I got married in the Catholic Church yesterday.
It was a lovely ceremony in my parish church. My bride was beautiful. Dr. Royal was my best man, and Mr. Marlin was a lector. Friends and family were there, although not as many as attended our other wedding twenty-seven years ago.
We renewed our vows – something about which I’d always been skeptical. But this was necessary, because I’m getting confirmed in the Church in less than two weeks, and we needed to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
I know what you’re thinking: Wait, I’ve been reading The Catholic Thing for several years, and I assumed Brad Miner is a valid Catholic. You’d think so, but I haven’t been. Here’s the story (for those who know part of it from earlier columns, I beg indulgence):
I made my Profession of Faith as a Catholic at a church in California one day in August of 1973. The next day I made my first confession and took Communion for the first time. As is true of most people, I suspect, the progress of my faith has been marred somewhat by faulty catechesis, for which I take primary responsibility, but which has been exacerbated by a few priests, who certainly should have known better. I left California with the impression that the Church rule concerning confirmation was the same as the rule on baptism: if, as was true in my case, you’d received the sacraments in another Christian church, it isn’t necessary to repeat the rite. The fact, of course, is that, whereas this is true concerning baptism, it’s not true for confirmation.
So, how did I get on for nearly four decades with such a baronial misconception? Honestly, I’m unsure, except that it’s what I was told at the start. In any case, I read something a few months back that suggested converts do, in fact, need to be confirmed. So I asked Fr. Schall, and he told me, yes, it must be done. I then reached out to a priest at my parish, and he got me involved in a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class, which has turned out to be just your humble correspondent and four extraordinary catechists, and which has been a great blessing for me, although, as you might expect, I already know the material pretty well. I ought to after nearly thirty-eight years.
Actually, I’d recommend RCIA (at least in the good form at my parish) for any Catholic at any stage along the way from here to eternity (talk about renewal!), because knowing and defending the faith has never been more important.
Meanwhile back to our tale. I moved from California to Ohio, where I’d grown up, and then to New York. I met the woman who is now my wife. She is a Jew. I had a heart-to-heart talk with a wonderful Ohio priest, who agreed to concelebrate (if that’s the correct word) with a New York rabbi, and Sydny and I got hitched in April of 1984. My priest friend assured me he’d taken care of the various dispensations necessary for the nuptials: he knew a guy who knew a guy in the canon law office in the New York archdiocese.
But . . . as the chief catechist and I were going over details recently, which included gathering documents from the Methodist churches of my boyhood and the Catholic church in California, we found those marriage dispensations had not been acquired.
“Not to worry,” said the catechist, “we have a wonderful remedy: you and Syd will renew your vows in the Church.”
It is a lovely solution, yet it made me flush red, because I’d always been opposed to renewing our vows, which Syd had suggested more than once, because, you know, we’re already married!
But in for a dime in for a dollar, right? It doesn’t matter when you do the right thing. When you know it needs to be done, you do it. So we did it. Joyfully.(A real wedding, by the way, not a renewal of vows.)
But the whole experience is another indication – as if we need another – of the extent to which catechesis has declined over the last thirty or forty years. Some priests don’t know proper procedures or, if they do, choose to treat them as the sort of bureaucratic details to be honored more in the breach than in the observance. It’s easy to focus on the Big Ideas awhirl in the Great Contemporary Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church and miss the “small” things that properly define membership in the Body of Christ. Catholicism really shouldn’t be done freestyle.
In my RCIA classes, we often go slightly off topic to discuss that Crisis, and we always end up noting the “small” stuff too many Catholics seem to be missing. For instance: that every single Sunday is a holy day of obligation; that reception of Communion (at our church anyway) seems wildly out of proportion to the number of parishioners who actually go to Confession; that there are appropriate ways to show reverence in church, and short shorts is not among them.
My wife is an extraordinary person. We have two wonderful sons, who – sad to say – were unable to attend the renewal: our older is serving in Iraq; the younger is preparing to graduate from college next month. I’ve imagined both of them getting off the calls we made to announce our plans and telling their buddies: “My parents are getting married!” That’s just what they’d say, because it’s what I’d say. You have to have a sense of humor about all this.