church, that is, for
the people of God whom he redeemed by his own blood. And so he gave to
Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of
self-sacrificing love like his own. It is for this reason that his
apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all times is
to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the
supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.
The union is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in
a relationship so close and so intimate that it will profoundly
influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and
disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its
pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that
these elements are mingled in every life and are to be expected in your
own. And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for
better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.
Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to
your undoubted faith in each other, that, recognizing their full import,
you are nevertheless so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because
these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you
rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of
self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and
complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that
deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth, you
belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart,
and one in affections.
And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to
preserve this common life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is
usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect
love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love.
And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the
world that he gave his only begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that
he gave himself for our salvation. “Greater love than this no one has,
that one lay down his life for his friends.”
(c) 2010 Culture of Life Foundation. Reproduction granted with attribution required.