Sanctity of Place

Sept. 4-10, 2003
VOL 122 NO. 30
Sanctity of Place
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Chuck Wainwright
Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one another. The significance of an unbreakable union of a man and a woman is recalled in the story of creation. Jesus Christ raised the marital covenant, by which man and woman establish a partnership, to the dignity of a sacrament. Therefore, everything connected with a marriage should be in keeping with the fact that marriage is sacred. That includes the setting where the marriage ceremony takes place.

According to the definition in the Baltimore Catechism, “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace. The Church uses numerous ceremonies or actions in applying the outward signs of the sacraments to increase our reverence and devotion for the sacraments and to explain their meaning and effects.” Like most sacraments, marriage should not be considered a private ceremony, but a public one that should be witnessed by a faithful community. Father John Donovan works at the Marriage Tribunal Office of the Syracuse Diocese and is interim director of the Office of Vocation Promotion. He explained the importance of a proper setting for the ceremony. “It is rooted in our relationship with Christ. The sacrament has a long tradition of being public in the sense that it takes place where the community gathers and worships,” he said.

The Syracuse Diocese affirms that the sacrament of marriage is a sacred and dignified occasion and therefore, strictly adheres to the rule that the wedding ceremony must take place in a church. Father Joseph Champlin, rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, said that when the Second Vatican Council published the restored “Rite of Marriage” in 1969, it received a very positive response. “The new rite encouraged couples to become more involved in the preparation of their marriage,” said Father Champlin. “This includes selecting scripture readings, music, and participants. Part of the overall ritual is the place selected for the celebration of the marriage.”

While the Syracuse Diocese, for the most part, does not allow marriage ceremonies to take place outside a church, there are exceptions. One exception is marriages of mixed religions, such as a Catholic and a Methodist, Presbyterian, or another member of the Trinitarian faith. However, the bishop or his delegate must approve these exceptions. “If there is a good reason to have the ceremony take place in another church, the bishop will usually give his permission,” said Father Champlin. “The Catholic priest would take care of the paperwork and may or may not be present at the ceremony.” The essence of Catholic form is that the church requires all Catholics to marry before a priest and two witnesses. However, since 1970 when the rite was revised, a couple coming from different religious traditions can obtain permission to be married in a non-Catholic church. “When the form has been dispensed, the wedding will be recognized by the church and the marriage will be blessed,” explained Father Donovan. “The introduction of the rite of marriage recognized that there is a great diversity of customs,” explained Father Champlin. That is why exceptions are made for marriages to take place outside the Catholic Church when uniting a couple from different faiths, such as a Catholic and a Jew. “We try to respect the faith and tradition of both parties,” said Father Donovan. “Dispensation would be granted in order to maintain family unity.” These ceremonies can take place in hotels, restaurants, non-Catholic churches, or other settings, but the ceremony should maintain its dignity so that the sanctity is preserved. Thus, the atmosphere and setting should reflect the reverence and solemnity of the sacrament.

“The church is not just a building,” said Father Donovan. “It is the people — the stewardship that is important. Marriage is a sacrament of two people being united through Christ. People should not get caught up in the externals of the wedding ceremony. They’re nice, but are not essential,” said Father Donovan. While some people may request that their marriage ceremony take place in a park or other natural setting, their request will more than likely be denied. The setting must be a place where people would normally gather to worship and a place rooted in a regular current faith community, explained Father Donovan. “A park or a back yard is not a normal place of worship,” he said. Father Frederick Mannara, pastor of Most Holy Rosary Church in Syracuse, agrees that there are far more important things for a couple to focus on when getting married. “The place where they get married should be secondary to the permanence of the marriage,” said Father Mannara. He stressed that the most important aspects of the sacrament should be that it is lasting, life-giving, faithful and permanent.

“One just needs to travel down the highway through Syracuse and look at the spires pointing heavenward –– St. John the Baptist, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Vincent’s, Holy Trinity and St. John the Evangelist. They are a sign of deep faith in those who constructed those churches,” said Father Mannara. “They are a sign of both personal faith and Catholic faith. And couples, having such deep faith and trust in each other, are now entrusting their whole lives to each other. The tradition is to practice their faith in the church. Getting married in the church is part of that tradition,” said Father Mannara. “The church is a very significant sign of the presence of God. Marriage is a sacrament that touches people more in the setting of a church. When people ask to be married in gardens, parks, or on water, these settings become more prominent than the sacrament.” But what about marriages performed in interfaith chapels such as Hendrick’s Chapel at Syracuse University? “The church recognizes marriages performed at Hendrick’s Chapel because a Catholic Mass is celebrated there every day,” said Father Timothy Mulligan, OFM., Conv. “It is a home to all faiths. The space has been made holy because it is a place we come together to worship,” he explained. “The students and alumni of Syracuse University have a connection to the school and therefore, sometimes request to be married in the chapel. It is a unique situation found on all college campuses,” explained Father Mulligan. “I perform around 17 marriages there per year. If it is a Catholic ceremony, the marriage is recognized and blessed by the church.”

In order for a marriage to be blessed by the Catholic Church, Catholics who are marrying someone from a different religion are required to sign a dispensation form. They must promise in writing or orally, to reaffirm their faith in Jesus Christ and to continue living that faith in the Catholic Church. They must also promise to do all in their power to share the faith they have received with their children by having them baptized and reared as Catholics. Father Mulligan stressed that the intent is not to convert one to another. “I tell the couple to make an effort to support one another,” he said. “They need to do more than put up with their differences. They need to support those differences. They should ask themselves, ‘How can my Jewish spouse make me a better Catholic or how can I make him/her a better Jew?’ The most dangerous part of two people of different religions marrying is that they both stop practicing their faith in order to keep the peace,” said Father Mulligan. Any interfaith couple, before they marry, should discuss how they will both remain active in their faith. “They should ask each other what church they and their future children will attend. How will they practice their faiths together as a couple? They need to take the time to have a dialogue and talk about how they are going to live their faith life,” said Father Mulligan. “What is more common and damaging, however, is that they don’t deal with it. They just stop practicing their faith.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “We must remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live –– often not of their own choosing –– are especially close to Jesus’ heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church. The doors of homes, the ‘domestic churches,’ and of the great family that is the Church, must be open to all of them. No one is without family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone.” “The Church is a beautiful gathering place that establishes community and oneness,” said Father Mannara. Father Mulligan agrees. “To be married in a church is part of a ritual behavior that is sacred and holy,” he said. “There is a sense of grandeur and awe. It is part of our long-standing tradition; a place where we do this and only this,” explained Father Mulligan. “That’s why the Yankees don’t play on Fifth Avenue. They play at Yankee Stadium –– a special place where they do what they do best.”

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