On the Friday after Easter I attended the wedding of my friends Andrea and Simon in Oxford, England. Andrea and Simon are both studying to be vicars, so they have many friends and teachers within the Anglican Church. In fact, there were more than 150 priests in attendance on that Friday afternoon as the couple took the sacrament of holy marriage in a nuptial mass, and Andrea’s father, a reverend, officiated.
The Catholic Church has a long way to go before we’d see a similar wedding in our Church, but it was so high-church (lots of incense, formal hymns, etc.) I could envision it. It made me reconsider the importance of talking about marriage and Holy Orders as sacraments that might one day be considered complementary within our own faith.
Andrea and Simon took their vows of marriage a few weeks ago, and just a few weeks from now they will take their vows of priesthood. And as Andrea told me before the service, marriage is the only Christian sacrament that is self-administered. It’s the same way in the Catholic Church: The priest doesn’t marry the couple; he oversees the rest of the Mass, but in fact, the couple marries themselves as they say their vows before God.
There were three things about their wedding day that really stuck with me. First, at no point during the ceremony or in the reception following did the couple publicly kiss. Clearly Andrea and Simon are very much in love-yet this was a solemn and holy event. They were reserved, and their love and passion was clear in the way they looked at each other and in their interlaced fingers as they held hands. In Catholic weddings of our parents’ generation it was similar: No kissing at the altar, at least. It’s something to consider for us young Catholics as we take our own vows.
As she started her journey toward the Anglican priesthood, Andrea put a gold band on her ring finger to symbolize her commitment to her
faith. Now it’s on her right hand, and the wedding band is on her left. Both gold bands signify life callings.
Second, after the sacrament of marriage, there was a full Mass and communion. Andrea and Simon took communion first and then retreated to a secluded part of the church, hidden from view from the rest of the congregation. While we all filed in for communion, the newly married couple had a few minutes alone to reflect, pray and rejoice in their new union. This was incredibly moving. It was a private moment in the midst of a very public ceremony, and full of significance: Andrea and Simon were now a pair apart from all of us, joined as one within their church.
Third, the wedding reception was called the “Family Wedding Breakfast.” I was confused when I first received the invitation-because I thought it would be dinner, not breakfast. But in England it’s called a Family Wedding Breakfast because it is the first meal that the couple shares together as man and wife. Again, the symbolism was lovely.
Marriage and Catholic Priests
Until the 1500s, married priests were common within the Catholic Church-and there were even a handful of married popes. Today, some exceptions have been made for Anglican clergy who are married, converted and then ordained as Catholic priests.
Celibacy for priests isn’t something that is mandated in the Bible. It’s the current teachings of the Church, but it could be changed by Pope Benedict or a future pope.
It’s certainly something that young-adult Catholics are talking about. In a piece in the Duke University newspaper, David C. Steinmetz, a professor of the history of Christianity at Duke University’s Divinity School, acknowledges the gravity of such suggestions and encourages young Catholics and the Church hierarchy to consider the idea of allowing priests to marry as a way to combat the current shortage of priests.
Not to mention considering the idea of women (celibate or not) as priests. Pope John Paul II said it was a closed issue, but there is some discussion of women being ordained as deacons. The Church changes. You never know what happens.
When Andrea reaffirmed her vows of Christianity as she started her journey toward the Anglican priesthood, she put a gold band on her ring finger to symbolize her commitment to her faith. Now it’s on her right hand, and her wedding band is on her left. These two gold bands signify both vows, both life callings.
When we consider these dual sacraments within our faith, it gets complicated and emotional. There are social, theological and practical considerations for the Church and all Catholics. Yet it’s an issue that we, as young Catholics, need to acknowledge and discuss. Whatever stance you take, it’s an important and pressing question.
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