If you are engaged, plan to become engaged or know someone who is engaged, you may not like what I have to say.
I think wedding engagements should last no more than six to eight weeks. That’s weeks, not months. Certainly not years.
Yes, I know the archdiocese requires a minimum of six months, and I respect that. There are forms to be completed, verifications of eligibility, liturgies to plan. Couples must meet several times with the priest or deacon. They must complete the premarital inventory and discuss the results. They attend a premarital preparation program.
Then there’s the elaborate planning for a typical American wedding. One must arrange invitations, music, videographer, flowers, hair, makeup, photographer, attendants, dresses, tuxes, reception venue, food, cake, wedding consultant, transportation, gifts . . . Did I miss anything? Engagement periods in America have significantly lengthened in recent years as weddings have become more elaborate. In addition, many couples live together before marriage, so what’s the rush?
If one insists on an elaborate wedding, then yes, a long engagement is needed. But fundamentally, what is the purpose of engagement? A couple gets engaged when they are prepared to enter into a lifelong covenant between themselves and God. By the time engagement begins, there is a maturity to their love. A prolonged engagement does little to enhance a couple’s relationship; it is primarily suited for planning a big party.
Let me separate three major factors at play:
1. The Catholic Church requires time to ascertain that the couple understands the sacrament, is prepared for it and is eligible for it. Fair enough.
2. The wedding and reception must be planned. These things take time.
3. Chastity. Yes, chastity. Whenever I speak with dating or engaged couples, I assure them that millions of Americans save themselves for marriage. In fact, couples who save themselves have a dramatically lower divorce rate than those who do not. Even if one has been sexually active in the past, it is never too late for a fresh start. And the stark reality is that when one is deeply in love and mature enough to marry, a lengthy engagement is agony. Chastity is difficult enough without stretching out the waiting period.
What would the whole thing look like in my fantasy world?
When a dating couple begins to consider marriage but before they become engaged, early steps could be taken: background checks, eligibility, discussions with a priest or deacon, and the premarital inventory. These early actions provide the opportunity to resolve problem areas. If serious issues are uncovered, there’s time to alter course.
Once engaged, couples would plan a simple wedding. Assuming that church and legal requirements are met, the only essentials for a Catholic wedding are a priest or deacon, two witnesses and a marriage license. That’s it.
Back to my imaginary world. Has anyone considered hosting a wedding reception a few months after the wedding? This arrangement would provide a wonderful celebration with family and friends, greatly reduce stress on the wedding day, place the focus on the sacrament and drastically shorten planning time for a wedding.
The main thing I would do in my little world is to simplify. In Hartford County, the average cost of a wedding is between $25,000 and $41,000. Seriously? That’s a down-payment for a house. When I speak with young married couples, I often ask if they’d do anything differently if they had it to do over. Many express that they’d scale back. In retrospect, they wish they’d directed some of the cost of the wedding toward buying a house or paying college loans rather than pouring it into an expensive party they can barely remember because they were so stressed.
Am I oversimplifying? Yes. I’m doing so to make a point. I’ve attended $100,000 weddings. I’ve also attended weddings on a shoestring budget with borrowed clothes and potluck reception. Honestly, I enjoyed the latter more than the former. Sweetest of all are the weddings where I know the bride and groom have saved themselves for marriage. Chastity is a beautiful thing.
So that’s my imaginary world. It’s possible to get married without matching dresses, limousine, expensive flowers and a chocolate fountain. It may be possible to shorten the engagement period. Most of all, it is possible to get married chastely. I highly recommend it.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.