Solemnity and Celebrations

"Adoration of the Lamb" by van Eyck

“Adoration of the Lamb”
by van Eyck

Some months ago I was down to take a wedding on a Saturday. The couple had been prepared by the deacon. The groom was from a nominally Catholic family, the girl was unbaptized.

So the wedding party turned up for the rehearsal on the Friday and, as usual, people were in high spirits, but in this case there was some rolling of eyes and poor behavior from some of the non-Catholics. I was told by one of the assistants that they were mocking the Catholic Church and making light of what was going on.
So, as I conducted the rehearsal I explained about the Catholic view of marriage and discussed God’s love and our human loves and what the different elements of the ceremony actually meant. Then, the next day, as the wedding began I welcomed everyone and explained that we call this ceremony the “solemnization of marriage” and that, while it is a joyful event, it is also a solemn religious ritual. I explained that God is present here and I invited them to join in with the prayers and treat the ceremony as solemnly as possible so that it would be as beautiful and meaningful as possible for the bride and groom.
The marriage went on, and I noticed that everyone actually responded. People who had been casual and slouchy were standing erect and tall and silent. They had put their cameras away. They knelt reverently and listened carefully to the readings and homily. They were caught up in the ceremony – and this was especially noticeable amongst the non-Catholics.
Then when it came to the blessing of the rings the ten year old boy stepped forward with the rings pinned to a pillow and he was weeping freely. I looked across and saw that one of the beefy groomsmen was also wiping away a tear. The matron of honor was weeping and so was another bridesmaid. Now I know people always cry at weddings, but this was quite extraordinary and I sensed that what was making them weep was a real and tangible presence of God – and that their awareness of his presence was empowered by the fact that they took my words about the solemnity of the ritual seriously.
How beautiful it is, and how necessary, therefore for all of our sacraments to be celebrated with sacred solemnity. You see, what happens is that sacred solemnity and the formality of ritual touches places deep within the human heart that cannot be touched in any other way. Ritual – with it’s symbolic actions and solemn words – helps us connect with the places that are too deep for ordinary words and actions.
When a person attends Mass this is why he should dress better and carry himself better and listen to the words and recite the words with suitable solemnity and dignity–because all of this connects his conscious mind with a better person than he knew he was–a sacred solemn person–a person who is usually buried within the hurly-burly and shallowness of everyday life.
This is why our liturgy should be beautiful, because beauty is the language of worship. This is why our music should be sacred and solemn. This is why we should spend money on building beautiful churches. This is why we should train our altar servers and lectors and eucharistic ministers to serve with dignity and solemnity and a sacred manner.
But we have forgotten all of this. Our grandparents and great grandparents understood it, but we have been caught up in the tyranny of utilitarianism. Our churches are mere auditoria. Our music all has to be ‘meaningful’ and that usually means sentimental and trite. Our religion (because we have forgotten the supernatural) has become a mere fellowship and a method to ‘make the world a better place.’ All of this driven by the need for everything to be useful and cost effective and efficient. “Oh, the vulnerability of beauty in a world of useful things!”
I will always remember the tears of that ten year old ring bearer and the tears of the congregation at that wedding. It took non-Catholics responding naturally and openly to the liturgy to remind me what it is all about, and to give me the reminder that through the sacred and the solemn we are transformed at a deeper level than we can imagine.
 



Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the author of “Listen My Son” – a commentary on the Rule of St Benedict for families. Visit Fr. Dwight’s website to buy a copy here.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is author of thirteen books on the Catholic faith. Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing is available in Catholic bookshops and through his website: dwightlongenecker.com

Visit Fr. Longenecker on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/frlongenecker

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About the Author

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He conducts parish missions, retreats and speaks at conferences across the USA.

His latest book is The Romance of Religion - Fighting for Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Visit his blog, listen to his radio show, and browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.

Catechesis teaches us what to believe and how to behave, but Catholics also need down to earth advice for putting their faith into action. For help in your practice of the Catholic faith sign up for FaithWorks! -- Fr Longenecker's free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith.

Visit Fr. Longenecker on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/frlongenecker.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. Fr Dwight was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson.

Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. He spent the next ten years working as a freelance Catholic writer, contributing to over twenty-five magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA.

Fr. Dwight is the editor of a best-selling book of English conversion stories called The Path to Rome - Modern Journeys to the Catholic Faith. He has written Listen My Son - a daily Benedictine devotional book which applies the Rule of St Benedict to the task of modern parenting. St Benedict and St Thérèse is a study of the lives and thought of two of the most popular saints.

In the field of Catholic apologetics, Fr. Dwight wrote Challenging Catholics with John Martin, the former editor of the Church of England Newspaper. More Christianity is a straightforward and popular explanation of the Catholic faith for Evangelical Christians. Friendly and non-confrontational, it invites the reader to move from 'Mere Christianity' to 'More Christianity'. Mary-A Catholic Evangelical Debate is a debate with an old Bob Jones friend David Gustafson who is now an Evangelical Episcopalian.

Fr. Dwight’s Adventures in Orthodoxy is described as ‘a Chestertonian romp through the Apostles’ Creed.’ He wrote Christianity Pure&Simple which was published by the Catholic Truth Society in England and Sophia Institute Press in the USA. He has also published How to Be an Ordinary Hero and his book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing was published by Our Sunday Visitor in May 2008. His latest books are The Gargoyle Code - a book in the tradition of Screwtape Letters and a book of poems called A Sudden Certainty, Adventures in Orthodoxy and The Romance of Religion.

Fr. Dwight has contributed a chapter to the third volume of the best selling Surprised by Truth series and is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine, St Austin Review, This Rock, Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Register. Fr. Dwight has also written a couple of children’s books, had three of his screenplays produced, and is finishing his first novel. He’s working on a book on angels and his autobiography: There and Back Again.

In 2006 Fr. Dwight accepted a post as Chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. This brought him and his family back, not only to his hometown, but also to the American Bible belt, and hometown of Bob Jones University. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He is the Administrator of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and an oblate of Belmont Abbey.

Fr. Dwight enjoys movies, blogging, books, and visiting Benedictine monasteries. He’s married to Alison. They have four children, named Benedict, Madeleine, Theodore and Elias. They live in Greenville, South Carolina with a black Labrador named Anna, a chocolate lab called Felicity, cat named James and various other pets.

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3 Comments

  1. Although I love the Catholic Church wedding, I don’t understand the devaluing of other choices of venues for Catholic weddings. Just because music is contemporary does not mean it is trite and sentimental. Just because a couple might prefer the majestic setting of nature doesn’t define the ceremony as not solemn nor does it have to lose the sacramental nature of the marriage vows. I think we too often demand that others follow a traditional wedding at the cost of two truly faithful Catholics because we are unwilling to work with them to maintain the true meaning of the sacrament in a setting that has meaning to them.

    1. I understand your concern about devaluing other choices. However, there are other important realities to be considered as well when it comes to this Sacrament.

      The reason for a wedding in a Catholic church or chapel is actually very simple. If we Catholics believe that our Lord is present in the Tabernacle, wouldn’t we want to enter into Matrimony in His Real Presence, thereby bearing witness to the Sacrament of Marriage and to the central teaching of our Faith?

    2. I understand your concern about devaluing other choices. However, I believe this article is more about making the best choices for the best reasons.

      The reason for a wedding in a Catholic church or chapel is actually very simple. If we Catholics believe that our Lord is present in the Tabernacle, wouldn’t we want to enter into Matrimony in His Real Presence, thereby bearing witness to the Sacrament of Marriage and to the central teaching of our Faith?

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