While much of the chatter over “Amoris Laetitia” has focused on divorced and engaged couples, the Pope also had an urgent plea for the engaged: Be uncommon. Have a simple wedding.
“Have the courage to be different. Don’t let yourselves get swallowed up by a society of consumption and empty appearances,” he said.
According to the popular wedding planning website “The Knot”, the average American wedding costs $32,641. That number increased $3000 in six years. And it’s not that people are inviting more friends and family–the average number of guests has actually decreased. Couples are just spending more money per guest. In fact, they’re spending over $14,000 on the average reception venue, over $5000 on the ring, and $68 per person on catering. Compare that to the $1,901 spent on the ceremony site.
Paying the officiant didn’t even make the list.
In “Amoris Laetitia“, Pope Francis worries that the rising costs of weddings may deter people from marrying.
“The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take. The same kind of preoccupation with a big celebration also affects certain de facto unions; because of the expenses involved, the couple, instead of being concerned above all with their love and solemnizing it in the presence of others, never get married,” he said.
This deterrence is tragic, because the Catholic Church views marriage as a very, very good thing. In fact, it’s the foundation for society. That’s why we made it so easy for Catholics to get hitched.
For Catholics to get married, only a few things need to happen. They need to give their vows freely. They need witnesses to the vows, and it should ideally take place within the context of a liturgy. It’s ideal for them to receive a blessing. At no point does Canon Law require them to have orchids and a groom’s cake.
However, the simplicity of a bare bones Catholic wedding is in contradiction with a standard Western one. That Princess Di-esque wedding gown? That tradition came to the West via Queen Victoria in 1840. Before then, the bride simply wore her best dress. That monarch also brought us a whopping 300-pound wedding cake, which is an evolution of the ancient Roman custom of breaking a loaf of bread over the bride’s head for fertility’s sake. All this to say, an American Catholic can feel free to incorporate traditional American culture into their wedding, but there’s no need to lose site of the sacrament in the stress of planning the reception.
“Short-term preparations for marriage tend to be concentrated on invitations, clothes, the party and any number of other details that tend to drain not only the budget but energy and joy as well. The spouses come to the wedding ceremony exhausted and harried, rather than focused and ready for the great step that they are about to take,” Pope Francis wrote.
Cindy O’Boyle and her fiancée, Mike Degitis, came to this conclusion when they got engaged last year. The couple met when O’Boyle served as a Fellowship of Catholic University Students missionary on Degitis’ campus. She now works for Bella Women’s Clinic, and he is a high school math teacher. She said they both took some advice from her boss to heart, and decided to focus on making their reception an expression of hospitality, instead of a statement.
“My boss said that she thought the ceremony is the most important thing for the couple. The reception is to honor the people who got you there. I love that mentality,” she said.
O’Boyle found a brand new wedding dress at a consignment shop. Her bridesmaids are wearing $40 dresses from Kohl’s. She and her mother made the wedding decorations themselves. They’re bringing in Famous Dave’s for the catering.
“Just be hospitable in the best way you know how. Don’t live in should land, like you ‘should’ have a three tiered cake. I think I’m going to have cookies from Costco,” O’Boyle said.
Not that they’re going to take the simplest road on everything. Since O’Boyle is from Montana and Degitis is a Colorado native, they wanted time for their families to meet. So they rented houses in Longmont for the week before the wedding, so that the families can get to know one another. They plan on holding their rehearsal dinner as a backyard barbecue at her future in laws’.
“When two people become one, your families do as well. We love our families so much, and we want them to love each other,” she said.
After all, that’s what marriage is: A covenant. It’s a bond between two parties established by an oath. In the Old Testament, people would cut animal sacrifices in half and walking between the halves. In a marriage ceremony, the couple divides their friends and family in half and walks down the middle. Then they typically join together for a meal to celebrate.
Jodi Lieske, the sacrament coordinator at St. Thomas More parish, has helped with hundreds of weddings. She says that while the wedding doesn’t necessarily need to be inexpensive, she is always encouraged by weddings that focus on the sacrament.
“I think large, elaborate weddings can be beautiful as long as the perspective is kept. As long as we’re not losing the integrity of the Mass or the sacrament, that’s what’s important,” she said.
O’Boyle said she and Degitis do this by praying together, and making sure they discuss their marriage preparation classes outside their meetings with the priest. They also keep their sacramental preparation separate from wedding planning.
“They’re two totally different things,” she said. “Marriage prep is like digging into our relationship. It’s hard work in a good way, because we’re learning a lot and going deep. We’re having difficult conversations that need to be had, and it’s beautiful. We’ll talk for hours after a marriage prep meeting. Planning for the wedding has been a fun way to enjoy time together.”
All of this fits perfectly with what Pope Francis called for in “Amoris Laetitia“. He said that couples should pray ” together, one for the other, to seek God’s help in remaining faithful and generous, to ask the Lord together what he wants of them, and to consecrate their love before an image of the Virgin Mary.”
Ways to pray as an engaged couple
Spend time in Adoration together
Attend Sunday Mass together
Find the style of prayer that works best for you as a couple (spontaneous prayer, rosary, Scripture meditation, etc)
Consecrate yourselves to Mary together (try reading some of St. Louis de Montfort’s books)
Share spiritual reading, such as “Three to Get Married” by Venerable Fulton Sheen
Learn about the lives of married saints and blesseds