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Stranger in a Strange Land: the Catholic Wedding

May 27, 2012

For the past few weeks, four of my friends have planned to attend another one of our friends’  weddings. Although both the bride and groom were in the same class in school as me, and even though I had been in a class with the bride, I can’t say I was as close of friends with her as were my other friends. That was simply the nature of our major: the business school is sometimes affectionately called “Wehner High,” because just like high school, when you enter the upper level classes for your major, you tend to take most (if not all) of your classes in the Wehner building…and even more, you take all of those classes with the other people in your major. Since I was in the professional program for accounting, that meant I knew most of my accounting cohort — including all of my friends and the bride. However, whereas I concentrated in tax, the other friends and the bride concentrated in management information systems. So effectively, they were a world apart.

That distance was the first thing that kinda made me a bit anxious about going to the wedding. I mean, yeah, that’s dumb…after all, weddings aren’t about me and how I feel…but about celebrating for the bridge and groom.

But the process leading up to the wedding was interesting as well, which fed into my insecurities as well.

See, I wasn’t formally invited to attend the wedding at all.

The four friends and I live in the same apartment complex. Two of the friends are my roommates (hmm, I use “friend” loosely with respect to one individual here), and two of them live in another apartment unit upstairs. The bride and groom sent one invitation to the apartment for all of us.

We figured out that the intention was to invite all of us, so that wasn’t an issue. The practical impact of this is that I never saw the invitation, so I was pretty much going into things blind. I didn’t know when the wedding was, where, what kind of wedding it would be, or even what the dress code was. (We found out what to wear on Friday — just one day before the wedding. Yeah, if the dress code were anything above semi-formal, we’d have been hosed.)

On the drive to the wedding, I asked what to expect. Eventually, one of my friends revealed that this would be a Catholic wedding at a Catholic church.

Oh, interesting.

…Unfortunately, of the friends — a non-Christian Chinese girl, her Jewish boyfriend, an agnostic Mexican, and myself — we didn’t have much understanding of anything Catholic. Although, I guess I should clarify that…in many ways, these friends are functionally illiterate about Christianity in general. (The last of our group, who as a non-denominational Protestant would certainly have been literate about Christianity, wasn’t riding with us.)

When we got to the parking lot and saw some others, we breathed sighs of relief…they weren’t dressed too differently than we were…and they knew where they were going, even if we didn’t. But even when we entered, we were lost. Where to sit? Was there a protocol about where to sit? (We were advised: not the first two rows. These would be for the family.) I suspected that there was something about sitting on the opposite side of the party with whom you’re most acquainted, but I didn’t know the tradition for sure, and in any case, we were technically acquainted with both the bride and the groom.

There was a program that explained some things, provided the appropriate responses to the various parts of the Mass, and even indicated when we should stand, sit, or kneel. The…priest…father…??? (see, I’m still at a loss here…whatever the appropriate term for the officiant would be) even seemed to be sympathetic to the fact that many people (…including the groom) might not be Catholic. So, he said…just look around to see what others are doing.

But when it came time for the Eucharist, he added, non-Catholics should not take part.

…OK. Easy instructions.

When we got into the program, however, all the guidance seemed to be of no use. There was a singer, and he was singing various parts of the program — in which case, our response would be to sing back at key parts of the song. Yeah, I didn’t sign up for any singing…

But the part I did not expect was the Sign of Peace.

…OK, so all the Catholics were going to shake each others’ hands, hug, and kiss. Cool. No big deal, right?

Nope. Non-Catholics participate in this too. One Catholic lady remarked to me, “This is the fun part.” Then she shook my hand, with a, “Peace be with you.

Our Jewish friend considered using Shalom Aleikhem instead, but decided against it.

On the way back to Houston after the ceremony and reception, my friends and I tried to talk about how different or similar weddings would be in our traditions. For our Mexican friend, he noted that the wedding was pretty similar to weddings he had been to in the past — but of course, that would be expected, both because the bride is also Mexican, and because Mexico has a lot of Catholics. Our Jewish friend talked about Jewish weddings. Our Chinese friend talked about Chinese weddings.

…but that’s when I realized that I wouldn’t really be able to talk about a Mormon wedding. I’ve never been to one. Oops.

One thing did strike me, however. Although I felt like a stranger in a strange land at this Catholic wedding, I was able to be involved in this. I mean, no, I couldn’t take the Eucharist — not that I wanted to — but it wasn’t like a temple wedding, wherein no non-Mormons would even be able to participate.

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One Comment
  1. Seth R. permalink

    I’ve been to several Mormon weddings, and as far as I’m concerned the vows of secrecy extend to the actual wording of the covenants and promises, but not to the general proceedings. So I don’t feel bad about a bit of description.

    If the bride and groom haven’t already had their personal endowments out, they generally do those privately before the wedding with only one or two trusted friends or family accompanying. That might be done the day of the wedding but isn’t necessarily.

    Then the general family shows up. You have the ceremony in one of the temple rooms with chairs along the walls where the family and friends (who all have to have temple recommends to attend) are seated. You have an altar in the center to kneel at, and usually have large wall mirrors on both opposing walls to create and infinitely repeating image of the people kneeling there – representing eternity. Then a Melchizedek Priesthood holder in a white suit (usually older gentleman) officiates. He welcomes everyone, gives whatever general advice to the newlyweds he deems appropriate (which in the case of my sister’s wedding, the officiator had a lot of uncanny insight into her character, incidentally), then he goes through the simple wedding ceremony – the wording of which most people probably wouldn’t find too odd, but which I can’t share. Rings are exchanged as well as the traditional kiss, and the guests head to the lobby and wait for the newlyweds. When they arrive, we typically go to the temple grounds for photos and such.

    Then you hold a reception open to the general public at a convenient time. We held ours the same day as the wedding ceremony at a local church building. For most Mormon families, it’s actually the reception that has a lot of the marks of what people associate with weddings – just not the actual joining ceremony.

    In Britain, people are required by law to get the marriage license first, so Mormons in the UK typically hold a civil wedding ceremony first for everyone, and then a private wedding ceremony later, which they may or may not mention to non-Mormon family members as they choose.

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