Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Let us entertain you!

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 28, 2004

Judith Martin makes some good observations on the de-ritualization of the wedding as indicative of a frivolous approach to marriage. Though several points deserve comment, mine was provoked by her last:

The wedding has become a great blast of a party, which is stuck with a slow start when everyone is expected to curb the fun and pay attention. Symbolizing the relative importance of the activities, brides now dress for the parties that follow, in strapless ball dresses, rather than donning the often impossibly elaborate but still somewhat modest wedding dresses that long symbolized the dignity of the occasion. ...

To whatever extent possible, the ceremony has become part of the couple's pageantry of personal display. As they inevitably declare, "We want this to be about us." So begins the reworking to "personalize it" with their own script. Not infrequently, this includes jokes and all-too-private reminiscences. Officiants, too, contribute their share in the spirit of undercutting the solemnity to make the ceremony entertaining. And guests recognize this with their applause.

Almost always, it seems to me, applause in church is a sign that something has gone wrong: the ritual has ceased to be liturgy and has been become showtime. Some celebrants joke their way into the focus of attention when they feel the bride, or the Holy Sacrifice, has robbed them of their rightful place on center stage. Others, correctly intuiting that their audience is more familiar with how one behaves in a cinemax than a church, will try to reduce the general nervousness by lowering the formality -- which a burst of laughter or applause can do abruptly.

In an era when large parts of the population were in pain, Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. In the First World of today, where anxiety is the prime dread, religion often serves as its Valium. Clergymen are bred to be cute. Only at funerals -- and not always then -- is the natural solemnity of ritual allowed to override the fun factor.

Has the show neared the end of its run? Maybe one of the positive consequences of the clergy abuse tragedy will be the gradual disappearance of the cuddly priest. Sure, Father will continue his Noodles the Clown act at the 10:00 Mass, but he'll get fewer smiles and chuckles from the folks in the pews. The effect of the icy stare might trickle back to the seminary. In the first instance, the diocesan attorneys may do the coaching ("Leave the hand-puppets at home, Father") but eventually -- if the laity do their part -- the priest himself might rediscover, and integrate into his own life, the meaning of what happened on Golgotha.

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