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The season of Spring is a time for irreplaceable love

Helping couples prepare for marriage is a joy, even if it occasionally means saying no to Beyoncé, writes Fr Michael Kane

Around this time of year many priests will recognise the same familiar requests. Now that Christmas is well and truly over, lots of parents make contact with the parish to arrange for the Baptism of their newborn babies. Many have been waiting for the relative lull of the New Year before making firm arrangements for Baptism which can mean that spring is a very popular time for families to gather around the font.

Likewise, meetings are scheduled for couples who wish to begin preparations for marriage. Sometimes, a hesitant man finds the extra confidence to ‘pop the question’ over the Christmas period. The new beginnings promised by a new year offer the added impetus needed to pluck up the courage to get down on one trembling knee.

Preparing engaged couples for marriage is a great privilege for the clergy and an enjoyable task for most priests or deacons. The age-old saying ‘I’d rather have ten funerals rather than one wedding’ is more of a comical soundbite rather than a cynical reality. It is always a blessing to share in the joy of a newly engaged couple who are excited to begin a lifelong adventure with the one they love.

 

Couple’s love

Besides the obvious administrative elements, marriage preparation is also a time to get to know each couple personally. We learn how they first met and how their love for each other has grown stronger and deeper. We learn all about their personalities and families and work life.

During the period leading up to the marriage ceremony, we also ask all couples to attend our pre-marriage course, ‘Love for a Lifetime.’ The Church requires priests to ascertain an individual’s voluntary desire to enter this lifelong commitment and to ensure both the bride and groom are fully aware of the lifelong responsibilities which come with married life.

The course is a good way to do that, alongside lots of other couples, and without the intensity of an interview environment. The day-long course features lots of married presenters who speak personally of their own experience of marriage. They cover topics such as theology of the body, Sacred Scripture, love languages, communication and fertility care.

 

Expectations

They also invite couples to answer questionnaires that give an idea of their expectations going into married life, which can be telling.

For my part, I speak at the end of the course about the Sacrament of Marriage and some practical elements of the ceremony, including the all-important vows. The hope is those solemn promises will really flow from the depths of their hearts, promising an eternal and daily ‘I do’ from that moment on.

This is about creating the right kind of intentionality, where both bride and groom realise that they have become a living gift to another person. The words are the easy part; living them is much more challenging.

I also like to remind couples, much to their surprise, that they are not marrying a saint, or someone who is perfect. If marriage is to last for a lifetime it is surely vital for spouses to realise that their other half is flawed and will make mistakes. This is the reality of the marriage covenant.

 

Unity

The union of man and woman in marriage is a project to help each other grow in holiness, and to become the best version of themselves. It is a lifelong project to help each other to grow in holiness of life and to become saints of the future. This is an often-forgotten shared responsibility in marriage. This vocation is ultimately about populating Heaven with holy men and women.

So often, couples today are considered to have all the wrong priorities entering marriage. There is a perception that couples are only interested on the externals such as dresses and venues, kilts and cakes.

Of course, such couples do exists, and the description ‘bride-zilla’ can be reasonably employed on occasion. Sometimes priests have to remind couples of the most important element of marriage which takes place on the steps of the altar, and that a song from Beyoncé would not be appropriate for the bridal procession!

However, in my experience, the vast majority of couples are very focused on the Church ceremony.

 

Dignity

Most engage or re-engage with their Faith in the approach to their wedding day, and promise to accompany their preparations with prayer and the Sacraments. They put incredible care into their choice of hymns and readings and in ensuring the Mass or service is celebrated with dignity and respect.

Let me end with one final observation which relates to mixed tradition marriages. Increasingly priests are celebrating marriages where one party is not Catholic. Sometimes this person belongs to another tradition, another religion or has no faith at all. In these cases, enormous generosity has been shown by that person in choosing to come to a Catholic Church to celebrate marriage.

I have always been impressed by the respect of non-Catholics who unquestioningly abide by the practices of the Church because of the love they have for their Catholic spouse. It is a testament to the power of sacrificial love, and a sign of generosity on day one of their marriage. It is not a gift we should so easily skip over.

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