Overall, I think the letter is tremendously good, and I hope it produces good fruits in the archdiocese of Santa Fe and elsewhere. I would like, though, to look at this one section from the letter:
We have three groups of people who are living contrary to the Gospel teaching on marriage: those who cohabit; those who have a merely civil union with no previous marriage; and those who have a civil union who were married before. These people are objectively living in a state of mortal sin and may not receive Holy Communion. They are in great spiritual danger. At the best - and this is, sadly, often the case - they are ignorant of God’s plan for man and woman. At the worst, they are contemptuous of God’s commandments and His sacraments.While I agree with Archbishop Sheehan that many people simply make excuses about why they can't stop cohabitating and get married, the statement "We can't afford a church wedding," does bear some investigation.
Of these three groups, the first two have no real excuse. They should marry in the Church or separate. Often their plea is that they “cannot afford a church wedding” i.e. the external trappings, or that “what difference does a piece of paper make?” - as if a sacramental covenant is nothing more than a piece of paper! Such statements show religious ignorance, or a lack of faith and awareness of the evil of sin.
When I took a brief tour of a few parish websites of parishes in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, I found that the amount of money expected by the parish for a wedding varied from just under $600 to $1000 or more. I have discussed this before, and have heard from some Catholics--indeed, from some priests--a statement like this, "Well, people spend between $10,000 and $30,000 on a wedding these days. Why shouldn't the Church get a thousand dollars? There are lots of expenses involved in a wedding Mass, after all."
I'm sure that's true. However, what's not true is that every Catholic couple is planning to spend at least ten thousand dollars on a wedding. Especially in these days, a frugal wedding with a simple backyard reception is slowly becoming a more popular option for young Catholic couples (and, indeed, for other couples as well).
I mentioned this over at The Deacon's Bench, and a commenter there pointed out that the Church can't charge for the sacraments; that these fees and stipends are voluntary and that no one will be denied a Church wedding over the inability to pay a set price.
Again--true. However, if you were one member of a cohabitating couple slowly rediscovering your Catholic faith, and you looked at your parish's website to get wedding information and read the following, what would you think?
You will initially meet with the Parish Wedding Coordinator who will walk with you through the preparation of the Sacrament of Marriage. The pastor will preside at your wedding. A deacon may preside at the ceremony with no Mass.
The couple is responsible for all proper legal papers from the city and state. Below is what is required by the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.Please Note: The time & date of your wedding will be scheduled tentatively. All paper work, stipends and fees must be provided before a time & date is secured. [...]
Donations & Stipends
There are many expenses involved in running a parish and in the preparation of your wedding. Below is a list of the donations and stipends for weddings.
· $175.00 for accompanist and cantor (Checks are made out in their names.)
· $100.00 stipend for priest or deacon
· $250.00 donation for the use of the church
· $10.00 for each altar server (2 for a Mass)
· $100.00 for the flower arranger & the cost of the flowers (optional, unless you are bringing in your own flowers)· $50.00 for the church wedding coordinator.
If you read that, wouldn't you think that a) the archdiocese itself requires the payment of stipends and fees before your wedding can be scheduled, and b) most of the money (e.g., the stipend for the priest and wedding coordinator whom you must use, and the donation for the use of the church) is actually required, and not negotiable?
I think a couple might be forgiven for thinking so--and in that case, for deciding that they "can't afford" a church wedding when they can "get married" at city hall for considerably less money.
I'll grant you that the vast majority of couples wishing to get married in a Catholic parish have the ability to pay a reasonable sum to the parish, and indeed ought to, considering the amount of trouble a Catholic wedding can be for a pastor (particularly when the people getting married haven't been in the church building since their Confirmations--but that's another blog post).
But for those who really don't plan for their weddings to be a costly spectacle in which Bridezilla fulfills every Oscar Night/Red Carpet fantasy she's ever had--and especially for those who value the sacrament as they value their faith and their regular practice of it--could there not be a better, simpler, less costly option?
It seems that someone could come up with a proposal for Catholic weddings that would make more sense, especially for those for whom an extra thousand dollars or so isn't that easy to come by. I've heard of a few dioceses experimenting with Sunday Mass weddings, in which the couple's Nuptial Mass is celebrated with the parish at a previously scheduled Mass time; the readings, etc. are for Sunday, but the Nuptial blessing is given and the couple allowed some small say in the music, reserved seating for a reasonable number of guests, and so on. I don't know if, generally, the Church approves of this practice or not, but it might be a way to decrease the expectation that one's wedding day is one's own property instead of a sacrament being witnessed (representatively) by the whole Church.
In any case, when people say that a Church wedding is too expensive, they might be under the impression that the fees and stipends are mandatory--an impression we should be careful to correct, especially when the couple in question are cohabitating and seeking, with humility and repentance, to place themselves in the arms of Christ so He may lead them forward into holy matrimony.