Solemn and Sacred Transformations

Some months ago I was down to take a wedding on a Saturday. The couple had been prepared by the deacon. The groom was from a nominally Catholic family, the girl was unbaptized.

So the wedding party turned up for the rehearsal on the Friday and, as usual, people were in high spirits, but in this case there was some rolling of eyes and poor behavior from some of the non Catholics. I was told by one of the assistants that they were mocking the Catholic Church and making light of what was going on.

So, as I conducted the rehearsal I explained about the Catholic view of marriage and discussed God’s love and our human loves and what the different elements of the ceremony actually meant. Then, the next day, as the wedding began I welcomed everyone and explained that we call this ceremony the “solemnization of marriage” and that, while it is a joyful event, it is also a solemn religious ritual. I explained that God is present here and I invited them to join in with the prayers and treat the ceremony as solemnly as possible so that it would be as beautiful and meaningful as possible for the bride and groom.

The marriage went on, and I noticed that everyone actually responded. People who had been casual and slouchy were standing erect and tall and silent. They had put their cameras away. They knelt reverently and listened carefully to the readings and homily. They were caught up in the ceremony–and this was especially noticeable amongst the non-Catholics.

Then when it came to the blessing of the rings the ten year old boy stepped forward with the rings pinned to a pillow and he was weeping freely. I looked across and saw that one of the beefy groomsmen was also wiping away a tear. The matron of honor was weeping and so was another bridesmaid. Now I know people always cry at weddings, but this was quite extraordinary and I sensed that what was making them weep was a real and tangible presence of God–and that their awareness of his presence was empowered by the fact that they took my words about the solemnity of the ritual seriously.

How beautiful it is, and how necessary, therefore for all of our sacraments to be celebrated with sacred solemnity. You see, what happens is that sacred solemnity and the formality of ritual touches places deep within the human heart that cannot be touched in any other way. Ritual–with it’s symbolic actions and solemn words–helps us connect with the places that are too deep for ordinary words and actions. When a person attends Mass this is why he should dress better and carry himself better and listen to the words and recite the words with suitable solemnity and dignity–because all of this connects his conscious mind with a better person than he knew he was–a sacred solemn person–a person who is usually buried within the hurly burly and shallowness of everyday life.

This is why our liturgy should be beautiful, because beauty is the language of worship. This is why our music should be sacred and solemn. This is why we should spend money on building beautiful churches. This is why we should train our altar servers and lectors and eucharistic ministers to serve with dignity and solemnity and a sacred manner.

But we have forgotten all of this. Our grandparents and great grandparents understood it, but we have been caught up in the tyranny of utilitarianism. Our churches are mere auditoria. Our music all has to be ‘meaningful’ and that usually means sentimental and trite. Our religion (because we have forgotten the supernatural) has become a mere fellowship and a method to ‘make the world a better place.’ All of this driven by the need for everything to be useful and cost effective and efficient. “Oh, the vulnerability of beauty in a world of useful things!”

I will always remember the tears of that ten year old ring bearer and the tears of the congregation at that wedding. It took non Catholics responding naturally and openly to the liturgy to remind me what it is all about, and to give me the reminder that through the sacred and the solemn we are transformed at a deeper level than we can imagine.

How Death Gave Mozart the Joy of Life
The Mystery and Meaning of Martyrdom
Is Yoga Dangerous?
The Christian Holocaust Continues
  • Victoria

    I have emailed this post to my parish priest.The priest and deacon are the Eucharistic Ministers the others may be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

  • Alister

    The beauty of my friends' full Latin wedding mass was a major contributing factor in ending ten years of hardcore agnosticism.

  • justamouse

    I so needed to read this today. I get so sick and tired of people screaming for utilitarianism, for form following function, but there's a HIGHER function than the one they're thinking about. "You see, what happens is that sacred solemnity and the formality of ritual touches placed deep within the human heart that cannot be touched in any other way. Ritual–with it's symbolic actions and solemn words–helps us connect with the places that are too deep for ordinary words and actions."

  • Barb Bathon

    Such a great post. Just spent the month of July in a parish where there is little form, no sacred music and was so glad to be back in SC again!

  • Russ Rentler, M.D.

    Thanks Father, a great post.

  • missmarple

    Thank you so much for this post. My boyfriend (a cradle Catholic) and I (convert from an agnostic family with very little knowledge about Catholicism) are getting married next year and I'm a bit worried about how that's going to work.Do you have any advice on what to do to prepare my relatives for the mass? To explain how much it means to me without offending them or looking like a religious fanatic…:)

  • shadowlands

    Wonder= FULL!

  • Nzie (theRosyGardener)

    Wow, amazing that this was posted the same day as the wedding of someone I grew up with. I couldn't attend but my parents did, and from what my mother said it had no solemnity at all. But then, it wasn't really sacramental anyway – no church, bastardized religious customs absent the presence of any minister/rabbi/priest, and following a long while of living together. I wish they'd had it in the church and had a priest do what you did – I bet it helped the bride and groom take it seriously as well. Thank you, Father.

  • truthfinder2

    This is so beautiful: I wept as I read it! Thank you, Father!

  • Steven

    Thanks Father, great post. Thank you always for sharing your experiences and insights!

  • Jane

    Our wedding was very solemn, as solemn as an Ordinary Form Mass can get, completely chanted by a very careful priest, with wonderful singers and an awesome organist. The reception afterwards was hopping–seriously, almost four years later people still tell me it was the best wedding reception they've ever been to. I am convinced that the reception was so energetic because the nuptial Mass was so solemn.

  • A.A. Cunningham

    Victoria said… I have emailed this post to my parish priest.The priest and deacon are the Eucharistic Ministers the others may be Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. Only partially correct, Victoria. Deacons cannot confect the Eucharist thus they are not Eucharistic Ministers. As stated in Redemptionis Sacramentum:[154.] As has already been recalled, “the only minister who can confect the Sacrament of the Eucharist in persona Christi is a validly ordained Priest”.[254] Hence the name “minister of the Eucharist” belongs properly to the Priest alone. Moreover, also by reason of their sacred Ordination, the ordinary ministers of Holy Communion are the Bishop, the Priest and the Deacon,[255] to whom it belongs therefore to administer Holy Communion to the lay members of Christ’s faithful during the celebration of Mass. In this way their ministerial office in the Church is fully and accurately brought to light, and the sign value of the Sacrament is made complete.

  • Irenaeus

    "eucharistic ministers" — shouldn't exist, except in truly extraordinary circumstances: a quibble. Excellent post.

  • Myra D’Souza

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • Myra D’Souza

    An awesome article. However it bothers me terribly when Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion are called Eucharist Ministers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that only the Priest can be called Eucharistic Ministers because that is what they are. Words and how we use them are important.

  • Kelly

    Father, thank you for this post. I've come over from New Advent and will be suscribing to your blog. Know that you're in my prayers.I'm finding some of these comements interesting too: I assumed that when Father mentioned 'eucahsitic ministers' he meant priests and deacons.Pax et bonum.

  • Kelly

    A.A. Cunningham makes a good point.I'll edit my thought to "…meant priests."

  • Bethanie Ryan

    Beautiful post. I wish I had read something like this before my own wedding.

  • james Hughes

    Great post. I fully connect with the sort of 'laid back' dress rehearsal followed by the emotional 'high' of the real event. People need this in their lives and particularly in their spiritual lives. I absolutely love the full on latin sung high mass. I recall attending mass in Strasbourg cathedral when the choir sang the Credo in latin and I could hardly sing through the tears because I hadn't heard it for years. Thank you father and keep up the good news. AMDG

  • Peppin the Short

    A beautiful post. A timely reminder of basic essentials which we forget about!