As a sacristan for a Jesuit parish in the early 1990s, we did a booming "business" in weddings -- 10 am, 12 noon, and 2 pm every Saturday, and more often than not, all slots were filled. After all, what better place for a haute couture Catholic wedding than in Georgetown? I had quite a time fifteen minutes before the second or third wedding telling the couple from the previous blessed event, that the photo shoot in front of the altar was directly in the way of the next blessed event. The parish prided itself on catering to the "progressive Catholic" in the population, and yet with one exception (and I do mean only one), every wedding procession culminated with the bride being "given away" by her father, uncle, or any older male relative with a pulse. They can purge all the male pronouns they want, and call God their "Mother" till they're blue in the face, but she's still "Daddy's little princess" in the end.*
I thought of those days recently, while reading a post by Mary Alexander (no relation) entitled "The Tawdry Bride":
"Hours before her son's wedding in New York City two years ago, Lisa Brettschneider was a little taken aback by the scene in the suite of her daughter-in-law-to-be at the Mandarin Oriental hotel... When the family got the proofs, Mrs Brettschneider deemed a few images inappropriate for public consumption, including one of Alison's favorite shots, which showed her G-string and back tattoo. 'My in-laws weren't too happy about that,' says the bride, now 29, who owns a women's clothing showroom in Manhattan. 'But it was such a cool shot.' Adds her mother-in-law: 'I kept saying, "You're going to have to show them to your kids one day..."'"
As I remember my first wedding twenty-four years ago, it wasn't all that extravagant. My brother was the best man, and for the bachelor party, some of the guys brought their wives along. I don't think they would have broken up anything anyway. The ceremony itself was a Byzantine Rite wedding, so we as the bride and groom were led together to the altar by the priest as a matter of course. The bridesmaids wore cocktail dresses suitable for re-wearing in public. The men of the party wore "morning coats," as God forbid they should wear black tie before six in the evening (a lesson universally lost on the would-be fashion plates in Georgetown). A choir from my own Roman Rite parish sang two of my favorite motets (Mozart's "Ave Verum" and Durufle's "Ubi Caritas"), the bride and I wore matching flower wreaths on our heads during the reading of the Gospel, and we had to stand for two hours. The reception was at the Evans Farm Inn in McLean, a lovely pastoral setting since closed down to make way for luxury townhomes (for reasons totally beyond me). We wanted chicken cordon bleu for the sit-down dinner, but Papa K didn't want anyone to think he was cheap, so it was prime rib at the get-go. Oh, and nothing less than an open bar! A square dance band played, and the bride and groom danced the "Salty Dog Rag" well into the night.
Ten years later, she filed for divorce after running off with some guy who dumped her soon afterwards. C'est la vie, c'est l'amour, eh?
At the risk of not sounding like the Roman Catholic poster boy a few of you may still think I am, I don't miss the marriage. By now I would have had a heart attack, or would have "gone postal." But I'm grateful that the union produced a fine and talented son, who has been cracking me up since he was a toddler. And I had a rather colorful set of in-laws. We lost Papa in '91, and Nana passed away only a few months ago. I used to call her once or twice a year for Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, that sort of thing. And I'm still in touch with some of the others to this day. It drives my former wife crazy, as if I give a rat's behind.
Still, it's a fate I don't wish on anyone. And to those who marry this month, or at any month, let me give you this solemn assurance, that no one will care how much above the national average you spent on the big day. Skip the limo and get a live band; music is usually best in its natural state, and deejays are usually obnoxious as a rule. Remember that it's not just about the bride, which may not mean much now, but there's a message there somewhere. If involving the groom reduces the chance of the event resembling a cotillion, it will be worth it later on. Go to the pre-Cana program. Don't fall asleep. Find a priest who's not about to apologize, either for being one, or for what he has to say. In summation, avoid any excess or novelty at all costs -- in the case of the latter, unless you want to be embarrassed by your wedding album ten years from now.
For all that went down the tubes, I'm still not embarrassed by mine.
* In the Catholic Rite of Marriage, the rubrics actually call for the bride and groom to process down the aisle together. The practice of "giving the bride away" is a concession to a Protestant culture. No kidding.