Every priest or deacon can tell you a wedding story — and the protagonist is usually the bride. Here’s mine.
File this under “Things They Don’t Tell You About in Deacon School” …
The background: I inherited a wedding in my parish from a foreign priest who was called back to his home diocese in the Czech Republic. The wedding, on paper, was fairly straightforward: a ceremony, with no mass (the groom and his family aren’t Catholic).
When the original priest left for his new assignment, my pastor told the bride that someone else would be handling the wedding. I called her to touch base and let her know I was the guy who’d be doing it.
This news did not fill her with joy. She told me she thought the pastor was going to preside. She was especially upset, she told me, because she’d already had the programs printed with his name. I told her that if there’s a problem, she should take it up with the pastor. She did.
When she called him, he explained that no one else was available on the wedding date. He added, if you’re not happy about this and can find a priest of your own to do it, go right ahead.
Long story short: the bride enlisted the services of another priest from outside the parish to come in and do the wedding. A few days before the wedding, she called me to let me know. But she said there’s a problem. “He can’t be there for the rehearsal,” she said. “Can you still do it?” Sure, I said.
After I hung up the phone, it all came into focus.
She didn’t have a problem with a strange name on the program. She didn’t have a problem with someone else doing the wedding. She had a problem because that someone else wasn’t a priest. The plain truth was, she just didn’t want to be married by a deacon.
There were a couple other bumps in the aisle — like the bride’s mother insisting that her daughter receive communion during the service, an issue that ultimately had to be swatted down by my pastor — but otherwise, the wedding went smoothly. (The morning of the event, my pastor wondered why they hadn’t called to demand a bishop for the service…) When I finally met the visiting priest to walk him through the ceremony, he said he was shocked to learn that the parish had a deacon who could have done it. “At my parish,” he explained later in the sacristy, “if it’s a service and they don’t want the deacon, and there’s no one else available, we just don’t do it.” It later emerged that when they called him and said they needed a priest, he just thought he was helping them out in a pinch. “I’m the only priest at my parish,” he told me, “and it’s not like I don’t have a lot of other things to do today…”
Coming just a couple weeks after my experience with another bride, who wondered if her chihuahua could be in the wedding, I’m becoming convinced that the crisis in Catholic marriage starts with bad Catholic weddings. The other day, I was talking with a priest in my office about the challenges of doing weddings these days, and he agreed. A religious order priest, he doesn’t do very many of them, and he doesn’t like to do them for people outside his family. “It’s not a sacrament any more,” he said wearily. “It’s the Greatest Show on Earth.”
Indeed. Send in the clowns.