The Covid-19 lockdown has brought about many changes in our lives – we have long lamented the closure of churches for Mass – and even if a vaccine becomes available, it will probably be some time before these changes are reversed.
One shift I welcome is the trend towards smaller weddings. Hotels and wedding planners say that there is a real increase in smaller weddings, now and for 2021. One hundred and fifty guests were about the norm, pre-Covid. Those numbers have been compulsorily reduced – currently standing at a mere 25 (although there are hopes that when the present level changes, that will expand to 50.)
At the beginning of the lockdown period, back in March, couples tended to postpone their wedding day. But now, there is more of a tendency to go ahead with the nuptials anyway, just keeping them to a smaller dimension.
Surely this is a blessing in disguise? Wedding parties had become so lavish, expensive and ostentatious in recent years. The average cost of a wedding was said to be in the region of €25,000.
I’ve been shown pictures of wedding feasts that went on over several days, what with the stag and hen parties, the hire of a wedding location with parkland, the frocks for the bride and bridesmaids (up to six), the church decorations, the banquets afterwards, the adornments provided by kites and balloons showering red roses on the assemblage, the subsequent disco, the going-away party lifted into a waiting helicopter, and the next-day lunches and transport arrangements for family and guests.
The celebrations would not shame a Renaissance prince. But nobody wants to be a mean-spirited sourpuss and if the lavish wedding is what the folk want, why object?
The minus side was that these very grand weddings were putting many young people off marriage. The statistics show a drop in marriage rates, and the anecdotal evidence is obvious. I know couples who have settled down together, put a deposit on a house, had a few children – and had them baptised – and are altogether devoted to one another. But they fear arranging a wedding because they think the cost is astronomical, and the fuss daunting.
And now the coronavirus restrictions have come along and provided the perfect excuse for an excellent compromise: to have a small, modest wedding with a limited guest-list.
Some people will always want a wedding to be a special, even lavish, occasion, with the bride in a glorious dress and train. But many happy marriages started out with a simple wedding ceremony, with the bride decked out in a neat tailored costume, and the groom in his Sunday best.
More co-habitees would marry if that type of wedding was also the norm. The Covid-19 restrictions are an opportune moment to reconsider wedding styles.
Rabbi Sacks had a gentle pastoral manner
When I interviewed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks a few years ago, we spoke about his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, which he said had been a very rewarding encounter. I then asked him – a sensitive topic – if he had felt any awkwardness about Benedict being German, and, as a young boy, having been made to join the Hitler Youth.
Not at all, said Rabbi Sacks. The thought never entered his head. They met as men of faith, and as fellow intellectuals. Lord Sacks – who has died from cancer, aged 72 – was a philosopher of international standing, who defended all faiths, and wrote brilliantly about science and faith being complementary, not adversarial.
Jonathan Sacks – he’d been Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth – was a social conservative in his views about the family. Liberal Jews thought him too conservative on issues like divorce and abortion – and yet he was seldom met with the hostility that most social conservatives now encounter. He had a gentle pastoral manner, and in his popular broadcast preachings he often started with a story.
Attending a football match where his team, Arsenal, took a beating, he was told by a disappointed fan “that shows there is no God!” “To the contrary,” replied Lord Sacks. “It shows that God favours Manchester United!” RIP to an admirable man of faith. (see page 11)
The story has emerged of an Irish priest who was present at the Christmas truce in 1914 between German and Allied troops. Fr Ned Dowling was parish priest at Camross, Co. Laois between 1942 and 1960, but he had been a chaplain near Ypres in 1914. He ministered to the wounded and dying, and saw the friendly exchanges between opposing armies – “many a little souvenir changed hands…buttons, electric torches, cigarettes and cigars.” The football game, however, was “a washout”, because there was still some noise from the guns.
The diaries of Father Ned have been uncovered by his nephew, David Walsh, the sports writer. A fascinating witness to history.