Two weeks ago I mentioned that I will be celebrating my 10th anniversary as a priest later this month. Since I was ordained a deacon in 2010, I have kept a record of the various sacraments that I have celebrated. Since this we are considering the Sacrament of Matrimony this month, I decided to look back at the list of weddings at which I have presided. To date, I have witnessed the marriage vows of 34 couples (35 by the time I finish this weekend), not necessarily a huge amount for 11 years of ordained ministry, but not insignificant either.
As I looked over the names on the list, I thought of a question that was recently posed to me. A brother priest asked what part of the wedding ceremony is most memorable. For me, I am always moved when it comes time for the couple to exchange their vows with one another. After declaring their intention to enter Matrimony, I say the following words to them: “Since it is your intention to enter the covenant of Holy Matrimony join your right hands and declare your consent before God and His Church.” As they join hands and look one another in the eyes, it is a beautiful moment to behold, and I count myself to be so privileged to be closer than anybody else in the church to see this special moment as the two prepare to enter into the one flesh union of Holy Matrimony.
Because they are often nervous, the couples that I have worked with rarely choose to memorize their vows. They choose to repeat after me as they pronounce their vows to their future spouse. Once again, it is a great privilege to be so close to the couple at this moment of great intimacy. It has happened on many occasions that the voice of one or both crack as they are flooded with emotion, an emotion no doubt of great joy. Then after the vows have been exchanged, the peace that floods their faces is a sight to behold.
When preparing couples for marriage, I like to remind them that this brief moment in the ceremony, not much longer than a minute or two, is what marriage is all about. Everything else, from the dresses, to the flowers, to the reception, to the guests, and the countless other details that go into the day, pale in comparison to what happens in this sacred moment of the exchange of vows. At that moment, they stand before one another and before God, asking the Lord for the grace to keep together the bond that is created. And with God’s grace, it is indeed possible to do so, but the couple must never forget to keep Him at the center of their lives. The couple is not alone in this, of course. All of those who are privileged to witness this sacred moment are also reminded of the obligation that we all have to pray for married couples that they might remain rooted in the grace of the sacrament they have received so as to persevere until death do they part.
I therefore invite each of us to call to mind those we know who are married. Bring them before the Lord and ask Him to bless and strengthen their union. Whether they have been married 50 years, or less than one year, every couple can benefit from our prayers for them. Let us also pray in a special way for those couples who are preparing for marriage, that amidst all of the details to attend to in planning their weddings, they will ever keep before their eyes the love of God who has drawn the two of them together, and who alone can guarantee that their marriages will be able to withstand the trials of life and so be a source of joy for the remainder of their lives.