Dan Thimons, Director of the Marriage and Family Life Office in New Evangelization offers his reflections on working with engaged couples during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are certainly unusual times. We have all been called to make sacrifices and change our plans. One group particularly affected by the necessity of changing plans at this time are engaged couples planning a wedding.
During our Archdiocesan marriage preparation retreat, I will often ask for a show of hands: “Who has been preparing for their wedding day for 6 months? For 1 year? For 2 years?” Then I will ask, “Who has been preparing for their wedding day since they were 3 years old?” With a few laughs, there are always a handful of brides who raise their hands.
We can joke about “Bridezilla,” over planning every detail for a wedding, and couples spending way too much money on their wedding day – a day that will have 24 hours like every other day. But, the amount of care and concern that is put into a wedding reveals a certain truth: a wedding day IS unlike any other day. Heaven rejoices because on this day the two will become one, pledging to share the whole of their lives together, and a new family begins—a visible image of God’s love in the world.
Certainly, some couples do go overboard with the extravagance of their wedding celebration. Perhaps you have been to such a wedding. But, for millennia, even prior to the birth of Jesus, a wedding was universally recognized as an occasion for a great feast, a time for gathering family and friends in joyful celebration. We read in the Gospel of John about how Jesus, his mother and his disciples attended a wedding celebration in Cana.
Unfortunately, the current pandemic has turned couples’ wedding plans upside down. According to Canon Law, a valid and Sacramental Catholic wedding only requires the presence of a priest or a deacon and two witnesses. Some couples are choosing to go forward with their scheduled wedding in this way, making plans for a large reception with family and friends at some later time. Other couples are choosing to postpone their wedding to a time when, hopefully, more people can gather together. This is a tough decision for couples who recognize both the good of the Sacrament of Marriage and the good of celebrating that Sacrament with others.
Over the past few months, due to restrictions in place, we have also been required to cancel GENESIS, our Archdiocesan Pre-Cana retreat. Couples have been asked to complete their pre-Cana online or to reschedule to a later date.
In conversations with engaged couples during this time, I have been pleasantly surprised by how they are handling this need to change their plans. While they certainly are experiencing disappointment and frustration, the cancellation or postponement of their big wedding plans is also met with joyful acceptance. The ability to joyfully accept this trial and difficulty will prove to be valuable for their married lives together as they experience “good times and bad, sickness and health.”
Couples have also found themselves focusing on “the essentials” of marriage. With all of the detail planning for a wedding day on hold, they have learned to grow in faith and trust in the Lord, surrendering control to Him. Couples have also been focusing on their relationship with each other and their relationship with their families.
As couples prepare to say “Yes” to share the whole of their lives together in the midst of an unknown future, they do so with great confidence because the One who holds the future in His hands is faithful. The Lord is active and present at their wedding, even if only witnessed by a priest or deacon and two others. Jesus is present at their wedding just as much as He was present at the Wedding at Cana, and this is a cause for great joy and celebration! The Lord will give to these couples all the grace necessary to live together in holiness and joy throughout their married lives.