Back in the 1980s when I was ordained, there was a priest in the area who was famous (infamous) for the fact that he requested couples who were going to spend more than $5,000 on a wedding (more in those days than now) to pay a tithe, (one tenth) of what they spent on the wedding, to the poor. While he could not require this of couples, he made of it more than a casual suggestion, reminding them that, as they spent thousands on flowers that wilt and dresses worn only once, there were some in this world who had little to wear or eat. The priest has long since passed away now, but was famous for saying very little at diocesan meetings, except, “Gentlemen, what about the poor?”

The memory of this priest crossed my mind as a Facebook Friend passed on tho me an article entitled: Average Couple spends 26K on Wedding. The article goes on to describe the devastating debt that many families incur, (especially when paired with college debt, etc.),  on account of the increasingly unreasonable expectations regarding weddings.

In indicating that $26,000 is the average, that means that half spend more, some a lot more. I actually have couples who are shacking up, (err… “cohabiting”) tell me that they can’t “afford” to get married. Some are surprised when I tell them they don’t have to spend a dime to get married in the Church. They can come to the Chapel with two witnesses and I’ll even buy them lunch. The usual push-back I get is that my suggestion offends against dreams (usually of the woman who wants a picture perfect “Church Wedding”). “So, for the sake of a party you will go offending God?” I ask. “Why not prepare for marriage now, get married in the Chapel, and have a 10th Anniversary bash?” suggest I. “We’ll get back to you on that Father.” Do I need to tell you my phone is not exactly ringing off the hook?

Disclaimer - As regards the cost of weddings, I realize that families do feel certain obligations to others. Further, there are some families that are prominent in the community, and either sense, or do in fact have, wider obligations. I do not, in this article mean to, or wish to, opine on particular weddings and I presume good faith on decisions that families make. However, at the cultural level we have questions to ask ourselves, in terms of the financial and personal costs we place on families. I have little doubt that weddings have always been relatively expensive, but 26K (average) is off the hook, and all of us do well to walk this whole thing back a bit, and ponder what fuels this. There are valid costs, but what part does vanity and dreaminess play on the part of the couple? And what part do unrealistic expectations and commercial hype play from the wider community side?

Permit me to give some excerpts from the article with my own commentary in red. The full article is written by Cathy Grossman of USA Today and is HERE

Call it Wedding Bill Blues. Even with a slight drop in “I Do” spending during recent tough economic years, many couples are beguiled beyond their budgets…..The average couple has a $26,989 wedding, according to Brides magazine. Even though that’s down from a peak of $28,082 in pre-recession 2008… remember this average number means that half of coupes spend more, some a lot more.

Couples are victimized by their own fantasies, cajoled by media visions of celebrity nuptials, and pressured by friends, family, even strangers posting idyllic photos on [wedding sites]…..Resisting is hard, say brides, citing wedding planners who overwhelm them with choices for décor and doo-dads that seem irresistible. Couples can also be lured off their financial feet by bank commercials that encourage borrowing for wedding costs. So the blame is collective, we ought not simply blame dreamy brides, or proud grooms, its all of us.

“It’s emotional. Practicality goes out the window,” says David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies. Jones [though savvy about the problem of debt] sees many ways debt entraps people. As a grandfather, Jones…found himself a shocked participant in runaway wedding spending for his granddaughter’s wedding…— a $6,000 gown, when $3,000 was planned..

Gosh, I just can’t imagine spending 6K for a dress worn only once.

I remember that my mother, to save money, went in on a dress that three of her friends shared (see photo above). Of course in those days women married rather predictably right out of college and such “team arrangements” were easier to make.

Today, does a dress have to be purchased? Can it not be rented? I DO know of some brides who find very lovely “used” gowns for a very reasonable price.

We also discussed last month, that, for those who purchase a dress, there is a very lovely custom of making baptismal gowns from it, or other holy garments.

At any rate, I’m sorry, 6K for a dress worn only once is crazy. Why not just say no to that sort of stuff? I know, I Know, I’m “a man” and wouldn’t understand.

While Jones and his wife contributed cash, their son, father of the bride, “had to work overtime for months after the March wedding to pay off the credit card bills,” Jones says…..Most people don’t have an emergency account or savings. The typical family has $50,000 for retirement.They don’t have six to nine months of savings set aside and even if they did, it wouldn’t be $26,000. Even if young couples are increasingly sharing the costs, they’re facing student loans and credit card debt even before the first wedding invitation flies out.

The crushing debt that couples carry into marriage, and then the debt they add buying homes much bigger than most of then need, is a huge factor in marital stress and divorce. I have had to counsel many a couple to reset their expectations of the “American Dream” and live much more simply.

My parents lived in an apartment for a good number of years before being able to afford a house. Too many couples forget that there is more to home expenses than a mortgage payment. There is insurance, repairs, taxes, utilities, etc.

So honestly, couples need to think carefully before spending a lot on a wedding. Most of them already bring debt into the marriage…and debt has a way of piling up so that it becomes crushing.

Careful! Debt is real. Too many think of debt is theoretical terms. But it’s pretty awful and real when cut-off notices come for utilities, and the “repo man” is ringing on the bell, and the credit card company is inquiring when the next payment will come.

Crystals everywhere. Flowers everywhere. Lots of drapery and fancy lighting, ice sculptures and all that jazz,”….The couple thought they would spend “about $30,000, but suddenly… looked up, and we had 200 people coming, and the costs were heading for $10,000 to $15,000 over budget…..We cut the up-lighting. We cut the draping. We cut the special wooden dance floor, and no one missed it.”

Hello….There are a lot of other things that won’t be missed too. In then, can we agree, it is the people, and togetherness that makes a wedding reception, not the “stuff.”

The article then details a number of cost savings to consider and couples getting married may find this part of the article helpful. The article then concludes:

Weddings bells sound like a cash register —Ka-ching! The average 2012 wedding (not including a honeymoon) will cost $26,989, up from $26,501 in 2011. A May 2012 survey of 1,272 Brides magazine and website readers found:

•91% of couples set a budget, but 32% overall, and 40% of those who plan a destination wedding, cross that line.

•72% of couples used savings to pay for their weddings. I presume they deplete it almost entirely? Not a good plan when starting a family.

•30% use credit cards, and most expect to pay off credit cards within six months of their wedding. Think again

•54% of couples said paying for a wedding would not hamper their plans for “buying a house or a car, starting a family, etc.” Think again

•62% of couples say they’re contributing or paying entirely for the reception costs, including 36% of couples who expect to pick up the entire tab themselves. Notice, that’s a big change from 25 years ago when the family of the bride footed most or all the bill. I wonder if parents still paid most of the bill if things would be this off the hook?

•Couples are almost as likely to have a sit-down plated meal at their reception (42%) as a buffet style meal (41%).

Perhaps we can end were we started. I wonder if a cash tithe were going to the poor, if couples and families might not also think a little more soberly. Maybe the older priest I remember had a spiritual insight. When everything isn’t about me, and when I think of others first, perhaps the Lord grants us a greater degree of sobriety.

It isn’t just about weddings, its about a lot of purchases. What if I were going to buy a camera, the latest SLR, and what if it costs $1100 dollars. When It’s just about me, its too easy to say, “Sure! Charge it!” But what if I am also going to have to write a check to overseas relief, of $110? Now I might think twice, or I might not buy the deluxe, or maybe I will buy it, but at least its not just about me.

Maybe, when we render our debt to the poor, first, our own debts are less. Something to think about in the extravaganza and boondoggle known as “the wedding.”

55 Responses

  1. Nick says:

    Uggggh, so much sentimental and superficial lovey dovey. Whatever happened to being adorned in virtues? They even help you out in finding the right wedding gown: your Sunday best!

  2. Bender says:

    as they spent thousands on flowers that wilt and dresses worn only once, there were some in this world who had little to wear or eat
    ____________________

    Sigh. There are a ton of reasons for couples not to waste money on an expensive wedding, but this is not one of them. Indeed, it betrays a rather shortsightedness, albeit very common.

    The good Father is not here now to answer, but if he were, not to beat up on him, but because so many other people think this way, it would be appropriate to ask him what he thought happens to that $5,000? Does it just evaporate into thin air? Is it chopped up to use as a rice substitute to be thrown at the happy couple?

    Or does all of that money, as wasteful as it is, go to provide jobs to the florists who sell the flowers and the people who grow the flowers? Does it go to provide jobs to the dressmakers and alterations seamstress and the sales person? Does it provide jobs to the cooks who make the lobster and prime rib dinner for the reception, as well as jobs for the people who catch the lobster and raise the cattle and transport these items to market? I could go on and on.

    Might that money be used by the flower industry and dress industry and food service industry, etc. to go out and hire some of those otherwise poor people, to give them a job, rather than a handout? And might not those funds, as wasteful as they are, be circulated throughout the economy as these workers take that money and buy things themselves, thereby providing employment to others?

    And what would have happened, we could ask the good Father, if instead of wasting $5000 on their wedding, the couple had opted for a modest $500 wedding and put the other $4500 into their piggy bank at home, as savings for the future? Fewer jobs for the florists, fewer jobs for the dressmakers, fewer jobs for the food industry, etc.

    I am rather cheap and tight with money myself, so I heartily agree that spending a ton of money on a wedding is a waste, but spending a lot of money in and of itself is not necessarily a waste. The money can be used for better things, but however it is spent, it provides the lifeblood to the economy to provide the poor with jobs, so that they too have homes and clothing and food, rather than simply continuing the cycle of dependency.

    • the economist response. Fair enough Bender, but do recall the more essential point of the priest, and this blog is the spiritual dimension of the question for the couple, the Church and the community. Note too the priest did not say, don’t spend it, but, if you do, remember the poor off the top. Florists are nice people et al., and it’s nice to boost the economy for such industries, the point is more to widen the area of concern beyond providers, to those who cannot benefit and offer goods in kind. Jesus says, when you have a party, don’t merely invite those who can repay you, invite the poor who have no way of repaying etc…..

      • Scott W. says:

        The objection is not that there is a legitimate industry that caters to weddings–it’s that there is an industry that caters to weddings that exploits the widespread notion that the wedding is all about ME! ME! ME! and therefore a licence for excess.

    • Howard says:

      And if you feed the poor, what happens to that money? Does it just evaporate into thin air? Saying that money spent frivolously may unintentionally do someone else good does not demonstrate that it is the right way to use money — or even that it has a greater multiplier effect on the economy.

      A better argument would be that an elaborate wedding has precisely the same justification as elaborate preparations for a papal visit: Rare and sacred events merit some fanfare.

      • Scott W. says:

        i don’t think Mnsgr. Pope is arguing that there is something wrong with more fanfare than usual. Rather, that the expense of the fanfare is often disproportional to the station of the couple. There is nothing wrong with crystal ice sculptures, full orchestras, and $40 per-person plates for a reception of 300 people. There IS something wrong when one depletes savings and takes on crippling debt (often with usurious credit cards) to pull it off.

      • Bender says:

        The implicit premise of the late priest’s suggestion that those with an expensive wedding should pay a tithe was that the poor are not helped unless they are given a direct cash handout. That is a demonstrably false premise (and one that has been highly destructive of public policy). That the poor might be helped by a direct cash handout is entirely irrelevant to the point that they are also greatly helped by economic expenditures that permit them the dignity of a job and not merely dependency.

        That said, the idea of James below is an attractive one. However, instead of paying a “luxury tax,” giving the poor and outcasts cash as a form of “inviting them to the feast,” but then not really having anything to do with them, better still would be to take that money and invite the poor and outcasts to the feast. Rather than just handing them some cash to spend alone, invite them to join in the celebration itself.

        • Ok, but i’m not sure giving to poor here has to understood as a direct cash payment. One might give worthy charities that help do something like vocational training. Most pf the critics of giving to the poor have reduced the whole thing to a cash payment to the poor directy. I dont interpret the priest that literLly nor to I mean that narrowly. Remebering the poor has many different dimensions.

  3. Cynthia BC says:

    I borrowed my dress from a friend of a colleague. The only cost was the $100 I spent to have it cleaned before I returned it.

    I had my bridemaids pick out their own dresses, because I wasn’t going to decide for them how much they had to spend. I told them the color scheme I wanted, and sent them forth. I didn’t even care whether the dresses were the same style.

    • Hmmm…. you are rare. The “dresses” are usually one of the most tightly controlled part of the wedding!

      • Shell says:

        I did the same as Cynthia; borrowed my dress from a friend, bridesmaids bought their own dresses. My dh bought a suit he wore later for interviews and posh dos. My oldest son wore the suit for an interview once as well.
        Our wedding list was asking friends to contribute to basics; one friend bought my flowers, another paid for the bridesmaid’s flowers and then another friend paid the organist and so on.
        We never had all the “stuff” of wedding lists but we got by.

        We still have no money – one income family in the UK. My son is planning are bring and share meal in the church hall for his wedding.

      • Cynthia BC says:

        My rather hands-off approach to the bridemaids’ (?bridesmatrons, given they’re all married) dresses was mostly respect for the fact that a particular style may not be to everyone’s taste, nor appropriate for their shape/size. Also having them pick out their own dresses meant one less detail for me to take care of. My original color-scheme idea was jewel colors (emerald, sapphire, ruby), but they settled on hunter green, navy blue, and burgundy in the same dress style. They looked fabulous, and I was pleased they had dresses with which they were happy.

  4. Caroline says:

    I like the idea of the woman getting married in her best “Sunday best” dress…seems to put the focus on dressing up to receive a Sacrament but not to glorify herself. But I also love the idea of dear friends or family sharing a wedding dress…and then maybe sharing it with a poor bride! Might also reinforce how Matrimony affects and serves the community.

    My ideal is that the Church is already adorned like the beautiful house of God that it is (like St. Mary’s in DC, right Msgr.?), the priest is reverent and celebrates a beautiful nuptial Mass…then no need to pay for frills or decorations! Sacrament, not show.

    • Well, OK, but “Sunday best” may not be the analogy. Its more like “one-time best” I would doubt Sunday best cost 2-6K. As for flowers, agreed, but most of the couples spend more on flowers et cet. for the reception. But you are right, an elegant dress is not a problem + a tux or nice suit for the groom. Its all the cost and all the extras for the party that really add up.

  5. James says:

    Two months ago a couple I am preparing for marriage came in to my office and asked if they had to do all this stuff. “Can we scale it back? We could put 15k down on our house instead of this big wedding.” I replied, “That is the smartest thing I have heard in 10 years. All we need is the two of you and two witnesses.” So their families will attend and they will have a little reception at the parent’s home. I could see the relief on their faces.

  6. Marie says:

    We got married two years ago. Coming to the church with only two witnesses would have been completely unacceptable to our family and friends, who want to be there too! And they expect, at the minimum, a meal. So we had a lunch which was about a third the price of a dinner. And being a lunch there wasn’t the expectation for alcohol or dancing. All our expenses combined were about $5,000. It is a lot, but it was about the minimum we could get away with without disappointing people.

    • Well remember, the context in which I spoke of coming to the chapel with two witnesses was of couples who were shacking up, or giving me the I can’t afford to get married argument. Putting off sacramental marriage, and the preparation for it, cannot and should not be excuse on account of money. It doesn’t have to cost anything to get married. Further, going on living in sin, cannot and should not be excused because a couple cannot afford a wedding. Anyway, that’s my point, not the family shouldn’t need to come to a wedding.

  7. James says:

    Guilty as charged. We spent ~28k. Paid cash up-front for every bit of it. Nothing extravagant other than 350 guests. We both have huge families and a lot of friends. We were pretty darn frugal ($240 dress, all seasonal flowers) , but did spend on some things that we *actually* cared about:

    - Generous gifts to all 3 priests and deacon (wife works at a church, hard to have left one out)

    - Our favorite live band instead of a DJ (~2k)

    - A really nice (but delayed by 2 months) honeymoon, ~4k

    - Paying for tux rentals for my 3 brothers who work tough jobs just to scrape by

    I have a really good job and could pay up-front for everything. In retrospective, the band was probably unnecessary. But I don’t regret for a minute having that many people come and having to buy a meal and drinks for them. Our friends and family are our biggest earthly treasures.

    I DO like the padre’s idea about a donation to the poor as a kind of “luxury tax”, heh. It reminds me of the parable where the rich man’s friends do not come to the wedding, and the poor and outcasts are invited to the feast.

    • Indeed 350 times any amount does add up and as indicated in the post, some families are prominent, others are quite large, et cetera. Glad to know, that you did not go into serious debt, actually no debt at all, to pay for the wedding

  8. Al says:

    Msgr: Conceding all your principal points, I must point out that the statistical term “average”
    doesn’t necessarily imply what you think: “that means that half spend more”.
    Whether “Brides” magazine used the term correctly, I don’t know.

    • Thanks for your correction, you’re correct I am using the terminology improperly. Yet, as you imply, I wonder if my point doesn’t still stand? Given the sample size and the fairly wide economic spread I wonder if the median in the average on rather close numerically in this case? Of course we can’t really know without having all the data in front of us

  9. Jan says:

    Some psychology is being overlooked here. There are relatively few times in which a woman gets to feel like a real princess, and her wedding is usually it. The problem is that it’s no longer about the marriage – it’s about the wedding. Vendors are not stupid. They will entice one to spend more than they need to by playing on one’s sense of entitlement and envy. And they see nothing wrong with juxtaposing old-fashioned tradition and symbolism with today’s morality – it’s all good. Hey – it’s your big day! (Who cares if it’s your first, third or ninth wedding!) Whatever you want, you are entitled to it! Go for it…especially that beautiful white dress that symbolizes purity.

    Any sense of decorum we had as a people has gone down the drain along with the sense of modesty and shame that did in fact make us better human beings.

    All that aside, a really nice wedding and reception does not have to break the bank – having been through it as the mother of the bride in the last year, I can testify to that. Beautiful setting, flowers, string quartet, a couple hundred people, a buffet dinner, drinks (pre-purchased wine and champagne) and a jazz ensemble – right around 6k, split between the familites. And the dress? Rented.

  10. KHoward says:

    Dear Msgr. Pope,

    While I agree with your take on pricey weddings, I have to correct your mathematical interpretation: Median would mean that half of the weddings cost more and half cost less. Average could mean that a few cost exponentially more and a larger number cost significantly or slightly less.

    Kind Regards, KHoward.

  11. klkl says:

    Msgr,
    I love this post. I wish we had thought of or had it suggested to us of giving a portion of our budget to the poor. It just feels more inline with the sacrament at hand.

    My husband and I chose a budget of 10,000 to cover our wedding, reception, rehersal dinner and a small brunch on Sunday morning for family and out of town guests. We did not want anyone to feel burdened by this event, including ourselves, so we had the money saved ahead of time. This was seven years ago, so we were definitely a bit different than many of our friends. We made a list of what was important to us… most importantly that it was a lifelong covenant we were entering not only with each other but with God…from there the mass, time with our family, the food, the photos, budget…I only wish now that we had made an offering to the poor too.

    It is so easy to get caught up with all of it. Really easy. Wedding, new baby, house, work. It is in any aspect of our lives…the earthly world does its best to turn our eyes away from the Lord and onto the things of this world. I don’t think it is too much to ask of any of us that when we spend our money in the world on these things of the world that we remember our fellow brothers and sisters first.

    Thank you Msgr!

  12. Silica says:

    Our wedding cost under a third of that average, and it was still a very nice party and nobody looked like a bum. I found a great dress that was “old” (I.e. last season) and paid half the retail price (and that was much, much less than $6000 in the first place! Part of the problem, I think, is that people want the elegant look but don’t want to put in effort for it (which I can understand when you’re already expending enormous effort micromanaging every detail.)

    Some great ways to save money: invite only people you actually like, hire friends for services like photography and music (still pay them, but they aren’t likely to rip you.off), and have your reception somewhere that allows you to bring your own booze instead of paying by the drink. Grocery bakeries make great cakes for not much, and you can make your own invitations, favors, and centerpieces. Our flowers came from Costco. If you get married during the Easter season, the church will probably not need any additional flowers.

    Be wary of buying things that say “wedding” on them.you can repurpose other items that are the exact same thing and cost half the price.

    Like I said, very inexpensive wedding, but it didn’t look that way to our guests and we all had a great time. We approach life the same way – being frugal doesn’t mean not having fun and it frees up money for other things. We had a very nice honeymoon that couldn’t have happened if I had paid other people to do the things I could do myself.

    • Bender says:

      hire friends for services like photography and music
      _______________

      Sorry, but hiring friends for any kind of job is often an invitation to disaster. If the friend does not do a satisfactory job, then there is the possibility of resentment, especially given that it is such a big, one-time event. Conversely, if the friend is not paid a full market rate, then there is the possibility of feeling as if he were being taken advantage of.

      Friendships are at risk of ending when friends are hired for jobs like these.

      • Silica says:

        You make a good point. We were really impressed with the quality of service (which I knew something about beforehand, I didn’t go in blind thinking, “Oh, Mike always talks about photography, let’s just ask him to do it.”) Obviously careful evaluations of relationships is an important part of planning any wedding (not to mention choosing a marriage partner!)

        For us, having our friends do these things made the celebration more intimate and that was actually our primary motivation, rather than cost – though we were definitely not overcharged and still got excellent service. Our musicians gave us a beautiful portfolio of all the music they performed and it’s one of our most treasured gifts from our wedding.

  13. Susan says:

    Before I got married in 1986, I picked up a Brides magazine with the cover story “How 3 Couples Married on a Budget.” Their budgets, it turned out, were $8,000, $13,000, and $25,000. Yikes! Well, my sister and I made my dress and it looked great. I had 1 bridesmaid and her sister made the dress. When I was planning things, I walked out of any florist shop or bakery that started in with “How much do you want to spend?” until I found a florist and bakery willing to work with me as someone who wanted a nice wedding, not someone who was a walking blank check. A friend who was a graduate student in photography did the pictures. We had a very nice wedding and a killer reception that went into the wee hours of the morning and came in at a few bucks over $1,000.

  14. JWH says:

    I remember that my mother, to save money, went in on a dress that three of her friends shared (see photo above).

    That sounds like a really crowded dress. (Ba-dum-bum).

    A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine had what sounded to me like a fairly ideal wedding. Neither my acquaintance nor her intended were religious, so they did not have a church wedding. They grabbed themselves some nice clothes and drove down to the courthouse with their witnesses. After that was done, my acquaintance’s mother insisted on throwing them a party … a backyard barbecue where a good time was had by all.

    • Bender says:

      OK, what I really want to know, JWH, is –

      did you use blockquote tags there? I didn’t know that this platform supported them.

      • JWH says:

        did you use blockquote tags there? I didn’t know that this platform supported them.

        Indeed.

      • Cynthia BC says:

        @ Bender – I don’t even know what “blocktags” are!

        • Bender says:

          It is the computer code in HTML that allows you to post in bold or italics or blockquote or other formatting style. Most blog comment boxes that I’ve seen will permit bold and italics, but many do not support the code for a blockquote. In those cases, that is when most people use italics to quote someone.

          Some basic HTML tags are described here.

  15. Peter Chabot says:

    A very practical post Father. I think parish priests would do well to sit down with an engaged couple and make them write out a conservative financial plan so they do not enter marriage dreaming. It is really the duty of their parents, but unfortunately not everyone does their duty in this day and age. I thank God every day that I went into marriage without debt. I think that other couples are not so wise because they are basically immature. While being imprudent is not an impediment to marriage, it makes life more difficult. Young adults generally have not been trained by their parents to be prudent. Whereas a century ago a young man of 16 might be mature and responsible, the educational paradigms now well-established delay maturity until the early 20′s at least. In young adults who never received the gift of self-discipline, maturity comes even later or never.

  16. Maria says:

    You are very correct in your observations, Msgr. Pope. I’m your age and got married just before things went out of control. My whole budget was 1200 from my parents, and we stuck to it. And you know what? A) People ate, drank, danced and had fun, B) 28 years later we’ll still married. The reception was in the (kind of drab) parish multi-purpose room. We had what was then known as a “house party”: friends who helped with things like serving cake and drinks; they used to be quite common. I ordered a bridesmaid dress in white for my wedding dress (WAY WAY cheaper). It was the first Saturday after Easter, so there were already lots of beautiful flowers on the altar. (What I hadn’t planned on was a huge, rather cheezy, painted poster of the resurrection draped on the back wall of the sanctuary.)

    I think we need to change the selfish unrealistic attitudes, and I think it would be helpful if parishes could step forward and help out, as they do for funeral luncheons in some places. After all, it is a sacrament we are celebrating. I was very disappointed that our recent parish activity center was built with basketball in mind, but not wedding receptions.

    Now I’m going to turn the table on you, what about lavish ordination receptions?

    For grins, you will enjoy this video (bad language warning): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gimiDBAK2wA

  17. RichardC says:

    Sorry for commenting off topic. This comment is not intended to re-open the ‘consubstantial’ versus ‘one in being’ debate. It is intended to clarify St. Thomas Aquinas’ position on substance with respect to God that I now understand to have been poorly addressed by The Catholic Encyclopedia at NewAdvent.org.

    In the article on ‘substance’, The Catholic Encyclopedia states:

    “St. Thomas further teaches that the name substance cannot properly be applied to God, not only because He is not the subject of any accidents, but also because in Him essence and existence are identical, and consequently He is not included in any genus whatever.”

    However, in the Summa Theologica, First Part, Q. 13, Art. 2, “Whether any name can be applied to God substantially?”, he writes:

    “On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. vi): “The being of God is the being strong, or the being wise, or whatever else we may say of that simplicity whereby His substance is signified.” Therefore all names of this kind signify the divine substance.

    I answer that, Negative names applied to God, or signifying His relation to creatures manifestly do not at all signify His substance, but rather express the distance of the creature from Him, or His relation to something else, or rather, the relation of creatures to Himself.

    But as regards absolute and affirmative names of God, as “good,” “wise,” and the like, various and many opinions have been given. For some have said that all such names, although they are applied to God affirmatively, nevertheless have been brought into use more to express some remotion from God, rather than to express anything that exists positively in Him. Hence they assert that when we say that God lives, we mean that God is not like an inanimate thing; and the same in like manner applies to other names; and this was taught by Rabbi Moses. Others say that these names applied to God signify His relationship towards creatures: thus in the words, “God is good,” we mean, God is the cause of goodness in things; and the same rule applies to other names.

    Both of these opinions, however, seem to be untrue for three reasons.

    First because in neither of them can a reason be assigned why some names more than others are applied to God. For He is assuredly the cause of bodies in the same way as He is the cause of good things; therefore if the words “God is good,” signified no more than, “God is the cause of good things,” it might in like manner be said that God is a body, inasmuch as He is the cause of bodies. So also to say that He is a body implies that He is not a mere potentiality, as is primary matter.

    Secondly, because it would follow that all names applied to God would be said of Him by way of being taken in a secondary sense, as healthy is secondarily said of medicine, forasmuch as it signifies only the cause of the health in the animal which primarily is called healthy.

    Thirdly, because this is against the intention of those who speak of God. For in saying that God lives, they assuredly mean more than to say the He is the cause of our life, or that He differs from inanimate bodies.

    Therefore we must hold a different doctrine–viz. that these names signify the divine substance, and are predicated substantially of God, although they fall short of a full representation of Him. Which is proved thus. For these names express God, so far as our intellects know Him. Now since our intellect knows God from creatures, it knows Him as far as creatures represent Him. Now it is shown above (Question 4, Article 2) that God prepossesses in Himself all the perfections of creatures, being Himself simply and universally perfect. Hence every creature represents Him, and is like Him so far as it possesses some perfection; yet it represents Him not as something of the same species or genus, but as the excelling principle of whose form the effects fall short, although they derive some kind of likeness thereto, even as the forms of inferior bodies represent the power of the sun. This was explained above (Question 4, Article 3), in treating of the divine perfection. Therefore the aforesaid names signify the divine substance, but in an imperfect manner, even as creatures represent it imperfectly. So when we say, “God is good,” the meaning is not, “God is the cause of goodness,” or “God is not evil”; but the meaning is, “Whatever good we attribute to creatures, pre-exists in God,” and in a more excellent and higher way. Hence it does not follow that God is good, because He causes goodness; but rather, on the contrary, He causes goodness in things because He is good; according to what Augustine says (De Doctr. Christ. i, 32), “Because He is good, we are.”"

    Clearly, from the above, St. Thomas understood it to be appropriate, in some sense, to apply the word substance to God. And so, I also, apologize for my misinformed quibbling with your translation, Monsignor Pope.

  18. teomatteo says:

    Dont EVEN get me go’en on that show ‘say yes to the dress’! I cringe when i see my wife and 14year old daughter huddled around the t.v. watchin that thing…. I think that your post Monsignor challenges us to get our daughters and sons think’en right early on…

  19. Sarah in WA says:

    My husband and I had our Catholic wedding in 2009. I was 24 and he was 25. We are exactly the kind of people the wedding industry aggressively targets — young people who are obviously in love. Almost immediately, we realized most wedding industry salespeople were not on our side, and we stopped listening to their “helpful” (read that, overly expensive) advice about how to plan our wedding.

    My husband I and worked together to keep our costs down. We had a beautiful Catholic ceremony at our local parish. The only direct costs for this decision were a small fee for use of the church plus our voluntary donation toward the church, fees to hire the church organist & cantor, and a gift for the priest. I handmade our invitations and ordered a “last year’s model” wedding dress online so I could save money there. My husband rented a tux. He negotiated a good price for a rather unconventional (but fun) reception hall at a marina; then he made a reception dance mix that we could play on an iPod connected to the hall’s speaker system so we wouldn’t need to hire a DJ. We scrimped on flowers and decorations so we could afford to serve a nice meal, wine, cake, and champagne to our guests. We also chose to hire a husband-wife team of photographers, who charged very modest prices because they were just starting out. Everyone, including us, had a great time. I was not a stressed-out control freak bride. (What man wants to marry such a woman anyway?) We stayed on our stated $10,000 budget; my parents gave us $5,000 of that.

    We conceived a honeymoon baby. Thanks to our financial prudence, we were able to buy a modest home prior to her birth. It’s all about having your priorities straight.

  20. Greg V. says:

    Monsignor,

    Just to add to your analysis above about the pressures placed on brides to have lavish weddings is all the TV shows on the subject:

    Bridezillas (’nuff said!)

    Four Weddings (four brides go to each other’s weddings and the couple with the best wedding gets a nice honeymoon)

    Say Yes to the Dress (brides-elect choosing their dresses at a bridal shop in NYC)

    My Big Fat Fabulous Wedding

    Etc.,etc. – regrettably it’s become an Olympic sport.

  21. John H. says:

    I am VERY thankful my family was poor at the time of my wedding. We didn’t pay for a major reception dinner at some lavish hotel. We didn’t shell out big bucks for a rehearsal dinner at some fancy country club. No, we did what families do, we had our dinner and reception in family settings (a low-key bar-b-q at a local park, and a humble reception in my in-law’s front yard). No one complained (except for one individual about her hotel accommodation, that she didn’t pay for.) Everyone had a great time. And our parents and we do not have mounting debt to pay off. When other friends talk about their weddings and honeymoons in lavish environments, I just thank God that the best part of my wedding wasn’t where it was, or what was eaten, or how much it cost, but who was there. The highlight of my wedding was not the cake, the dress, the dinner, or the bar, but my wife.

  22. Maria says:

    Just say “no.” When my husband and I got married, 38 years ago, we had a wedding with 200+ guests. I bought my own dress and veil. My parents had the wedding reception for us at their home. We had open bar all night long and a band. And everyone had a great time.

    There are ways to save money. You don’t always have to do it just like everyone else does it. You don’t have to have a limo. You don’t have to smother the church in flowers. When my daughter got married, they drove away from the church in their own car which was decorated by the family with the old fashioned tin cans and “Just Married” sign. We bought roses online and made our own bouquets and centerpieces for the tables. We had turkey for dinner–not prime rib. And everyone had a great time.

  23. stefanie says:

    My son — (23 years old) and new daughter — (22 years old & recent full-scholarship pre-med university grad) were married at our parish’s small chapel a month ago. They had a $1,700 budget for everything. And I think that’s about what it ended up to cost. The wedding dress was beautiful, modest– and knowing my new daughter — I know she didn’t break the bank on it.
    My oldest daughter (graphic designer) designed and printed their wedding invites (mind you, there were only 20 guests). I followed my daughter’s design and created/printed their wedding program (which was 10 pages long because most of those in attendance were not Catholic or Christian and we wanted them to be able to follow what was being said and to read the Scriptures/Blessings that the couple had so carefully chosen.)
    We hired the cantor and pianist (who were from our parish’s music group). Everyone these days has a good quality digital camera — we all took pics before/after and emailed them to each other. My oldest daughter posted select photos to facebook for world-viewing.
    The reception food was from a local Mexican restaurant. The parish allowed us use of their china and silverware, punch bowl, etc. The wedding cake served 30 and was gorgeous from a nice bakery. The entire family worked together to decorate one of the larger parish meeting rooms for the reception. I sewed all the tablecloths and table runners by hand (I don’t have a sewing machine). I convinced my new daughter that I could create her wedding bouquet via directions on the internet (ehow website) and dang, if it didn’t turn out amazing. We spent $70 total on flowers for the wedding and for the reception. Two days after the wedding, the bride went on Craig’s List and put her dress up for sale. Within an hour, a young woman bought it, ecstatic that she could afford her ‘dream dress’ — and my kids were all the richer for it.
    Since my son was just hired at his new job, he had no vacation time, so the honeymoon will happen ‘later.’ What was important to my son and new daughter was that they be with the family they love and to celebrate together as a family.
    I am very proud of my kids for having a sensible, sacred, and romantic Catholic wedding. Hope my two daughters were taking notes!

  24. Maria says:

    I love the picture of your mom. She looks so lovely! And their marriage bore the fruit of a son who was willing to give his life to God….Priceless!

  25. Jack says:

    $6,000 last October. Cooked our own food. Decorated the parish hall ourselves. Bought an iPod to run the music. Maid of honor baked cupcakes. My brother is in a band; he lent his P.A. system and a mic–which didn’t work, and my best man’s brother sped home to fetch another. It was a lovely evening and what a great help everyone was.

    And $6,000 still HURT, I’ll tell you.

  26. Maureen says:

    My husband and I paid for my daughter’s wedding. First let me say that when I got married, my mom died while we were in the planning stages but had set the church and hall for the date. I wasn’t into planning my wedding because of my great sorrow, but my mom’s friends assured me I should not postpone as it would give my dad something to do and look forward to. So I was planning for one wedding that hadn’t been thoughtfully planned 30 yrs ago plus my daughter’s. It would have been unacceptable to have a small affair as the guests were scattered around the country, and if they are going to fly/drive between 500 and 3000 miles for a wedding, it should be nice. We were able to pay cash for everything as we spread the payments over 1 1/2 years of planning. The bride’s dress was around $1000. I paid for the bridesmaid’s dresses as they were flying here, and the groom’s parents paid for suits for the groom, fathers, and groomsmen. Dresses and suits were chosen to wear again. We gave everyone a great meal and chose a DJ that got everyone (including me, and I hate to dance) out on the floor. Everyone had a blast. But the most important part of the day, the wedding Mass, still has people talking. My daughter let my husband and I plan as she was in law school. We chose very traditional music and the organist was more than happy to oblige. I chose to pay for a vocalist as well as there is nothing lovelier than the Ave Maria sung well. In addition, she sang the Agnus Dei and other latin responses. I wanted lovely flowers for my daughter to put before Our Lady as she prayed for a good marriage and lovely flowers to adorn the church (which were a gift to the church for Sunday Mass). I haven’t been to a wedding Mass for a niece or nephew, but my daughter’s was, and the priest used an older and traditional form for us. I don’t regret one penny we paid. In the same year, the new form of the Mass came out and we purchased the books for the pews and choir in gratitude for the wedding of my dreams.

  27. esiul says:

    Scott W., $40 a plate for a reception dinner. Where do I find such a bargain? Here in the NE, NY area, $125
    is the more likely price. On a fixed retirement income my husband and I just can’t afford to attend these
    expensive weddings, even with the couple telling us to “just come”.
    My frugal daughter planned her wedding carefully. Her top priority was the Sacrament of Marriage in Church.
    That’s what was important to her, everything else fell into place, and turned out affordable for her.

    Loved the Msgr’s comments on shacking up.

  28. Patrick says:

    Msgr.,

    I’d like to hear your thoughts (or, if anyone else wants to chime on) on “the engagement ring.”

    • Bender says:

      Any girlfriend/potential wife who would rather have a $5000+ diamond ring than a more modest ring with the rest going toward a downpayment on a house, is someone who you might seriously consider becoming an ex-girlfriend.

      As for receptions themselves, I’ve always favored the garden party type, like they had in The Godfather, but I’ve never been to one — the closest I’ve been was a cousin’s backyard potluck. All of the others have been indoors and most of them at night, and while some have been quite pricey $$$$, none were particularly awesome despite the high cost. BBQ cookouts at a park have been more fun.

  29. Scott W. says:

    Here in the NE, NY area, $125is the more likely price. On a fixed retirement income my husband and I just can’t afford to attend these expensive weddings, even with the couple telling us to “just come”.

    I’m confused. Are you telling me when you went to these lavish weddings as a guest, you were expected to personally shell out the $125? Am I missing something?

    • Silica says:

      I think this may be due to the expectation that the gift given by the couple should somehow “make up for” the cost of the dinner. I think I read on Miss Manners that gifts should not be expected by the couple at all, and that registry information should never be included in an invitation (except for events like bridal showers or baby showers which are explicitly gift-giving occasions). But I’ve received several invitations that include this information and have heard others grouse that their wedding guests did not adequately compensate them. This was not my attitude at all when planning my own wedding and I think it a rather horrific one that somehow throwing a lavish reception should be some kind of investment for gifts rather than a celebration with family and friends.

  30. MLP says:

    My wedding was 8 months ago in San Francisco. Even though we tried to plan things small and frugal, it still added up quite a bit, especially in this city. I struggled with temptations of envy every step of the way. I even dreaded going to my good friend’s wedding this summer because I didn’t want to battle the same envy again. It is very hard to have a small cheap wedding when all the weddings we ever went to were big or fancy. It felt like now that it’s my turn I needed to return the favor to those relatives that invited me before.

  31. Sarah in WA says:

    The engagement ring is a gift in itself, but it is also the symbol of a much larger gift: the gift of yourself to another. If you think of buying a ring as a way of satisfying an expectation, you are not really giving a gift to the other person. That is just walking through the mechanical process of doing a transaction to meet expectations.

    Going into a proposal, a man should feel confident in three things: that marriage is his true vocation, that he wants to give himself completely to this woman he loves, and that she is capable of receiving his gift with grace. If he has to worry about whether she can ever receive the window dressing (the ring) with grace, there may be a bigger problem. Will she be able to receive *him* with grace, or will she find it necessary to control and direct him at every step? IMO, I don’t think a woman (or anyone else) should oppress a man with all kinds of expectations about an engagement ring. If he chooses to give an engagement ring, it should be his gift that he freely chooses to offer her as a symbol of the bigger gift being offered.

  32. Maureen says:

    When I worked in a parish as parish administrator, I came in contact with a lot of brides who were making arrangements for weddings in the parish and this is the advice I would share:

    1. Spend money on the things that will last: your rings and your photos.

    2. Come up with a budget for the entire wedding and agree that you will not go over that number no matter what. Set aside 10% for last minute items.

    3. Separately, the bride and groom should make a list of the 10 most important things they want for their wedding, i.e. making sure grandma is there, having the dress of my dreams, live band, honeymoon in Hawaii, etc.

    4. Sit down together with your lists and make one list of priorities. This is the order of investment for your wedding. This list can continue to be negotiated between bride & groom as long as you do not go over the ultimate wedding cost you agreed on. This is usually a great engagement communication opportunity!

    5. Make a guest list of people without whom your wedding would be incomplete first, then decide what your budget will allow you to spend per person. You might have enough for a lavish meal or you might have enough for a lovely cake and a champagne toast.

    6. MOST IMPORTANT: Spend three hours planning your marriage for every half hour you spend planning your wedding. Keep in mind you’ve got about 50 years to go after “the big day.”

    My husband and I have been married 29 years. We married just after college. Our budget was $1000 from my father. My friend designed and made my wedding dress & veil. We got married in the morning & had a wedding breakfast (brunch really) at an historic home which loaned us all of their china & crystal. We had a gorgeous cake & champagne punch. We weren’t interested in a DJ or an open bar. A string quartet at the reception was perfect. We were fortunate to hire musicians from the College of Music and a friend who sang professionally was our cantor during mass. We ate at tables in the garden so not much embellishment was needed. No flowers needed because the church was so beautiful. All in all, it was a beautiful wedding with 150 guests. For us, it was perfect!

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