Life is close to idyllic this time of year. Summer temperatures are not quite at their peak. Barbecues are held every weekend. School is out for many children. Teenagers work days then head to beaches for fun with friends. Families load up cars and head for adventures yet to be determined. Birds sing. Music plays. Love is in the air, and many will answer that butterflies-in-the-belly call to love with an, “I do,” in front of family and friends.
No One Really Knows
They can’t possibly know what, “I do,” means as they stand there, but they say it anyway. It’s what’s expected after a certain point and you find yourself standing before guests at an altar in a big Church wedding. No couple can anticipate what their “I do” will bring by their golden anniversary, their decade celebration, or five minutes from the vow.
Marriage is a couple’s adventure yet to be determined. What life together will be like tomorrow is a mystery. What life will be like years from now and several children later only God knows. Hardships, monotony, and temptation seem as impossible as a blizzard in this idyllic setting, yet we know that just like winter will come to every summer, hardships, monotony, and temptation will come in some form to every Marriage.
Whether those relationships die in cold isolation or go on to thrive in a spring with newfound life often depends not just on the couple, but on those in their garden – the matrimonial witnesses and those they meet as they walk their path. If you were witness to the wedding vows you are required to encourage those vows to grow through seemingly endless hardships, monotonies, temptations, and years later.
A Wedding Isn’t Just a Fun Time
A wedding isn’t just a fun time in front of family and friends and a wedding attendee isn’t just a “guest.” He or she is a witness to the Sacrament ministered by the couple themselves. It is a Sacred Covenant the bride confers on her groom, the husband makes to his wife, and both make to and with the Holy Spirit. While guests are looking down the aisle to see the beautiful bride approach her groom, it is the job of the faithful witness to also look for the Holy Spirit’s presence. This should be done long before the wedding day and kept up vigilantly throughout the couple’s Marriage.
The role of the witness at the wedding feast is not just to drink fine wine or to ooh and aah over the dress, decorations, band, and scenery as a guest would. The role of the witness is vital in validating the Sacrament of Matrimony. The Catholic Catechism tells us the presence of the witnesses are a visual expression of, “the fact that marriage is an ecclesiastic reality” (CCC 1630)
Because Sacramental marriage is a liturgical act, it is celebrated in public form. Just as we are called to be witnesses for the breaking of the Body of Christ, we are also called to be witnesses against the breaking of the bonds of matrimony. It is the role of the witness to be sure the bride and groom understand what this joining the Order of Married Catholics means.
Because a true Catholic Marriage means the bride and groom are capable of giving full consent to their vows, the Catholic witness must be at peace with his belief in the ability of the man and woman to consent to the life Marriage calls them to. To not be at peace and to silently witness the vows taken is a grave mistake that can result in heartache for the couple and any children they’ve been blessed with years later. Many annulments today are granted for this reason when lasting pain could have been prevented had someone been brave and loving enough to gently talk to the couple about their relationship early on.
The witness must be relatively certain the couple is open to life. She must help the couple see the fulfillment that comes from giving life compared to the constant unrest that comes from seeking fulfillment in material things. The witness must help the couple understand that single parent families with one or two children have much harder lives than intact families with ten or twelve!
The witness must remind a couple of the capabilities the Grace of God gives through the marital vow. Chances are, at some point in the relationship the couple will face difficulty. There will be a job loss and financial crisis or an illness or accident, a difficult pregnancy or an inability to conceive. Maybe life will just get boring, and the couple will separately talk with friends and family who encourage them to seek happiness outside of the marital bond.
They may even be told they have grounds for an annulment. A priest may even tell them an annulment is a possibility.
A Catholic Witness
You alone may have to testify for this Marriage because you are a Catholic witness, not merely a guest, and being a witness to Marriage takes courage many lack. As a Catholic witness you will be asked by God to stand for Grace and the Marriage vow even when others tell the couple they deserve better, they deserve to be happy, and children will be happy when parents are happy.
It’s often been said, divorce is contagious. There is a reason these statements are true. When divorce is seen as a way out, Grace is derailed in all those who don’t stand for the Marital Bond. When divorce is discouraged and struggling couples are told of redemptive suffering, of the command to love even our enemies and our former spouses, and the understanding that love is a purposeful action, not a whimsical emotion, love can be found again.
Struggling couples need to hear that they have powerful choices beyond stay and be miserable or leave and be happy. The wounds of divorce never completely heal, but wounds of a struggling Marriage where the couple bravely embraces God’s Grace when they cannot embrace each other, do.
You, as a witness in this nearly idyllic setting, have not begun the tough job of witnessing. By attending the wedding ceremony, you are agreeing that decades from now, you will still be witnessing God’s Grace in this couple, that you will still be encouraging them to choose love, and that you will never stand for the breaking of their vow. You will bear witness to their power to love on their wedding day and your power to love them enough to speak the truth when others are blinded by personal agendas.
Everyone who witnesses the wedding vows will be asked to speak for the couple, to encourage them to choose love and to never give up, but few will understand that call. Fewer still will rise to it. They will make excuses, justify behaviors, and magnify the couple’s disappointments by casting their own stories over them.
You alone may understand the role and the severity of being a Catholic witness. By all means, enjoy the ceremony and the reception after. Jesus wants us to celebrate His Love in these unions, but when the summer fades and idyllic settings turn cold and lonely, be ready to testify and encourage this couple that Spring will come again.