"Operation I Do" to marry up to 20 couples in one ceremony

"Operation I Do" to marry up to 20 couples in one ceremony August 10, 2011

How’s this for a wedding-a-palooza, from Catholic San Francisco:

St. Thomas More Parish in San Francisco is hosting a wedding for as many as 20 couples — one parish’s response to a decline of almost 50 percent in weddings among Catholics in the past two decades.

“We’ll be doing a real shebang. Areal wedding,” said Joe Espinueva, a parishioner and organizer of “Operation I Do,” a totally free wedding and reception for couples who were civilly but not sacramentally married or have been in a common law marriage.

“There will be cutting of cake. There will be dancing. We will want these people to feel they are getting a real marriage from the church,” said Espinueva.

Parishioners are volunteering to cook dishes, bake cakes, and offering to donate bouquets. Many of the marrying couples’ children will serve as flower girls and ring bearers.

Marriage preparation according to church norms is under way, said Espinueva. “We are not trying to do a microwave wedding or a shortcut wedding,” said Espinueva, who said he was sacramentally married at St. Thomas More four years ago, years after entering a civil marriage. The parish will engage in follow up with the couples after the wedding to keep them engaged spiritually with the church, Espinueva said.

“We started in our church a campaign to say for those married civilly — let us help you to marry in the church,” said pastor Msgr. Labib Kobti. “All that I want to do is to bring you back to the church and make from your wedding a sacrament. This we called ‘Operation I Do.’”

The parish expects numerous priests concelebrating and at least 500 wedding guests. It will host the reception at the large church hall on St. Thomas More school grounds, said Espinueva. “Msgr. Labib said we will be putting tents outside if that’s not enough space.”

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The article also notes that three diaconate candidates from the parish are involved in the planning and execution of this event.

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13 responses to “"Operation I Do" to marry up to 20 couples in one ceremony”

  1. Today is our 27th wedding anniversary. Personally I would not like a communal wedding celebration. But that’s my own take.

  2. Our parish, which is 80% Hispanic has done the same thing. It is a good way to get couples who may not otherwise celebrate a church wedding, because they feel they are too poor to afford one – or because they have been civilly married for years without a church wedding and perhaps have not been in a position to do that. It becomes a true community celebration rather than a private one… and since community and family are extremely high values for those from the Hispanic culture, this does not seem as strange to them as it may to us, I suspect. It sounds like the parish in the story is planning a fiesta to go with it… and that fits the situation well.

  3. It sounds like a communal wedding somehow allows for a diffusion of shame or guilt in those civilly, but not sacramentally married. Still, there is something about it that doesn’t set well with me.

    I think of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s communal wedding of hundreds of couples in Madison Square Garden thirty years ago, and how Christians everywhere thought the idea abhorrent.

    I’m wondering if in the diffusion of guilt and shame, there is not also lost a certain personal imperative for the individuals concerning the sacramental duties and obligations being enjoined in that mass exchange of vows? I can’t put my finger on it…


  4. Congratulations to them! The really good part is that now all these people are able to go to the sacraments and be fully a part of the Church.
    Whether they do it like this, with a public celebration, or more behind the scenes, I think it is important for parishes to have an outreach to people who need help to convalidate their marriage. The process can seem intimidating, sometimes all they need is some help getting the ball rolling.

  5. Gerard…

    I think this is one of those instances where we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. While the group wedding may not be ideal, the article indicates that every effort is being made to catechize the couples properly and prepare them for what they are undertaking, and the end result will be undeniably positive: more couples striving to live a truly Catholic marriage, strengthened by the grace of the sacrament. The article also indicates that there are many reasons why couples don’t marry in the Church — the process isn’t always easy, especially if there is an annulment that needs to be obtained — and this event was clearly designed to make the process easier and more manageable (both bureaucratically and financially). Ultimately, I think, this ceremony offers a positive witness, and should encourage other couples to at least investigate getting married in the Church.

    Dcn. G.

  6. I agree that it is good that these couples regularize their union by the sacrament of marriage. 1166045385 above is right, having grown my first 19 years or so in Mexico, I am very familiar with the custom there of having several weddings at the same time; priests even manage to squeeze in the “quinceaneras”, the traditional custom in Mexico of having fifteen year old girls go to Church to give thanks to the Virgin, as that is considered the age of maturity. There is also the practice of doing communal baptisms of babies.

    The reason as pointed above in other comments,is that many in Mexico have abandoned regular church attendance and the wedding preparation period, the pre-baptismal talks, have become the only way of evangelizing and catechizing those who otherwise would be out of the Church and live in either civil or common law marriages.

    We “cheated” (my wife and me were married in Mexico), we found a small chapel where a missionary priest was willing to marry us in an individual ceremony. And yes, we were married by the civil law about tow years earlier, which is common in Mexico.

  7. The more I read this story, the more inspired I am by this creative parish outreach in the Catholic community at St. Thomas More Parish. Having worked in parish ministry, I am very impressed by how the members of this parish are using their various talents to facilitate the sacramental marriage of those couples who, for various reasons, have not been married in the church.

    The commitment to bringing the couples back to the sacraments, Marriage and Eucharist, shows me that this community knows what the Church and being a Catholic mean and they want to share it (the “New Evangelization” in practice).

    No stone is left unturned. All the members of the community can have a place to contribute, e.g., by helping with paperwork, publicizing the event, facilitating marriage preparation, planning and implementing a “totally free” celebration with food and music, and even following-up to help sustain the momentum.

    The members of this community know what the couples need: not judgment (even the children of the couples will have place in the ceremony) but concrete, practical help, in a spirit of love, so as not to embarrass the couples. As one of the planners said: “We are doing this out of love. It’s just a four-letter word but it takes a lot of time to practice.”

    I love this post. I’ve read it several times. Thanks for posting it, Greg.

    (I never thought of Thomas More as patron of marriage (politicians and statesmen, yes) but, now that I think about it, it’s right on target.)

  8. I liked Dcn Greg’s response to Gerard. My daughter is engaged to be married next April. I am somewhat in shock as to the expense currently involved to having a Church wedding followed by a relatively simple, classic celebration with family and close friends of the bride and groom only…I think a wedding-a-palooza–especially with the kind of catechesis described would be better than telling the couple to elope. BTW, if you are invited to someone’s wedding and really don’t intend to go, do the couple a favor by returning the RSVP with a “not attending” clearly marked ASAP. The only thing worse than the expense involved is the waste involved if they think you are attending and then you don’t. On the upside, wedding receptions are deffinitely an opportunity to stimulate the local economy 🙂

  9. Last year there was a similar effort at my parish. As far as I know only those from the Latino community were involved. Why only Latinos? I don’t know. Maybe this is an incipient trend.

  10. In Deacon response, “I think this is one of those instances where we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” I find it troubling that we should ever consider looking at a sacrament in this way. If we are not striving to keep the Sacraments on a very high level, we diminish them and in fact last time I looked receiving a sacrament while not in the state of grace was a sin in itself. Am I wrong on this Deacon? Of course many in the Catholic Church have allowed the Sacraments to be trashed for years as with allowing pro abortion political hacks to receive communion. Also it seems that every one of these marriages is wide open to annulment since most could be later seen as not really valid. What every happened to the protection of our sacred Sacraments? I think of this each Sunday as I witness almost the entire crowd head up to recieve Communion. It is either an amazing fact that all these folks are in the state of grace or that the trashing of our Lord’s Body and Blood are being trashed with grave sin. Please enlighten me on this one if I am wrong which of course would make the cathecism of the Church also wrong. Will be waiting for a response.

  11. Greta…

    Where does it indicate these couples will be receiving the sacrament in something less than a state of grace? Where does it indicate the sacrament won’t be valid? Where does the story say they won’t receive adequate preparation or be properly disposed to receive the graces of the sacrament of marriage?

    From what I can glean from the story, all the requirements are being met and all the couples participating are doing it for the right reasons. Twenty couples whose marriages are blessed within the Catholic Church means 20 more couples who can go to communion; it means 20 more couples who will not be afraid to set foot in a church or feel like outcasts; it means 20 more couples who will be more inclined to raise their children in the faith, and who may see to it that they receive all their sacraments, and who may also encourage other couples to have their marriages convalidated. It means 20 more couples — 40 more people — who may be less intimidated by the confessional, and who could be more open to availing themselves of reconciliation, and all the graces that it brings.

    As the catechism puts it so beautifully: 1129 “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation. ‘Sacramental grace’ is the grace of the Holy Spirit, given by Christ and proper to each sacrament. The Spirit heals and transforms those who receive him by conforming them to the Son of God. The fruit of the sacramental life is that the Spirit of adoption makes the faithful partakers in the divine nature by uniting them in a living union with the only Son, the Savior.”

    Grace builds on grace. I see this is a powerful evangelizing tool. Since the greatest work of the Church is striving for the salvation of souls, it is entirely possible that this sort of ceremony might help in some small way to achieve that glorious end.

    Some will take it seriously. Some won’t. As with any Catholic wedding. Only time will tell if this bears the fruits it promises.

    At the very least: it’s worth a shot.

    Dcn. G.

  12. Responding to ruth_ann #10

    The traditionally English speaking countries of the world — including US, Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand among others — may be the anomaly here. Everyday pew-sitting Roman Catholics in those countries tend to forget — if they ever knew — that just because we do things certain ways does not mean that everyone does.

    In most — if not all — of the countries of Europe and Latin America, if a marriage is to be recognized legally, it must be sanctioned FIRST in a civil/secular ceremony. If the couple wants to have a religious ceremony, regardless of the religious traditions, that is largely meaningless to the secular governments involved.

    The recent marriage of the Prince of Monaco is as good example as any. The wedding ceremonies were a two-day deal: the first day was the secular one, the second day was a religious one. The news — and glamor — of that event was spread all over the Internet

    Now: the secular ceremony can be incredibly inexpensive and simple. Cost is nominal — like the cost of our own “Marriage License” — and is the same for everyone.

    This phenomena is not — as you seem to suggest — only a Latino one. Considering, however, the vast majority of immigrants we have flowing into our country in the last generation or so have been poor Latinos, I can understand your observation.

    Two observations on my part:

    –The notion of having a secular but simple wedding ceremony first and then later to have it “regularized” by a Roman Catholic ceremony has been historically seen in the “Anglo” community as well. In the earliest days of the American frontier, when clergymen of any denomination — regardless whether they were Catholic priests or not — were “circuit-riders” and maybe only visited isolated hamlets on rare and very irregular occasions. In those cases, the couple and their witness had a secular civil and public ceremony that the Catholic priest “regularized whenever he could get there.

    –I am beginning to see this situation surface among Roman Catholic couples who are both in the military. Three times now in recent years (and all three were “Anglo”), we “regularized” weddings of military personnel who needed to have a secularly recognized wedding in order to even apply to be stationed together in a future change of station.

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