Weddings in Lent

And More on Catechumens

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ROME, MARCH 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.



Q: Last Saturday I participated in a wedding Mass. As I remembered that there is no wedding celebration in the Lent, I asked the presider about this. He answered, "Holy matrimony is a sacrament so we can celebrate it even in Lent." Is this true? -- N.T., Houston, Texas

A: The precise answer to this question is yes, no and it depends.

There is no universal rule that would prohibit celebrating the sacrament of matrimony during Lent.

The ritual for matrimony foresees this possibility (No. 32 in the Italian ritual) but indicates that pastors should inform couples so that they take the nature of the season into account. This would usually mean moderating the external elements such as flowers and decorations in the church. On some days, it might also mean that the ritual nuptial Mass would not be allowed and that in some cases the priest would have to celebrate the wedding in violet vestments.

Weddings are forbidden on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. According to the Congregation for Divine Worship's 1988 Circular Letter Concerning the Preparation and Celebration of the Easter Feasts:

"61. All celebration of the sacraments on this day [Good Friday] is strictly prohibited, except for the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick. Funerals are to be celebrated without singing, music, or the tolling of bells.

"75. On this day [Holy Saturday], the Church abstains strictly from celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. Holy Communion may only be given in the form of Viaticum. The celebration of marriages is forbidden, as is also the celebration of other sacraments, except those of penance and the anointing of the sick."

In cases of imminent danger of death, even these restrictions on the celebration of matrimony could be lifted.

Therefore, the universal laws do not forbid weddings during Lent but nor are they particularly enthusiastic in promoting it.

Some dioceses have gone further than the universal laws and have established rules that range from encouraging pastors to dissuade couples from scheduling weddings during this season, to actually forbidding weddings.

For example, after its diocesan synod in 1993 the Diocese of Rome for all practical purposes forbade the celebration of weddings during Lent. Exceptions can be made but only for very good reasons, and the celebrations have to be sober.

This is more a pastoral question than a doctrinal one. The decision regarding the Lenten celebration of matrimony depends on many factors, including local traditions and culture. The Roman synod's decision probably stems from the great difficulty in persuading couples and their parents to tone down the typically pompous and ebullient external elements associated with a wedding.

Other places and countries, with diverse traditions and customs, might see no need to make such restrictions on the celebration of matrimony during Lent.

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Follow-up: Rite of Election of Catechumens

Our comments regarding preparation for adult baptism at Easter (see March 9) brought to mind another e-mail. A reader described this case:

"During the second week of Lent, our DRE [director of religious education] approached our RCIA coordinator to let her know that this year confirmation was not going to take place during the Easter Vigil for our newly baptized. While I was attending a class on canon law, Fr. X stated that all three sacraments -- baptism, confirmation and first Communion -- should all be conferred upon the newly baptized. When I mentioned this to the DRE, I was told that Fr. Z said that it was going to be done that way [that is, no confirmation] and that he has the authority to make those changes. I had asked Fr. X in regards to 'pastor privilege,' and he said that there was no 'pastor privilege' -- this was 'full initiation' and all three sacraments should be done together. My only thought is that all of the newly baptized will be missing out on a very important sacrament and there is nothing that I can do to help."

In this case, Fr. X is correct that a pastor does not have blanket authority to omit confirmation to adults baptized during the Easter Vigil. The fact that canon and liturgical law grants the baptizing priest the faculty to confirm on this occasion is a clear sign that this should be the normal process.

In some dioceses the bishop prefers to do most adult baptisms, but this does not change the fact that all three sacraments are given.

That said, however, it is necessary to point out what the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) says in No. 24: "In certain cases when there is a serious reason, confirmation may be postponed until near the end of the period of post-baptismal catechesis, for example, Pentecost Sunday."

The RCIA, unfortunately, does not give examples of what a "serious reason" might be. The reason is certainly not a large number of catechumens; No. 23 already foresees this possibility and suggests that the solution is celebrating several full initiations during the Easter octave.

Nor would it usually be the case of lack of preparation, because if an adult is unprepared for confirmation, he or she would be equally unprepared for baptism.

It can only be supposed that No. 24 refers above all to special one-off cases and not to an entire catechumen class. It is certainly not a simple option or alternative that can be adopted for supposed pastoral reason.

Since serious reasons are required for postponing confirmation, the candidates have a right to know those reasons from the pastor himself. "Because I said so" is not an adequate response.

The faithful have a canonical right to receive the sacraments from the sacred ministers unless they are subject to some legitimate impediment. The pastors have a corresponding duty and responsibility to provide the spiritual blessing to the faithful who request them and are adequately prepared.

In our column of Aug. 29, 2006, we presented the case of the Holy See's telling a bishop to confirm a young girl who was adequately catechized, had spontaneously requested the sacrament, but was refused because she was below the diocesan age of confirmation.

If this is the attitude shown by the Holy See toward a child, then it can only be supposed that it would hold the same stance in favor of adults, unless there were authentic serious reasons for acting otherwise.

If the pastor cannot justify his decision, then it might be necessary to bring up the issue with the bishop.

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Readers may send questions to liturgy@zenit.org. Please put the word "Liturgy" in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.