Many if not most clergy of the present and previous generation have strong opinions on the relative merits of weddings and funerals. First, let’s assume that family dynamics–easy to difficult, serene to troubled–are present at both. My analysis is that once you sort out that factor, we can reduce the similarities and contrasts of these two events more easily.
Let me say upfront my bias is to stick up for the underdog and suggest that weddings get a bad rap. That’s not blind to the numerous secular influences in weddings that can trump funerals in both number and intensity. But I head into playing weddings with the same sense of service I offer for funerals. Particular circumstances might cloud or deepen my own attitude on particular funerals. But I think we can unpack the wedding experience a bit and look for opportunity in the occasional frustrations. I even hear new “JPII” clergy prefer ten funerals to one wedding. If they said it to my face, I’d be inclined to cluck, “Oh, Father, you’re so old-fashioned!” Even if we indeed love funerals ten times as much as weddings, I can’t imagine a priest or liturgist would ever admit it in public. Well, I suppose I can imagine it. My brother once dressed in orange to see his beloved Bucs play in Minnesota. I can ponder going to a steakhouse and asking in a loud voice, “Isn’t there anything vegetarian on this darned menu?”
Weddings might have more subtle emotions in play, but the primary one is joy. People are happy at weddings. I was at a wedding rehearsal last Friday, and everyone was happy. They were also a bit late getting started, and some seemed oblivious to their surroundings–it was just another stop on a Fridaynight before a wedding.
These people were certainly happier than the priest or I. And that’s okay. I found myself grumbling slightly last week as to one musical selection I wouldn’t have chosen. But by the time we were running the procession, I was fine with it. It may be my inner softie, but I wanted to play the piece well. And on Saturday, it went better than I thought it would.
I read earlier this week where Pope Benedict made an appeal to French priests for joy:
The priest, man of the divine Word and of sacred things, must be today, more than ever, a man of joy and hope. To (those) who can no longer conceive that God is pure Love, he will always affirm that life is worth living, and that Christ gives it all its meaning because he loves (people), all (people).
The ten-funeral musician or priest communicates less joy and hope, and more a sour outlook, an expectation of being slightly miserable that translates into a dour face, and an inner spirit somewhat not in keeping with the pope’s suggestion.
The pastor preached on marriage this weekend. He remarked that wedding preparation programs–all of them–are pretty much irrelevant to the success rate in a marriage. The key factors are the religiosity of the families–which you would expect, knowing that adult Mass attendance is predicated on family habits during childhood, and Catholic schools or RE are mostly irrelevant. The other factor for young couples is the degree that a parish supports young marrieds and gives them a reason (as they were given before the age of suburbia) to stay connected with the Church.
Communities of couples–that’s one of the hallmarks of the Marriage Encounter movement. It’s not just fluffy sharing for the sake of indulging our feelings or egos.
Lots more to say on this topic, but I’ll leave it for the readers.