Anna: Allison is disappointed. She and Todd were planning on writing their own vows for their wedding. Father James told them they would not be allowed to do that.
Joe: What??? Are they crazy?
Anna: No. They just thought that since it is their big day, they wanted to make the vows more personal.
Joe: When is that wedding?
A wedding is an important and memorable day in the lives of the bride and groom. An enormous amount of planning goes into the day. From setting a date to arranging the table seating, there are countless details.
I sometimes feel sorry for the couples. There can be so much stress associated with planning a wedding. As a priest, it is especially gratifying when a couple shows enthusiasm for planning the wedding Mass. After all, this is the most important part of the day. Two people, promising to love each other for a lifetime, is certainly a significant moment.
Occasionally, I will hear a couple refer to the day of the wedding as “our day.” In some ways that is true, but not completely. A wedding is more than a special day for the bride and groom. The whole Church is blessed by this event.
The Bible teaches that the marriage between a man and a woman is a sign of the love that God has for the Church, for all human beings. The love of a husband and wife is a reflection of God’s love for us. Thus the wedding ceremony is not merely the bride and groom’s day. It is a community celebration in which the couple vow their love for each other and offer others an experience of God’s love for all of us.
I was recently assisting a couple in planning for their wedding Mass. They are a terrific young couple who put great effort in selecting readings and music for the Mass and trying to involve family and friends. One day, they asked to meet to discuss writing their wedding vows. They had some ideas and wanted to share them with me. I know they were disappointed when I informed them that they were not free to write their own vows. The Church has a set formula for the vows that are exchanged. I tried to explain.
Language enables us to communicate. The more common the language, the easier it is for us to understand others and to be understood by them. Someone who speaks only English cannot communicate very readily with someone who speaks only Russian.
Since the wedding ceremony is a public event, a celebration of the Church community, a common language is spoken. The universal vows that a bride and groom exchange help all of the community to enter more deeply into the mystery of the marriage between these two people. We hear the words, we are familiar with them, and each time we hear them, we are inspired in new, more powerful ways.
Many who are present have exchanged those same vows. When they hear a bride and groom speak them, they are given an opportunity to renew silently their own vows and to reflect upon the mystery of their own married love.
Common vows also help the bride and groom to feel part of a larger Catholic family. The bride and groom are exchanging vows that Catholics all over the world for generations have exchanged. You exchange the very same vows that your parents and grandparents exchanged. You exchange vows that young couples in Australia and Ireland exchange. That is an awesome reality. It reminds us that the newlyweds are not alone in their married journey. They are united with so many others.
Finally, it is almost impossible to improve upon the vows. Though brief, they capture what love is all about. People write lengthy love notes to each other in which they attempt to express their love. Books are written on the subject. Yet in a few brief phrases, vows express the essence of marriage in a beautiful, clear and uncluttered manner.
I understand why brides and grooms consider the wedding to be “our day.” In some ways, though, this undervalues the magnitude of the day. As with all sacraments, Jesus is the focus. He is the source of the love that flows between bride and groom. Husbands and wives mirror His own sacrificial love.
A wedding day is more than the bride and groom’s day. For the Catholic Church, it is “our day” and we are grateful that through your marriage, you offer us a taste of the love God has for all.