Rex Mottram in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited said of Catholic marriage, “that’s one thing your Church can do,” he said, “put on a good show.” My wife paraphrases: “We hatch, match, and dispatch better than anyone else.” We have been to many weddings where love was obvious and the celebration was genuine. But too often, focus on the God-triune gives way to the trite and sacred rites are replaced by the rote. Unity candles are forgotten as quickly as they are lit. Playing with sand is properly reserved for tropical honeymoons. Released doves only make guests envious for their own quick escape. The challenge was beauty without ostentation: it had to be serious and sublime.
Rex continues: “You never saw anything to equal the cardinals. How many do you have in England?” “Only one, darling.” “Only one? Can we hire some others from abroad?” At a time when marriage is seen as obsolete or unnecessary, the presence of a prince of the Church at our humble wedding was a sign of an enduring commitment to the domestic Church, to the life of faith that begins in the home. For in those faithful homes, priests, even cardinals, are not strangers.
There is no greater sign of this faith than the tremendous gift of a family priest, and we were blessed to have my wife’s priest-brother witness our vows. We remain grateful for the presence of our pastor in New York City. After he endured a painful 72 hours of globe-crossing travel, “Out of the depths I cry to you” assumed new significance from the crypt of the cathedral at the bottom of the world. (Yet, we dissent from the opinion of one Catholic Prime Minister who described Australia as the “arse end of the world.”)
Our nuptial Mass took place in Sydney at St. Mary’s, the oldest and largest Gothic cathedral in the southern hemisphere. In many cities, the cathedral is everything but a parish. Instead, St. Mary’s remains the spiritual home of my wife, the crib of her cradle faith. At the start of the wedding reception, my father-in-law toasted the Holy Father and my Bavarian relatives as “Prost!” echoed from Sydney to Pöcking. But a subtler nod to the pontiff came at the start of the nuptial Mass. His informal papal motto, succisa virescit—“pruned it grows”, was suitably applied to the procession. The usual phalanx of matching bridesmaids and groomsmen was cut, liberating them from the distractions of nervous marching and ugly dresses. In their place came altar boys leading the male choristers.
The Blessed Sacrament was not reserved in the tabernacle, and with the summer heat the guests became a bit anxious. Bach’s notes gently quieted the congregation into more solemn whispers with an organ prelude of Sleepers Wake. The bride with her parents and clergy entered to Bonar’s I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say, while I waited at the foot of the altar to receive them. Her father took her hands, which held the rosaries of her grandmother and my great aunt and placed them in mine.
The Archdiocese transitioned to the revised English translation on Pentecost in 2011, so there was little hesitation in the throats of our Aussie hosts. For the Mass setting, we sought something simple and familiar. The Missa de Angelis had just enough nuance for the cathedral choir to push it to new heights. We indulged two pet liturgical preferences inviting the deacon to chant the Gospel, and Mortem tuam annuntiamus, Domine appeared at the Memorial Acclamation.
Anyone seeking theater instead of liturgy could find it at the nearby Opera House. But it would have been a disservice to our talented musicians, especially the boy choristers, to deny them a suitable challenge. Miserere by Gregorio Allegri (a former choirboy) veiled the reception of Holy Communion. My wife’s priest-brother endorsed this choice as a reminder of “the four rings of marriage: the engagement ring, the two wedding rings, and suffering.” Following Communion, bride and groom processed to the Marian side-altar to lay flowers at the feet of Our Lady as all sang the Salve Regina.
While the Mass was offered in the Ordinary Form, we prayed the Gradual from the Missa pro Sponso et Sponsa for the fruitfulness of our marriage, beseeching that the Lord might bless us with children. But the entire day was conceived for another kind of fruitfulness. At the evening’s celebration, our families generously graced us with more toasts, songs, and speeches than we could ever deserve. Sydney is over nine-thousand miles from Pennsylvania and there are over eight million people in New York City. Everyone understood that without the Faith, this union never would have happened.
Charles Murray is just the most recent observer to notice that “for richer and for poorer” has become for the rich but not the poor. Marriage risks becoming monopolized by the wealthy, while the working class is increasingly synonymous with the unmarried class. However, Theodore Dalrymple reminds us that “existential problems do not go away with money, otherwise Norway would be paradise.” As seen in the case of one man of means who saw his bride turn and lasso the air while yelping “for richer!” If the married class is the upper class, the common result is a lack of class. This point was lost on one wedding planner who asked us to name which celebrity inspired our wedding.
The Holy Father has warned of the dictatorship of relativism and counsels that marriage, the first society, is a bulwark against this threat. As our society retreats from marriage, the void left behind risks being filled by an all-encompassing but all-too-feeble state. The passions can rule if unbound by fidelity and no public policy can turn houses into homes. In our vows, the promise to be true was prior to the pledge of lifelong love and honor. For our many guests who had never been to Mass, we hoped to offer a chance to breathe the transcendent. We wanted them to understand that during trembling vows over tiny rings and whispered words over bread and wine, something was happening. Two knelt as one in the Presence of the One-in-Three.
Stephen Schmalhofer studied history at Yale University and works in finance. He resides in New York City and is a parishioner at the Church of Our Saviour.
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