A very nice blogger priest, who calls himself Reverend Know-it-all, has posted a long series of semi-serious but rather perceptive and very pertinent observations about modern marriage in his own experience (hat tip to Father Z).
This long blog post has reminded me of two things: the sad scene at the beginning of the film “Gran Torino” – that has been haunting me since – and the less haunting, but cynically pleasant song “makin’ whoopee”, though as we are talking about Catholic marriage (and as we are at the vigil of, oh, that marriage) I should obviously not mention the point at all.
Without depriving you of the joy of reading the post, I would add some considerations:
1) the sense of the Catholic marriage as a sacrament has been profoundly damaged in the last decades. If one feels the need of having a DJ for the party after the marriage, then something is clearly seriously wrong. Again, one is reminded of the “Gran Torino” funeral scene.
2) I never cease to be amazed at why marriage be still so idolised by non religiously minded women, when the very same women are the ones who will file the vast majority of the subsequent divorces. With the exception of the minority of people who continue to feel the marriage as sacred and indissoluble (alas, not very many even among Catholics: Catholic Cologne has the same rate of divorce than neighbouring, Protestant Dusseldorf!) marriage is not a definitive choice anymore, but the indication of a serious attempt at most. The fire exit is, though, always there and firmly in the mind of both the component of the oh so smiling and beautiful couple (wanna be sure? Ask them if they are against divorce, or if they would be ready to solemnly and legally shut the fire exit….). It is therefore difficult to understand why – with the exception of the minority above mentioned – the female excitement should be so high, and this with regard to both marriage in general and, well, that marriage in particular.
3) Father know-it-all is suavely ironic, but we can’t forget that part of the guilt resides by the very priest, that in most cases goes along with pretty much everything he describes in his blog post without so much as a grunt, much less a stern reproach.
4) In many countries, like Italy, you can’t be married in the church (a holy cow of many women even in these “liberated” times) unless you subject yourself to a long (six month, I believe) pre-matrimonial course and I even know of several cases where the priest has been inflexible on this (which meant, nowadays, that the bride wasn’t pregnant). Such exercises go a long way to ensure that the couple really dedicate a lot of time preparing for their married life rather than merely for the marriage ceremony.
5) I often hear that it would be “better” for a couple to undergo a phase of concubinage before the marriage, “to see if things work”, but no one has ever proved to me with numbers that this is really the case, and the countries were such habit is common are those with the highest frequency of divorce.
Rather, it seems to me that people who are serious about their marriage as to not choose a phase of (gravely sinful, scandalous, and which even excludes from communion) concubinage are ipso facto those who bring the best ingredients for a successful marriage. Marriage doesn’t work because there was no serious breakdown during the warranty time, but because there is a serious intention not to have the breakdown in the first place.
6) Tomorrow there will be a historic marriage in this country. All the best to the couple, but he who whistled “makin’ whoopee” by the last royal marriage was rather the more perceptive, realistic chap; it there being not only a legal basis, but even a precedent for divorce, we all know what will happen tomorrow is a hope at best.
This is what happens when you take the sacrament out of the ceremony.
From the treasure trove of Lux Occulta, here is another vintage booklet that, if you take the 20 minutes to read it, will make you think.
The booklet is called Why Marry and, in a very English way, tries to explain not only to Catholics but, as it is clear from the text, to non-Catholics the beauty and sacredness of what Catholics call the sacrament of marriage.
The booklet, an English production rather than an Irish one as many other Lux Occulta booklets, is rather disconcerting at times. One is rather astonished at seeing disturbances at Mass described as a sort of “sweet music”, though the biscuit goes to the one with the nagging wife being “worse than the adulterous one” (no, you couldn’t sell this in Italy. Not even to women).
Apart from these strange – as I assume they are – British particularities, the booklet shines with a robust dose of common sense in explaining that the Marriage intended in the Catholic way, so apparently old-fashioned, is vastly superior to every alternative devised by lesser ecclesial communities, or by free-thinkers, or by cinema dreamers, or by the human desire for fast solutions.
The booklet is clearly intended to be read also from a non-Catholic audience because the sacramental aspect of the marriage, and the grace a Catholic expects from it, is duly mentioned but not really the focal point of the work. The focal point of the work is based on a very simple concept: that those who bind themselves for life think much harder before they contract their marriage, and fight much harder for its preservation after they’re married.
As a chap born in Italy from parents – and in a generation – which didn’t know divorce in living memory (nor abortion, come to that; nor a lot of other things), I can vouch personally and from the experience of countless relatives and family friends that this was exactly the case. This was the case to such an extent that I can’t easily explain to a contemporary Brit the deadly seriousness with which the generally so debonair, happy-go-lucky Italians went after the business – nay, the life work – of being married. I can’t, because the poor chap doesn’t have a frame of reference for such a behaviour and doesn’t know what it means when an entire society is structured in that way. To understand how it is, you must have lived it.
The same situation I see described in this booklet, where two worlds noisily collide: the young Catholic couple going toward the marriage with deadly seriousness and confident in the sacramental grace of the bond they are going to contract, and the “modern” (alas, all too modern) non-Catholic couple rapidly married in the Town Hall and just as rapidly dissolved at the first difficulty. A marriage, this last, easily broken because carelessly contracted and which must now be, for the sake of the offspring, re-invented and re-started (clearly with a different mentality) again.
The truth is harsh, but it’s true nevertheless: when you only have one go, you’ll pay much attention to what you do; and when this happens the chance of a happy marriage and serene offspring will be vastly increased.
Legalised divorce is a big mistake. A huge one. It destroys the house merely because the stairs are a bit slippery, or the kitchen at times cold. It creates a momentary solution to a problem, and it substitutes it with an often bigger, and an often permanent one. It is the triumph of the fire escape mentality over the constructive approach, the short-term door to a long-term pain. Besides, it creates an atmosphere or self-victimhood that goes beyond ludicrous (and no, it can’t be that there are millions of cruel, violent men out there; and no, extreme cases always make bad laws…).
Legalised divorce is like living in a house with a huge door in the reception room bearing the inscription “Exit Here In Case Of Discomfort”.
Ban on divorce is like living in a house with an inscription saying “Very Probably Your Only Chance”.
Which marriage is more likely to be well thought before the marriage, and successful thereafter?
I must always cringe at those american films with a Protestant marriage. You know what I’m talking about. The last one I saw was in the last movie with Catherine Heigl. Movie’s name already forgotten, but you know what I mean anyway.
Generally, the ceremony happens in a prosaic place (like a garden; what if it rains; oh well…); the ladies are dressed in the same way as if they were at the stadion, or as if they found the event such a great fun; the individualised marriage formulae are so unbearably sugary that I am reminded of the “dickus biggus” scene in “Life of Brian”; and then the hopeless kitsch of the entire apparatus; the prepared speeches; the meetings to rehearse the prepared speeches, and the tired jokes. How embarrassing.
I look at those movies and hope that in real life, people over there marry in a different way. Solemn, dignified, spiritual. Fitting to the sacrament they are celebrating. And, hopefully, in a church, which is where sacraments are supposed to be administered: in God’s house, not in your garden.
But then I stop and wonder. Is it really that way that the see a marriage? Do they really see it as a sacrament? I mean literally, do Protestant consider marriage a sacrament? I don’t know but if yes, why divorce and why are people free to choose the formulas? They aren’t free to choose the formulas for baptism, surely?
If, on the other hand, they don’t, then I begin to understand a couple of things. If it’s not sacred, then it’s better be fun. If it’s not a solemn promise made in front of God, then why should it be made in a church. You don’t buy cars in churches after all. Even if they often last longer than a marriage.
If this is how things are, then one understands how marriage becomes something which must be fun and rather practical. To this effect, may I suggest McDonald’s. You can have the reception together with the ceremony. Catering & Co. all very sensibly arranged. No hassle of choosing menues, either. Your friends don’t feel obliged to abandon their usual shorts and flip flops; hey, it’s supposed to be fun!
Apparently, it all works very well in Hong Kong. As the company spokeswoman(1) noticed, many couples had their first dates, fell in love and even had their marriage proposals take place at McDonald’s, so “it makes it particularly meaningful and memorable to hold a wedding party there”. A proposal at McDonald’s. How romantic. Yes, I understand that in such circumstances a marriage elsewhere would be unconceivable. Burger King is, clearly, out of the question.
I am not peeved at McDonald’s. Laugh at me as much as you please, but I do like the Big Tasty and their fries are, I must say, always excellent. I merely wonder what has become of a world once built on important choices, made after very careful reflection; of commitments that could resist the strain of disagreements and the unavoidable difficult times; of the idea of solemnity, and of the idea of sacredness.
Sacredness, this is the word. Sacralità.
Not much en vogue now, is it?
The flip flop generation marries at McDonald’s.
Or if you’re lucky, in a garden.
(1) Thank God they still don’t have the “spokesperson” over there.
Let us play a game.
Let’s imagine that you are a famous rock star. Fame, money, girls, the lot. Your ego balloons dangerously. At the same time you have a lot of more or less penniless friends who are now slowly expecting that you do something for them. You would like to of course, but you won’t certainly pay for fake grace and favour jobs for all of them. I mean, even in “Entourage” they are only a handful and when you have a driver, a manager and a cook that’s pretty much it.
But then your ego continues to grow and you are tired of being perceived only as a successful singer. You want to become more than that. You want to be a kind of messiah.
As a third problem, there’s the fact that you want to travel in style without paying, and you want to meet famous people.
And then there’s your agent, who has been saying for years that you need to stay more in the headlines because fame is a cruel mistress. Look at madonna (little m) and Angelina (big…. lips), how many children they adopt and how much popularity it brings them!
You must, then, do something which allows you to:
a) place a lot of friends and friends of the friends (and mistresses, and the like) in well-paid jobs, without costing you a penny;
b) make yourself important at no cost to you;
c) use other people’s money to tell foreign Governments how to use taxpayer’s money.
At the end of the story you will be the idol and they will be the idiots, because the game can be played ad infinitum: you will always be able to say that the West “doesn’t do enough” whilst the crowds adore you and the government will always be interested in getting near you.
This is the killer media magnet. Beats adopting third world children any day.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to let it grow up to 120 people (that’s a lot of friends even if you include the friends of the friends and the mistresses) and even make good weather with journalists, which is rather important for a pop icon anyway.
Yup. You must create an advocacy group.
What immediately takes the attention of the reader is the political incorrectness of this booklet, more so today than it was at the time for sure. This is rather natural as the booklet is a popularised synopsis of Casti Connubii, Pius XI’s encyclical letter on marriage.
All the “uncomfortable” parts are considered without embarrassment, in encouraging but rather clear words: mixed marriages, abortion, divorce, the respective roles of the parents, the difference to a christian education dealing with marriage and “sex education”. One sees that the problem of those times where largely the problems of our times (poverty, for example, or the surprising fact that apparently there was already a certain number of single mothers).
By reading the rather slender booklet, you’ll discover a view of marriage certainly not taught for the last forty years at least, and still very powerful so many years later, as if these booklet had been written to help us recover Catholic values rather than to help past generations to keep them. Shocking as it may seem to many a modern reader, this booklet makes – as all of Catholic teaching – deep sense and he who spends some times pondering the truths herein contained has spent his time wisely.
Just a curiosity: the reference to the Italian state adopting the law of the Church for the regulation of marriages is literally true. The “Patti Lateranensi” between the Fascist Government and the newly-constituted “State of The Vatican City” established the rule that Canon Law would rule Italian marriages, with e.g. the consequence that marriages could only be annulled if the Sacra Rota (the Church’s tribunal) said so and the Italian government had – unbelievably from a secular perspective – no saying in the matter.
One wouldn’t necessarily advocate for 2010’s Britain the same rules applied in 1930’s Italy. Still, this booklet shows how much can be improved or, better, restored.