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A Tridentine wedding and “How not to” homiletics
Two friends of mine were recently married, according to the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, better known as the Tridentine Rite. It was the first nuptial mass of its kind in Rome since Pope Benedict XVI published Summorum Pontificum and established a personal parish in the Eternal City for the followers of the pre-Vatican II liturgies.
This is one of the unanticipated gifts of being in Rome, being able to time travel and see what the various sacraments and rites were like for the four centuries before Vatican II went digging around the scriptural and patristic sources to bring back the older traditions while simultaneously brining everything “up to date”.
It was a beautiful day. The weather was perfect, the liturgical chant was beautifully sung, the bride was radiant, the bridesmaids beautiful, and the reception was a masterpiece of hospitality and conviviality. The liturgy was observed at church of Santissima Trinita dei Peligrini, and the reception was hosted in the gardens of the Passionist Retreat of John and Paul, home of the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas. About 70 guests were present, some from as far as Vancouver, BC or Johannesburg, South Africa.
The people I met were wonderful, and though I did not get as much time to get to know the wedding party – between their hard work preparing for the wedding, and their deserved socializing afterwards – I had some great conversations and met some fascinating people.
It was, overall, one of the most beautiful wedding weekends to which I have been invited.
It is therefore all the more to the credit of the bride and groom, and their assembled guests, that they did not let the one black mark on the day ruin the rest: It was the worst wedding homily I have ever heard. I can honestly say it nearly had me in tears.
(I debated whether to write about this or not – hopefully my choice to do so is not interpreted as disrespect to my friends who were married, but serves as a lesson for those of us in preaching ministries!)
The priest began by comparing marriage to investing in the stock market – risks and rewards. I do not find financial analogies to personal relationships generally helpful, but he might have been able to move on to something meaningful. Instead, the meandering sermon – decidedly not a genuine homily – stumbled from one faux pas to another.
The proper epistle for the nuptial mass in the Tridentine form is the passage from Ephesians that admonishes “wives be submissive to your husbands, husband love your wife.” This was the starting point for an anecdote that seemed to be titled “how not to preach on this passage”. He made his point, but probably not the way he intended:
“Let me tell you about the wrong way to read this passage. I was at a parish in the diocese of Rochester [New York] when this was the reading of the day. Now for those of you not from the U.S., or not in the ecclesiastical scene, Rochester is one of the five worst dioceses in the country. …”
Anybody want to bet he was thinking of Seattle among the other four? Rochester’s bishop usually gets critiqued for, among other ‘liberal tendencies’, his support of lay people in ministry. Hmm… strike one against a crowd of lay students at pontifical universities preparing for ministry.
“… the priest could have talked about the proper attitude of husbands and wives, but instead started talking about the ‘context’ and ‘historical criticism’ of the text! As if what scripture said then and what it says now are ‘historically conditioned’ and must be understood differently! Of course, this priest was a Jesuit, and you cannot expect anything orthodox from them!”
So… actual scripture study and the Jesuits in one blow. Poor Biblicum students.
“… Now, I am not saying that wives should be slaves to their husbands, like the Muslims believe….”
And our resident imam, friend and housemate of the bride, sitting right in front of me. Ouch.
“… there is something the Muslims get right. Their women wear a veil. Here too, we see a veil. It marks what is set aside, what is restricted. The tabernacle is veiled, to show that only the priest can enter it, just like the bride is veiled …”
Thankfully, he did not explicitly complete that thought, but the parallel was not lost. A little uncomfortable, but not quite offensive like the previous statements.
Then the meandering somehow landed on Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, on which it stayed for a while. I honestly cannot remember what the point of that was, I was trying too hard to keep a straight face by focusing on the image of the Holy Trinity above the altar. The whole thing went on for about 20 minutes, though i felt like an eternity.
As someone intimately connected with the wedding mentioned afterwards, “there was nothing about love, nothing really about marriage… what the hell was he thinking!?”
At least the pastor, during the “admonishment on the responsibilities of the married state” at the exchange of vows before the mass, spoke of “procreation and the upbringing of offspring”. Maybe not how I would have put it, but more apropos than purely partisan preaching!