I was horrified by an item in the “Just Married “ pages of the Sunday Mail a few months ago. Included there was the story and photograph of a wedding that had taken place in a Catholic Church. It described how the couple had ‘strolled down the aisle to the sounds of an Elvis impersonator belting out one of the King’s hits!’
Horror stories such as this, which are unfortunately too common, demonstrate that the church has gone overboard in a misguided attempt to make weddings ‘user friendly’. The only guideline seems to be “if it feels good and will help make the bride’s day, then do it”.
There are in fact guidelines and rubrics promulgated by the church that regulate the celebration of all liturgies – ‘the work of the people’- including weddings. There are books like the sacramentary, the lectionary, the wedding rite, and other official liturgical documents which must be respected.
You cannot use popcorn and cola in the celebration of eucharist because the requirements for the elements used in the sacrament are spelled out in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. No one at parish level has the authority to change these requirements, even if someone were to claim that the use of popcorn and cola would make eucharist more attractive and meaningful.
The wedding liturgy is not whatever the couple (or their mothers, or their friends) think it should be. There is nothing in the liturgical books about unity candles, or pilgrimages to the Virgin Mary, readings from The Prophet, or Elvis impersonators!
Sometimes it is claimed that these things are all examples of inculturation. Inculturation does not mean doing anything you feel like doing in liturgy. It means being sensitive to the culture into which the faith is being introduced.
Some parish priests and wedding coordinators are afraid to alienate couples who come seeking marriage by saying ‘no’ to their requests for odd inclusions in the liturgy. The feeling is one of ‘unless I do it the way they want, they might leave’. But sometimes the church has to say ‘no’, even when that is unpopular. The church isn’t guided by individual whims, but by the Spirit of God.
It is wrong to expect the church to fully reflect the culture in which we live, one which often does not reflect the goodness of God. The love spoken about in many popular songs today has little to do with God’s unfailing, undeserved love for us, but rather a conditional kind of love, or sometimes straight out lust.
Giving the wedding couple- who often enough have little knowledge and experience of public worship- carte blanche on their wedding day is a bad idea. The church’s liturgical tradition has so much more to offer than the latest gimmick ever will. It is wiser to give young people a bank account than a blank cheque.