Susan Gibbs,  the former Executive Director of the Office of Communications for the Archdiocese of Washington posted this blog on the Diocese of Arlington website. With her permission, we are re-posting it because it is a perfect introduction to the importance of a conference the archdiocese is hosting on October 1 at Catholic University of America.

Christ…or a sandy beach?

Ok, I admit it. Nearly every Sunday, I read the wedding section of the New York Times.

After a double dose of bad news from the front pages of the Times and TheWashington Post, I usually need some entertainment and the “how-we-met” stories tend to be a lot of fun. Plus, it can be inspiring to seecouples ready to embark on a new life together.

But what started as a diversion turned into something else. I started noticing fewer church weddings. Priests and ministers were being replaced with “Universal Life” celebrants and other officiants who were friends of the couple “ordained” for the occasion. (Like everything else these days, it turns out you can go online and get instantly “ordained.”) No longer held in churches, weddings are migrating to beaches, restaurants and exotic destinations.

Is this just the result of editors choosing unusual venues, or a sign that church weddings are on the decline?

Sadly, it seems to be the latter. A new study, released by Our Sunday Visitor and the Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate, reports a nearly 60-percent plunge in weddings celebrated in the Catholic Church alone since 1972.

Given that the number of Catholics in the United Statesis growing, that’s not good news. What is going on?

According to the researchers,it’s not that Catholics areless likely than anyone else to marry,although that’s not saying a lot. The rate of marriage in the United States has dropped by nearly half since 1970, while the number of couples cohabitating has skyrocketed, according to The National Marriage Project. Instead, CARA researchers found:

  • Catholics are waiting slightly longer to marry
  • Catholics who divorce may be remarrying outside the Church
  • Catholics are marrying non-Catholics in increasing numbers
  • Catholics are not marrying at all.

That last one – not marrying at all– turns out to be the biggest factor in explaining the precipitous decline in weddings celebrated in Catholic churches. In 1970, nearly 80 percent of all adult Catholics in the U.S. were married. Today, barely 53 percent are. For younger Catholics (18- to 40-year-olds), the drop is even more significant: 69 percent were married in 1972, but only 38 percent are today.

In 2007, nearly a quarter of never-married U.S. Catholics said they were “not at all likely” to ever get married.

And, when they are marrying, they aren’t marrying other Catholics as often as in the past. From 1991 to 2008, the percent of young married Catholics (under age 41) married to other Catholics dropped from 78 percent to 57 percent. These couples may or may not marry in a Catholic Church.

Does it matter? Yes, quite a lot, because being married means something as a Catholic. There are only seven sacraments and marriage is one of them.

As the U.S. bishops’ website explains, “The sacraments make Christ present in our midst. Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but for the community as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The Old Testament prophets saw the marriage of a man and woman as a symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people. The permanent and exclusive union between husband and wife mirrors the mutual commitment between God and his people.”

Getting married – making that commitment – and holding the wedding in the sacred place of a church keeps the focus on what a wedding truly is – a joining of two people before Christ who now will become one within a community. I’m all for friends at a wedding, but I’d rather have them in the pews. After all, having Christ in your wedding and marriage will get you a lot further than a buddy on a sandy beach.

6 Responses

  1. Jon Zimmer says:

    I doubt that anyone will read this, but the Church – or properly, many Catholic churches in the DC area – does not help itself by charging $1500-$2000 for “rental” fees for weddings, even for small weddings with only a few friends and family celebrating. Yes, this happens. Yes, people my age notice. If the ADW wants to encourage more weddings, it needs to tell churches to keep these fees low and reasonable.

  2. Mary W says:

    I am counting on forever!

    I have confidence that God, who has blessed us with 33 years togehter will continue to pour out his grace on our marraige. Because divorce was never an option for either of us, we had to work together to get through the rough patches; this effort with the help of God has strengthened us as individuals and as a couple more than we could have ever imagined. I love my husband more than the day I marrried him because my capcity to love has grown and matured.

    Many Catholic organizations and individuals have helped us on our way, in particular my own parents who have been married 57 years. Through my marriage I experince and inexpressible joy, that is so personal, individual, and intimate that I can not find words to properly express it. For those who God calls to be married, I implore you to learn the Catholic teachings on marriage and live them with the support of others who do believe forever is possible.

  3. Susan Timoney says:

    Mary, thank you for sharing this witness. It is just the kind of witness that we need to hear more of as support for married couples at all stages of marriage.

  4. Melissa says:

    Will the Catholic Church allow people to get married outside of the church? Perhaps in a couple’s location that means a lot to them? Where they feel God is when they are there?

  5. Susan timoney says:

    The church does not allow a couple to marry outside of a church or chapel. The reason is that the building represent the larger community in which the couple will be both a sign of the fidelity of God’s love and the place in which the marriage will grow and be nourished. Just as the priest receives the vows of couple on behalf of the church, the building represents the people and community who surround the couple. Hopefully, couples have a parish or a campus chapel that is important or will become important to them and their families.

    It is true that there are many places outside of a church in which we feel the presence of God strongly and deeply, but the place that God is most present is where the Eucharist is present. It is in a church that Pope Benedict writes that “Our Lord is present, watching, waiting, hoping we will join him there.”

Leave a Reply