Getting Married During COVID-19: Changing Plans and Recognizing the True Meaning of the Sacrament

The author and his wife on their wedding day

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I proposed to Ann in May of 2019, and within a few months, we decided upon a wedding in June of 2020 at the beautiful Our Lady of Providence Chapel and reception at the adjacent Aldrich Mansion in Warwick, Rhode Island. The attractive chapel and mansion, and the picturesque Narragansett Bay just one hundred yards away would all make for a fairy-tale wedding.

And then, coronavirus came.

We knew immediately that the series of rites of passages we had planned, like wedding showers and Eucharistic Holy Hours with our families, might be cancelled. We anxiously wondered if the big day would transpire after events like these — all geared towards the strengthening of our relationship with each other, our families and God — would have to be abandoned.

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Before long, we received the news that our venue itself was no longer an option, and in its stead stood the possibility of a wedding whose guest list would not be larger than our witnesses. 

Luckily, as the months passed and the cases began to drop, our chances of having a larger (normal-ish) wedding rose. When we were eventually granted the opportunity in light of Rhode Island state government and Diocesan guidelines to host a public (albeit smaller) wedding, we were elated. By then we had decided that the beauty of the Sacrament and its graces were far more important than the pageantry of the day, and would opt to celebrate a simpler wedding on our same date of June 28, 2020 rather than postponing it.

We were relieved, but also saddened as we had to let many friends and family know that our wedding ceremony in June would have to be a relatively small one in light of the pandemic. A guest list in the triple digits was trimmed to one in the double digits — a small enough group to fit into both the church and a lake house we rented while abiding by all safety protocols. Jesus and our love for each other would be just as present at St. Joseph’s Church in Pascoag as it would have been at Our Lady of Providence Chapel. The view of the ocean behind the chapel mattered not as much as the view of our lives as a married couple, the beginning of which we did not want to prolong. After long conversations, spiritual reading and much prayer during the month after Rhode Island started its reopening process, Ann and I also gained perspective and peace in knowing that matrimony was never ultimately about the pomp and circumstance humans created anyway, but is actually about what God would divinely create in us as a couple.

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We also leaned on the Gospel from our wedding Mass, which reminds us that “Anyone who finds his life will lose it; anyone who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) The literal loss of life at the hands of COVID-19 prompted us as a couple to delve more deeply into the profound truths of marriage through extra prayer and spiritual reading, which was all the more important at a time when access to the Sacraments was restricted. The coronavirus rendered it impossible for us to begin married life without reflecting on its ultimate end in mind: a journey hand-in-hand that extends from this life into the next with God. 

Even more, our presence in a “spiritual desert” — without the Sacraments or the trappings of modern wedding preparation — crystallized for us a more radical dependence on God and also a deeper realization that how we worship him best is by loving each other selflessly in the context of our relationship and future marriage. The isolation of quarantine made us appreciate the companionship that marriage would bring all the more.

This love was forced by COVID-19 to occur in more mundane daily contexts than it did six months ago pre-coronavirus. For example, the effort I might put into surprising her with a romantic night out was replaced by more patience in daily conversations when she was stressed by everything going on. This really cemented for me the fact that real life doesn’t play out like it does in the romantic comedies, and true love is rather manifested when it is most difficult. And on the days when wedding planning stress made simple things like walking and chewing gum at the same time seem like a daunting task for me, I tried to remember and be thankful that I was not the one being asked to walk down the aisle in heels while also maintaining social distance from the handful of guests in pews to the left and right.

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And walk down the aisle she did! The narrow path towards the altar at which I waited seemed to serve as one final metaphor and spiritually edifying message for our joint reflection. Surrounded by people wearing masks, Ann walked towards me and the Sacrament of Matrimony itself through months of adversity used by God to prepare us for marriage. The unparalleled joy that we experienced that day was worth all of the challenges we faced along the way.

At its core, this pandemic is a reminder of the intertwined sorrow and joy intrinsic to life itself. And isn’t that also true of marriage? In the Gospel passage on our wedding day, Matthew describes life in the spirit in terms of a journey towards true life in Christ. I can’t help but see my married life as one, too. Let it be one that blazes a beautiful path through this life together and into the next.