Many still enjoy the spirituality of a church wedding

May 21 2011 - 4:03am

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Rev. Terry McCloskey has a joke he sometimes tells when conducting weddings at Redemptorist Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo.

"There was a wedding where the groom was extremely nervous. When the minister asked the bride if she promised to love, honor and obey her husband, she responded, 'Do you think I'm crazy!'

"The nervous groom promptly stated, 'I do.' "

Actually, at most churches, "obey" is not in the vows, not even in Kate Middleton's as she married Prince William. As we enter the wedding season, each faith has its own way to consecrate marriage.

Despite the levity, McCloskey emphasizes that the marriage ceremony is both a joyful and a serious ritual in the Roman Catholic Church as it is in the world's major faiths.

Redemptorist averages 65 to 70 weddings each year, and McCloskey performs his share of them.

It is like a service, with family and friends reading Scriptures and the priest reading from the Gospel and giving a homily.

"Then I ask the couple several questions: Are you coming freely without reservations and will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your life and will you accept children lovingly from God and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his church?"

Next, the two join their right hands and declare their consent before God and the church.

Both parties need not be Catholic, but during the counseling sessions the priest asks the Catholic person if they will do what they can to bring the children up in the Catholic church.

The church provides several formulas the couple can use as their vows.

Then, in some cases, Mass is celebrated. McClosky said, however, he discourages this if there will be a lot of non-Catholics attending the ceremony, so they won't feel uncomfortable. Non-Catholics cannot receive the Eucharist in the Catholic church.

At the end of the ceremony, he said, "Sometimes the couple will take a bouquet of flowers to the Blessed Mary [statue] and say a prayer, asking for her blessing and help in their married life."

In the Jewish tradition, the bride and groom are likened to a queen and king.

As a prelude to the ceremony, the groom greets his family and friends around a table.

In another room, the bride is seated in a chair and greets guests.

Then the groom is danced from his room to the bride's room, and after looking at her, he puts the veil over her face, said Rabbi Daniel Rockoff of Beth Israel Abraham and Voliner, a modern orthodox congregation in Overland Park, Kan.

"This goes back to when Jacob was tricked into thinking he was marrying Rachel and it was Leah," he said. "The tradition is to make sure the groom is marrying the right woman."

The Jewish wedding is a celebration, he said.

"One feature that makes a Jewish marriage unique is that it focuses on various rituals that make the marriage go into effect," he said.

"The main ceremony is when the bride and groom stand under a canopy called a chuppah. It is open on all four sides, symbolizing the tent of Sarah and Abraham, and that Jewish homes are open to hospitality.

"The official act of betrothal is when the groom takes a ring that belongs to him and presents it to the bride by placing it on her right index finger.

This act is called "kiddushin," taken from the Hebrew word "kedusha," which means holiness, Rockoff said.

"This ritual is performed in the sight of qualified witnesses in order to make it binding."

Then friends, family and honored rabbis give seven blessings of praise. This is followed by the breaking of the glass, Rockoff said.

"One explanation for this is that even in times of celebration, not all is perfect in the world," he said. "And for the Jewish people, our temple was destroyed and had not yet been rebuilt. We recall that by breaking the glass.

"Another reason is we want to temper the joy of the occasion so that it does not lead to frivolity. Breaking the glass reminds us that this is a sacred occasion."

The wedding ceremony is a sacred event, said the Rev. Glen Miles, senior minister at Kansas City's Country Club Christian Church, where 75 to 80 weddings take place each year.

The bride and groom are not just standing in the presence of the congregation but in the presence of God, he said.

"Early in the ceremony in the invocation, we ask God to be present," he said.

He asks the parents of the couple, "Who blesses the marriage of this man and this woman?"

He then reads from Scripture.

One of his favorites comes from 1 John 4:7-8, which he says places the focus on the gift of love, and as the couple does acts of love for each other, they are loving God. His homily is from Scripture.

"I love that many couples come to us who are not members of any church, but there is this pull toward the sacred," Miles said.

"They just feel they should be married in a church. Personally, I feel there is a spiritual significance to marrying in a church."

The vows are a promise between equals, he said; they recall promises God has made us.

"The ring is a circle that is not broken," he said. "It symbolizes the wholeness that God intends. There is so much brokenness in the world, there should be a place to find wholeness. That is signified by the marriage."

Miles said lighting the unity candle symbolizes the light of Christ.

Many weddings also include communion for the couple as a further connection to Christ, he said.

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