going to the Chapel…

… this weekend my father and my step-mom celebrated 25 years of marriage, an eternity for most married couples today. It truly was a beautiful evening and a moving celebration of the sacrament of marriage and testimony of love.

While I was there I took the above photo from their wedding album. It came out pretty well for being a picture of a picture. They were married in the fall of 1986 at a local Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Virginia.

There is so much to love about this photo but the reason I took it was because it was in a beautiful church. Church weddings have become increasingly rarer and rarer. For two years, between the ages of 26-28, I attended and participated in fifteen weddings. Only six were actually in a church. The rest were in parks, botanical gardens, one at the Chrysler museum, and another in an aquarium. Even my religious friends opted for the park and garden weddings. A Jewish friend chose a bird sanctuary for his nuptials.

To date, only five of those couples remain living together as husband and wife. All the church weddings endured, save for one. Everyone else is either separated or divorced.

Looking at this it seems disproportionate to me. I know there have been studies galore regarding marriage statistics and some that specifically analyzed the the divorce rates among certain protestant denominations and Catholics. But has anyone looked at the rates of divorce for those who’ve had church weddings versus non-religious civil ceremonies?

I understand not every one who has a church wedding is religious. Some opt for the location because the cathedral is beautiful, family tradition, or simply it’s the cheapest venue. And I will admit that my friends who had the church weddings weren’t the most pious practicing types, in fact we were very much a secular group.

Yet the church weddings endured. Why is that, I wonder. I can’t help but speculate that the very act of marrying in a Church drives home the profound reality that marriage is a sacrament. It is not just simply a celebration or a fancy party. It is a sacramental vow till death do them part, witnessed by God in His house with a huge crucifix hanging overhead.

I know it sounds like I am suggesting that couples who marry in a park or quaint garden have less serious intentions, but maybe it’s not so far fetched to wonder if the non-religious atmosphere in which some chose to celebrate such a monumental life moment denigrates the seriousness of the union. Does a lack of religious solemnity start a marriage off on the wrong foot?


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  • Dr. Eric

    We had a full Nuptial Mass on a Saturday morning. The ol’ gray St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism states that a Nuptial Mass gives more grace to the couple. Mass is most likely celebrated in a church. I would wonder if your friends were married by priests/deacons in those outdoor ceremonies- I’m guessing they didn’t. Perhaps they weren’t Catholics which would explain why there was no marriage in a church.

    • Lord No…. no one I knew when I was in my late 20’s was Catholic. We were a bunch of wild heathens!

      • Dr. Eric

        That may be part of the problem. I can’t read souls, but perhaps none of those marriages were valid anyway. I make no judgments, I’m only speculating.

  • I’m not sure it is the church building or more the words spoken by the priest. Just listening to the Royal’s recent church wedding reminded me of the absoluteness of the vow that is taken in front of family, community and ultimately God. So if the bride and groom haven’t figured out what exactly they are getting into there certainly isn’t any question once the priest asks for assent. But that gravity is lost in a ceremony that consists of poems or song lyrics masquerading as “vows” and simple promises to each other.

    • Good point. Memory doesn’t recall if the non-church weddings were officiated by a member of an acutal religious community and if they followed traditional vows or not. I do know the more casual non-church weddings were far less formal and a few had written thier own “vows”.

  • Manny

    My wife is jewish and so we couldn’t have a church wedding. But we did have both a priest and a rabbi officiate our wedding. We had our 20th anniversery last June.

    • Belated ‘Happy Anniversary’ wishes to you and your wife. Perhaps you and Tim have hit on something… the formula of the vows.

      Either way, it’s the formality and religious presence that seems to make for more lasting marriages.

      • Manny

        I agree. The religious presence and identity is the key. Thank you by the way.

  • Mark Richer

    I think you have a cart and horse situation here. The longevity of a marriage is a testament to the serious intent a couple brings to the marriage, and their commitment to it every day — even the bad ones. The location where they exchange vows is, likewise, a reflection and outcome of their commitment to live a sacramental marriage, not the cause.

    My first marriage started in a chapel and was conducted by a rabbi. But I knew deep down (and so did pretty much everybody in that chapel) that the fiasco was doomed. And it was, and it ended.

    Steph and I married in front of the fireplace in our living room, using the services of a rent-a-minister. We had the marriage blessed years later (in Church). I’m much more devoted to her the longer we are together. I married her in the first place because I knew she was a rock solid, serious person, an independent thinker and soul with a true reverence for life — and a kick to boot.

    I also have several friends and acquaintances from college who married right out of college, and who will be celebrating their 30th wedding anniversaries next summer. Same seriousness, same devotion to each other, same clearheaded understanding about their partner (and there are some real characters involved), same story.

    I say look a the couple, not the venue.

    • But I find it interesting that the friends who had the church wedding were not even identifying themselves as religious. We were a rambunctious lot of heathens… all equally irreverent. Yet despite that the church weddings endured.

      Great story about you & Steph, btw.

      • Mark Richer

        I think there’s a deeper issue here. I don’t think that the choice of venue is the determining factor, whatever the religiosity of the couple. It’s the choosing of the venue that reflects seriousness of intent. Those who seek an event get one, but not a marriage. Those who seek sacramental affirmation of a marriage that already exists (regardless of their religious inclinations) usually find it in sacred surroundings; and, therefore, they seek out those settings. I’m not quibbling with your observations. They are prescient and provocative — shoot, they’ve lured me out of my cave. I’m just concerned that we don’t focus on consecration ahead of formation. I evolve from a family of failed and successful vocations (religious and marital), and I’m just trying to shed some light.

        • “It’s the choosing of the venue that reflects seriousness of intent. Those who seek an event get one, but not a marriage. ”

          I think we agree. I’m glad you decided to venture out of your cave.

  • Anonymous

    You are probably right. There may be a connection between the religiosity of a couple and their choice of a wedding location. There is certainly a connection between the longevity of a marriage and the couple’s practice of natural family planning. The divorce rate among NFP couple is something in the 2 to 4 percent range. Why? There are probably several reasons, but they may be similar to your conjecture: couples committed to following God’s law are likely to be more committed to each other.

  • Paige Deaner

    I love step-mom’s dress! Very classic.

    I am a wedding planner and so far have only done one church wedding. It was for an Assemblies of God couple who married in an old Methodist church because it was “pretty.” My husband and I, who were both raised Catholic, but were non-practicing at the time of our marriage got married outside and had a beautiful wedding. This past June we celebrated 3 years of marriage and had our wedding convalidated in front of less than 10 people in our Church on a Tuesday afternoon. It was basically a formality, neither of us meant what we said that day any more or any less than we did in the park. It was important to us to be sacramentally married, and the preparation we had to go through gave a different gravity to what we had already done and deepened our understanding, but I think people who marry with the right intentions have the right intentions regardless of their wedding venue.

    • Thanks Paige for your comment. Her dress is lovely, not one of those trashy strappless backless numbers that seem so popular now.

  • If a couple exchanges vows while sky-diving, or on a roller-coaster, or scuba diving, I have to seriously question how serious they are.

  • Point A

    I second Paige about your Step-mon’s dress, unlikely as I am ever to get married I would worry about any bride-to-be of mine if she was considering a tacky strapless number.

    Point B

    I think that Mark is right, any couple that are serious about marriage will stay married regardless of the background. Case in point, two friends of my mom’s have been married for nearly 30 years despite the fact that neither of them are at all religious (let alone Catholic). My mother on the other hand (foolishly in my opinon) married my father who was already a divorcee not realising that he wasn’t really the hanging around type, less than 11 years later he left and they were divorced within two years.

  • Mimi

    I don’t know. My husband and I were married when I was in a non-religious phase (I have since, as you know, become Orthodox Christian) in a historical courthouse officiated by a judge (my dad is one, she was one of his work colleagues) and my cousin was married in the largest, most lavish Catholic wedding I have ever seen in my life, and the marriage didn’t last much longer than the time it is taking me to type this comment.
    I agree with others that it has a lot more to do with your intentions and maturity level than place of marriage.

    • Mimi

      Oh and Many Years to your Dad and Step-mom!