Many Catholic parishes these days simply assume that young Catholic couples are spending what everyone else is spending--which is why parishes think nothing of asking $600, $1000, or even more from a couple planning their wedding for "mandatory" parish fees. But what would happen if Catholic brides--and serious Christian brides as well--just walked away from the Wedding-Industrial Complex (and its slavering eagerness to start selling its services to gay couples because of all that lovely money they're currently missing out on)? What would happen if Catholic brides and grooms rose up en masse and said, "Enough!" to the ridiculous idea that one has to spend upwards of $27,000 on a one-day party to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with one's family and friends? What would happen if the bride and groom--or their parents--or both planned a simple celebration for the same sort of people they would invite to a family baptism, first communion, or confirmation instead of feeling pressured and/or obligated to invite casual acquaintances, business colleagues, third-cousins twice-removed who live three states over and haven't seen the bride since before she had teeth, and the groom's college roomate's extended family? If all of those people are truly close to the bride and groom such that they'll all show up for the baptism of the couple's first eventual baby, that's one thing--but why do so many people think that weddings must be some kind of extravaganzapalooza above and beyond any party the family would normally host or, indeed, can even afford?
Despite a still weak economy, American couples are spending more on weddings. The average nuptials cost $27,021 in 2011, up from $26,984 in 2010, according to a survey by wedding planning website TheKnot.com. But weddings occur at every price point, and almost every couple (recently wed Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg might be the exception) tries to make the most of limited dollars.
While there is great variety on what kind of wedding you can put on, Laura Ursin, a wedding consultant who runs Brides on a Budget, in Madison, Wisconsin, has a rule of thumb for figuring costs: "When you plan your wedding, add two zeros to your guest list." It typically costs more than that in bigger cities.
And then there's all that other financial pressure: the groom should spend two month's salary on the bride's diamond (never mind the ethical issues involved in diamond-buying today, or the fact that diamonds are egregiously overpriced); the bride should treat herself to the most expensive dress that strikes her fancy; a limo to take the couple three miles from the church to the reception is a non-negotiable; the only meal appropriate to serve is a several-course, sit-down dinner preferably involving expensive meats and/or fish and/or both; even though it's possible to create and print your own invitations it's important to pay for engraved ones; the church and reception should resemble a flower garden no matter what the cost; and on and on and on.
The truth is that many couples--yes, even Catholic ones--get their priorities exactly backwards when it comes to getting married. They spend all or most of their time and effort (and money) planning for a big wedding party, and considerably less time and effort contemplating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony into which they are about to enter, the responsibilities, duties, and sacrifices required of their soon-to-be vocations, and the importance of their shared faith to their upcoming new reality as two-become-one. And when the lavish party is over and the guests have gone home, the couple has to face a pile of bills right at the outset of their new life together, bills for a wedding day that has come and gone in the blink of an eye.
I would love to see a movement in favor of simple weddings rise among Catholic couples. If we take our faith seriously, then we also take its view of materialism seriously. It is possible to throw a very real, heartfelt, sincere celebration of the entrance into Holy Matrimony of two young people without wasting thousands of dollars on things whose purpose is ostentation, showing off, creating envy or jealousy in others, or otherwise going beyond the mere desire to share convivial hospitality (for which no one ever needed an ice sculpture or monogrammed cocktail napkins). As our sick, secular culture of rampant materialism and naked greed continues to twist the meaning of "marriage" to the breaking-point, as people are sold an even bigger bill of goods about wedding "must-haves," wouldn't it behoove Catholics and other serious Christians to turn a contemptuous shoulder to all of this obscene triviality, and recreate weddings in which the dignity of the sacrament and the simple grace of good hospitality rise above the tacky din of the dove-releasing, "wedding as Oscar night," showy vulgarity of the "typical" wedding--you know, the one that now costs upwards of twenty-seven thousand dollars?