I’ve been to some beautiful weddings in some ugly churches. Either the carpet was old, the tabernacle was weird, the lighting was off, or the vestibule smelled like moth balls. Sounds romantic, no?
Having taught Theology to teenage girls for years, one of the first questions they ask when we discuss the sacrament of marriage is, “Mrs. Meyers, do I have to get married in a church? Because I want to have my wedding on a beach.” I get it. Beaches, meadows, trees, parks, and even some court houses are nicer than some of the churches I’ve been to. That’s not to be rude or superficial or shallow, it’s just a fact. And really, there is nothing wrong with wanting the setting of your wedding to be a beautiful place that brings out the joy of the day and provides a nice backdrop for pictures.
We didn’t get married at our parish because of the way it looked, though. We chose it because of what happens there. It is within those four walls that families bring their children to take their first steps toward Heaven. It is there that people pour out their fears, frustrations, and failings in prayer, and where they ask forgiveness for their most selfish choices. It is in that space that hundreds of other couples have vowed to lay down their lives for each other, and where families have come to pray for their loved ones who have passed away. Perhaps most importantly for a married couple, it is on the altar of that church that Christ, the Bridegroom, lays down his own life for His Bride, the Church, in the Eucharist.
In Ephesians, Chapter 5, Saint Paul writes that the love of husband and wife is meant to be an image of the love between Christ and the Church, which is expressed most fully in the Eucharist. John Paul II writes in Mulieris Dignitatem, “It is the Eucharist above all that expresses the redemptive act of Christ the Bridegroom towards the Church the Bride.” In this sacrament we see the perfection of love. Jesus says to each of us, as the Church, “This is my body, given up for you.” No matter how perfect the lighting, how magnificent the sunset, how lush the gardens, or how grand the architecture, there will never be anything more beautiful than the love poured out for us in the Eucharist.
I can say with confidence that every person at our wedding was able to experience and witness true love. Love was present in the vows exchanged between me and my husband, but that love remains merely a glimpse, an echo of the Divine love. The love we expressed in our vows was only magnified by the love celebrated in the Eucharist just moments later.
Many couples may remember their wedding with videos or photos, but for us every reception of the Eucharist calls our hearts back to our wedding day. At every Mass we are gifted with an opportunity to strengthen our marriage and to receive the love which we are called to give. At every Mass the Lord continues to perfect our love and strengthen our will to serve each other. Just as the true beauty of the Church is found not in stained glass or painted ceilings, the true beauty of marriage is not found in perfectly posed portraits or floral arrangements, but in joyful sacrifice, freely given for the sake of the beloved.
I married in a church because the Eucharist provides a foundation of true and perfect love that will stand the test of time, even if the carpet is ugly.