A Catholic Monthly Magazine

You are Preparing for a Marriage Not a Wedding

Fr Carl Telford sm

Fr Carl Telford sm

A Letter to a Catholic engaged couple by Fr Carl Telford sm

Dear Mary and John, thank you for inviting me to be the Church’s witness at your wedding. It is a privilege to get to know you both and to see your love and energy for each other and your maturity in seeking the sacrament of matrimony. So this letter shares with you the joy that the Catholic Church has in your decision to seek life long fertile marriage. So in a very real sense this is not just my personal well wishes to you both but from the Church.

You are preparing for a marriage not a wedding. That stement is so simple yet profound and is largely forgotten today. Often think about that and talk about it together. Dream together of a great life long marriage. Pray for it. Ask God to give that to you. Because all around you, in the media, TV and cultural atmosphere, in the commercial wedding industry in the minds of your contemporaries, it is forgotten.

For example, recently I was in Samoa on holiday and by chance meet two other tourists there, a young unmarried couple from Australia. I asked them: “Are you planning to get married?” They both said: “No” so we talked and listened to each other about the reasons for their answer. Basically they were quite smart and honest. They had been to a number of weddings of their friends and were not impressed; it proved to be just a big expensive day but without real substance.

So dear Mary and John, you are not getting ready for a big day “the biggest day of her life” - hello, wake up. You are getting ready for the biggest years of your life! A wedding marks the beginning of a life long marriage. That is why the Catholic Church is so delighted about your decision. You have given careful thought and preparation and have decided that you wish to say to each before God “I take you Mary/John forever.” That is marvellous. Your wedding day is built on that. You are committing yourself to work without ceasing to make your marriage life long, not just a happy memory of one day.

Soon on your wedding day, you will receive the sacrament of matrimony. This is a great gift from God to you and you will become a great gift to the Church. You will become a living sacrament. I am one of those through the sacrament of Holy Orders. Our sacraments are very similar, both spousal, life long and ecclesial, of the Church. I remember as if yesterday my ordination to priesthood, 37 years ago. It is present in me as I write to you. I know that the grace and strength of God descended on me when Bishop Brian Ashby laid his hands on me. That grace has remained, thank God. So on your wedding day as you pronounce your marriage vows, God will make you both his living sacrament, a sign of His presence and love in the world. I encourage you to read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church on your beautiful sacrament especially paragraphs 1638-1642.

Note you will give that sacrament to each other. So in the Catholic rite of marriage the priest does not say “I pronounce you man and wife” Our separated Protestant sisters and brothers do not teach there is a sacrament of marriage but the Catholic Church does.

Matrimony   Rogier van der Weyden c 1445

Rogier van der Weyden c 1445

You and I are of course living in a time of great distress about the meaning of marriage and so much divorce which effects all our families. For your consolation I think that God must be wanting to pour out extra grace and strength upon married couples to endure and thrive in these marriage - toxic times.

Thank you on behalf of our church and your future children and grandchildren for your brave decision not to live together before marriage. Your choice of a chaste courtship is a real gift to you from God. It is very difficult today not to have sexual intercourse before marriage. “Everyone is doing it! But alas you could say everyone is breaking up!!” In our ‘all about me’ world to wait for the sake a deeper love is considered crazy by some. Couples say they are in love but sometimes they confuse lust and love, quite different realities. The Church and the wisest traditions of all civilisations have much to teach us about the sacred nature of sexual intercourse. It is not just a spectator sport but the very cement of a life long marriage as Pope St John Paul the Great told us in The Theology of the Body. He taught that couples living in a de facto relationship say with their bodies: Yes we love each other but there are conditions. But true marital intercourse during marriage tells the truth with our body. I wish to belong to you forever. There are no buts in life long marriage. No prenuptial.

But your prophetic decision will bear rich fruit. It has been said wisely that if a man enters a woman’s body without entering her heart first she will feel used by him. It can be a sorry harvest later on from unchaste behaviour before marriage. Many couples today have perhaps never been taught that there is another option. Or perhaps do not even know its beauty. Not that God cannot heal and repair our hearts but it can be more difficult. So congratulations on your decision to follow the discipline of chaste love. God’s blessing is there. To live this is challenging for two attractive in love people.

Finally on your wedding day God will bless you with a grace and strength for a lifetime. By a Catholic instinct whenever there is a time of great grace, we turn to Our Lady, who was present as the Gospel tells us, at the wedding at Cana in Galilee. So a suggestion. Perhaps at the end of the Nuptial Mass, go to Our Lady’s statue in the Church, and you can as a newly married couple dedicate your marriage to her protection and intercession. Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death. 

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