Liturgical music composer Giovanni Morales and his fianceé Natalie Rivera of Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia had to postpone their May 2020 wedding twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Giovanni Morales)

An archdiocesan couple is drawing strength from their faith as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has now delayed their wedding not once, but twice.

“We were in complete denial that our wedding would be cancelled,” said Natalie Rivera, a member of Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia.

Rivera and her fiancé, liturgical music composer Giovanni Morales, were set to marry on May 23 at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where Rivera had been registered before recently returning to her childhood parish.

But just weeks ahead of their wedding day, the coronavirus pandemic spread in earnest to the United States, prompting family and friends to wonder if they planned to cancel.

“It was surprising to us that people were asking, because in our eyes, we still had plenty of time,” said Rivera, an educator at a North Philadelphia school.

Even when COVID-19 restrictions were implemented in the Philadelphia region, Morales said he felt the same, noting that he was at first “very optimistic that this would be a short shutdown.”

As the stay-at-home orders continued and the number of infections soared, his hopes for the May matrimony waned. “I couldn’t help but think, wow — we’ve prepared and planned for the best day of our life and taken every detail into account, except for a global pandemic,” he said.

In April, the couple received word that their reception venue had closed, “with no foreseeable time frame in which it would open again,” said Rivera.

They quickly reorganized, announcing to family and friends that they had rescheduled for July 10. Natalie proceeded with her final dress fitting and her bridal hair and makeup trial in late June, cautiously anticipating her walk down the aisle.

“It was like I had a glimpse of hope by being able to do wedding-related things, albeit with a mask on,” she said. “But at the same time, I was trying not to get too excited because in the back of my mind, I knew there was a chance it was still not going to happen.”

Although a scaled-down wedding with a few guests would have been possible under COVID-19 restrictions, both Rivera and Morales couldn’t imagine proceeding without their large circles of family and friends. Reluctantly, they decided to postpone until May 2021.

“We really wanted all of them to be witnesses to our matrimony and to be able to celebrate with us,” said Rivera. “For me to have to lower the attendees to 25, it would have been cutting out people whom I really wanted to be a part of our wedding day.”

And that desire wasn’t about wanting to host a great reception, said Morales.

“In our lives, family is everything,” he said. “During the sacrament of matrimony, it is us, the husband and wife who are professing our love to each other and showing the unity of love between God and his church, his people. We want our families to be able to partake in that celebration of unity, the feast of love that is portrayed during the sacrament.”

Such faith has long sustained Rivera and Morales, who grew up in Holy Innocents and St. Veronica parishes respectively. After meeting in 2017 during a salsa dance, the couple struck up a conversation the next day after Sunday Mass at Holy Innocents.

“And the rest is history,” laughed Morales, who regularly performs at liturgies in a number of archdiocesan parishes.

With their relationship firmly rooted in Christ, the couple knew where to turn when frustration, stress and exhaustion blocked their path to the altar.

“I found relief in Psalm 46 which says ‘God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble,’” said Morales. “I tried to remember that as difficult as this time was, many others were … losing loved ones (without) being able to grieve and mourn them properly.”

Acceptance of God’s will, along with gratitude for his protection, also put matters into perspective, said Rivera.

“We finally had to give into his plan and know that he is the ultimate scheduler,” she said. “Our faith led us to thanking God that thus far, our family has been healthy overall and we have not had to endure any loss.”

Couples discouraged by the pandemic’s delay of their dream day should “pray, pray, and pray some more,” said Morales, adding that “God’s timing is perfect.”

Rivera agreed, noting that “he will be the one to allow us to have our wedding when all our guests will be able to attend safely.”

And when that day comes, Morales said, “Natalie and I will have the wedding of a lifetime.”

“It will be the greatest of days,” he said. “We will laugh and dance and sing and be very happy together at the altar, professing our love before God’s church.”