I have a lot to answer for. As a young priest, I presided at numerous weddings, and often went along to the wedding reception too. I reflected on what I saw, and these reflections turned into an article in the diocesan magazine, which the national dailies took up. That was how I came to address the nation on the subject of weddings, through a quarter-hour interview with Marion Finucane, who then presented Liveline.
One of the topics I addressed was wedding receptions and particularly the speeches then made at the end of the meal. In those days, many of those who spoke at receptions were ill-suited to the task and found the experience discomforting. My heart went out to people suffering through the meal as they waited to get the speech done, and I wondered why the speeches could not be gotten over with at the start, to save the pressure on these unwilling speakers.
Fast forward 30 years and that idea has been taken on with a vengeance. Speeches at the start of the wedding banquet are now commonplace, but often by confident speakers with no difficulty in speaking at length. Thirty years ago, speeches were made by the few, now the many speak… and speak and speak. And the guests starve! And they probably curse whoever’s bright idea these beginning-of-meal speeches were.
“Be careful what you wish for” said the wise man of the East. I wished for a new time zone for wedding speeches and my wish was granted. My apologies to all who suffer as a result of that youthful foolishness!
What would be my observations on weddings today? One dramatic change I notice is the decline in Faith. Thirty years ago, people knew the Mass, they were familiar with it, they knew the responses. Picking out readings was made easier by the fact that many couples had heard many of the readings in many contexts. It makes marriages today challenging, both in their preparation and their execution. Challenge or opportunity? It depends on the presider’s mood!
As Faith declines, non-essential elements take on greater priority – there is a vacuum to be filled. So it’s not a one-day event any more, weddings take three days (rehearsal, the day itself, then the barbecue). And every moment of every day has a gimmick attached to it, a money-making opportunity for some person.
I was told of one enterprising entrepreneur whose specialty was matching the cushions on which the bridal couple were to sit with the bridesmaids’ dresses — a level of specialty unheard of a few short years ago.
And sadly, as the externals grow in extent and in cost, the core is emptying. And yet priests have an opportunity to accentuate the core when they preside and preach the Word of God on wedding days. Maybe a Faith-memory is created, maybe in a moment of quiet prayer a connection with the personal God who loves each is re-established. If at least that happens, everything thrown at weddings suddenly becomes worthwhile.
Did you ever notice the roadside signs indicating the venue for (for example) ‘Michael & Mary’s’ or ‘Sean & Fidelma’s’ wedding? Thirty years ago, finding a church in a different part of the county was not so difficult, as people went to Mass in many different places – for funerals, on the way to matches or other functions etc. These signs have become necessary as more and more are unfamiliar with where churches are located, something to muse on as you drive in the countryside. (These signs are also a testament to how poorly county councils signpost our rural churches.)
My early media exposure on weddings taught me a valuable lesson – the danger that parishioners can think one is writing about them.
Critiquing wedding practices, I looked at the practice of the bride’s father ‘giving her away’. This seemed outdated; the bride should not be traded ‘like a sack of spuds’. Unfortunately, the family at whose marriage I had most recently presided weren’t all that impressed to hear their daughter being compared to such a product.
No such comparison was intended, naturally — but I did learn the dangers of writing about parish experiences when one continues to minister in a parish…