Dear Friends in Christ,
Hatch. Match. Dispatch.
Those are the slightly irreverent terms used by clergy to describe baptisms, weddings, and funerals – three of the Church’s sacred rituals in which those who practice our faith regularly interact in the pews with those Catholics who seldom if ever participate in divine worship and with those who are not Catholic at all. For practicing Catholics, casual Catholics, and non-Catholics alike, expectations about these rituals – particularly weddings and funerals – are often formed more by popular culture than by Catholic doctrine and discipline, and when those unfounded expectations are mixed with intense emotions like jubilation at weddings and grief at funerals, the results can be explosively inappropriate in the public worship of the Church. And that is why clear and constant catechesis is needed to help everyone understand what these rituals are, what they are not, and what is required by divine precept or ancient discipline for the proper administration of baptisms, weddings, and funerals.
While baptisms, weddings, and funerals are deeply personal, they are not private actions in any way. They are all public celebrations of the sacred liturgy of the Church, and so the first point to understand is that these three ways of praying are planned and administered by the ministers of the Church in keeping with liturgical law and local custom. Particularly for weddings and funerals, this means that while the families involved may have requests or preferences, all decisions about the celebration of the sacred liturgy are made by the parish pastor or his representative, and those decisions must be in keeping with the doctrine and discipline of the Catholic Church. Bridal magazines and shows, movies about weddings and funerals, and experiences of the same in non-Catholic settings all contribute to unrealistic expectations about what weddings and funerals should be and how they should be celebrated, and when these impossible expectations collide with the reality of what is possible in the Church, all too often the result is bruised feelings and disappointment.
For example, a funeral Mass is not a celebration of the life of the deceased; it is, rather, a pleading of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the salvation of the immortal soul of the deceased, and for that reason, eulogies about the departed are not possible at Mass. And weddings, while moments of great joy, are not an opportunity for being irreverent in church, and so every part of the sacred liturgy (music, clothing, conduct) must be appropriate to the occasion. To many of you these things will seem self-evident, but the great distance opening in our time between Christianity and the ambient culture makes it necessary to explain over and over again what once needed no explanation. Please bear that in mind as your own families and friends may bump into frustrations surrounding weddings and funerals, and let patience and generosity prevail!