Essential to the Building of this Country
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 4, 2015
I recently had the great honor of presiding at the wedding ceremony of a young couple who are close friends of mine. The bride was raised within the rich, Middle Eastern culture, and the groom is Mexican. Their respective heritages are very important to them, as well as to their families. All were hopeful that the nuptial traditions they are familiar with could somehow be integrated into a Roman Catholic Liturgy.
The Sacrament of Christian Marriage celebrated in the Eastern Church is unchanged since its inception centuries ago. Filled with symbolic gestures, the centerpiece of the wedding liturgy is what is referred to as “the crowning ceremony.” Having first been blessed, two “crowns” are held over the heads of the bride and groom, while ancient nuptial prayers are offered up. The crowns have several meanings. First, that God bestows His blessing upon the couple. The coronation also speaks to the fact that with the marriage, a new kingdom is being established; the couple submitting to Divine authority in the domain in which they will live and rule. Finally, Christians have always spoken of the “crown of martyrdom.” The crowns bring to mind the symbolic dying to oneself, so that the new couple will begin to live for one another. Before the ceremony closes with another beautiful prayer, the two crowns are “switched” three times, indicating that the couple has become full partners in their marriage. Very often, a person is buried with their “wedding crown” as an outward sign that they kept the lifelong commitment.
The Hispanic tradition of the Lasso, also referred to as “The Rope” or “The Rosary,” is an important part of many Mexican weddings, both religious and secular. The Lasso, which is basically a circle, is twisted into a figure 8, the sign for infinity, and then placed over the couple’s heads, resting on their shoulders. This demonstrates their intention to bind their lives and their spirits together for all of eternity. When integrated into the Sacrament of Christian Marriage, beautiful prayers and blessings are offered during the placement of the Lasso. Among other things, those gathered ask God to give the couple the strength to overcome selfishness and self-interest with the spirit of generosity; to quash feelings of mistrust with sound moral strength; to resolve misunderstandings with patience and gentleness; and to face the inevitable sufferings of this life with faith and abiding love.
We found a way to include these two traditions within the celebration of the Sacrament of Christian Marriage as outlined in the Roman Rite, and after the exchange of vows, the couple light a “unity candle,” which was inspired by contemporary wedding planners, but has made its way into the celebration of our Sacrament. Each of these three rituals is beautiful and a delight to watch. But, the true and lasting beauty and delight comes from watching the symbol gain strength and meaning as the married couple lives out the covenant they made with God and one another on their wedding day.
The tragically inflated divorce rate in this country and throughout the world serves to devalue the symbolic meaning of rituals like the crowns and the Lasso…and even the unity candle…and threatens the very fiber of the Christian family unit. And so, last week, Pope Francis traveled from the Vatican in order to be present for the World Meeting of Families. Earlier in his visit to the U.S., the Holy Father addressed a joint meeting of Congress. During his speech, Pope Francis received what appeared to be the unanimous approval of the chamber when he said: How essential the family has been to the building of this country and how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without.
Still, it is one thing to acknowledge such a serious problem, but another to come up with a solution. What can we do but continue to pray for a reversal of the trend? Let us pray that young married couples take seriously the rituals that they use to celebrate their union, and understand that the warning that the priest intones after the vows and the rings have been exchanged comes directly from Christ. What God has joined together…no one must separate!
Maybe it would be helpful to change the name of our law from “No-Fault Divorce” to something that will accurately identify the cause of the division…and before “the Lasso” is cut, and the video and albums burned, insist that the couple remember what was in their hearts when they lit their unity candle.
Marriage is more than a beautiful ceremony…it is a beautiful way of life…”essential to the building of this country” and…essential to the building of the Kingdom of God! And so we continue to pray!