As I begin to gather my thoughts to begin writing I am very conscious of the old adage that one is about to place one’s head in the lion’s mouth. As we emerge from the season of Christmas where collectively we have spent billions of dollars on things that we do not need, to give to people who do not want them, it occurs to me that conspicuous spending in the name of faith and future is very common.
For example, have you ever pondered the difference between a marriage and a wedding? All of us will have attended the wedding of a friend or family member. We witness the happy couple standing before God asking for God’s blessing on their vows to be faithful to each other for the rest of their lives. It is a wonderful moment, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Even as we witness this we will either attempt to ignore the obvious expense, or we will grab our smart phone and begin to calculate roughly what the wedding cost. Either way we will recognize that the accumulated expenditure will be significant.
There is evidence that supports the observation noted above. There have been times when I have spoken with young couples living together outside of marriage. A common response to the question of “why not marriage?” is the observation that “we cannot afford it”. According to a recent report on a wedding expo the average cost for a wedding in Australia is $50,000.00.
Now this has caused me to ponder the wedding industry. Not the sacrament of marriage, but the industry that has grown up around it. If I were to offer a discussion surrounding sacramental marriage it could very easily fall into the current political debate concerning Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, GLBT marriage, and I do not want to go there. The lion’s mouths are far too large for that.
We now live in an age where, in some instances, couples employ event managers to arrange their wedding. It appears that the more spectacular and expensive the wedding becomes, the better the wedding. The expectation is that large numbers of people will be invited to celebrate with the happy couple. Just as predictable is the fact that the happy couple generally meet regularly with less than half of them, and like even less of them. However the cost for their sustenance and entertainment remains the same. It is a high price to pay for one day.
What might be a good outcome for a couple vowing their lives to each other? Is it appropriate to spend large amounts of money for that one event only to return to unemployment and a one bedroom housing commission flat? Would the couple not be financially better off if they were given that lump sum in order to put a deposit on a house? It would be a greater help for their future than the single extravagant day of the wedding. This is why the wedding industry irritates me.
The wedding industry reduces the marriage to a one day event. It lasts for less than twenty four hours. There is no thought given to the future. There is no encouragement to consider the hard work necessary for holding a marriage together. There is no thought given to the financial hardship that some families will face as a result of wedding industry expectation. One of the pieces of correspondence that our eldest daughter received prior to her marriage was that “it is worth going into debt for this very special day!” People interviewed at the wedding expo declared with excitement that it is “only one day!” It is as if all expenditure is justified on that small phrase. I support the observation that it is only one day, but with sadness because that One Day will cost on average of $50,000.00.
The problem is that we confuse wedding with marriage. Marriage is a lifelong commitment. The wedding is designed to last one day, and must be perfect. Marriage has many lumpy bits and rounds of joy, happiness, disappointment and hardship. The wedding is perfect and is not allowed to go wrong. The florist who delivers bruised roses for the Bride’s bouquet will understand this all too well.
Why have we as a society placed so much emphasis on the wedding day? Why are we expected to spend vast amounts of money delivering up perfection to our guests? The answer is that the wedding industry demands it. The wedding of our friends has set the standard. We cannot be seen to be less than another.
One of the most enjoyable and meaningful marriages that I have conducted and attended was a simple arrangement where the couple announced that they were to be married on a certain date at a certain time and anyone who wished to attend could do so. If the guests wished to attend the reception at the private home could they please bring something to drink and a plate of finger food to share. There was no conspicuous expenditure. The bride wore a dress that could be worn to any formal event, and the groom wore the best clothes he owned. Many years later they are still happily married.
It seems to me that in some respects we have lost our way. When we think of marriage and the various expectations that surround it we will discover very quickly that it comes down to two main factors. The first is that marriage is an institution of the government and as any celebrant knows the primary part of the marriage ceremony is a legal contract which is signed and sent off to the registrar of births deaths and marriages. This is for the good order of society and so that arguments concerning inheritance can be determined from a legal standpoint.
The second factor concerning marriage is the vows taken before God and before witnesses that they will live together as husband and wife, to the exclusion of all others, until death parts them. This is not a one day event. This is a lifelong commitment. No amount of money spent on the wedding will guarantee the longevity of any marriage. It is the heart and the soul and the determination of the happy couple that will make the marriage last, or not.
In the Christian Marriage service we are reminded; “Marriage is a life long partnership uniting a woman and a man in heart, mind and body. In the joy of their union, husband and wife enrich and respond to each other, growing in tenderness and understanding. Marriage is therefore to be honoured by all. No one should enter it lightly or selfishly, but responsibly and joyfully, with mutual respect and the promise to be faithful.”
Some years ago I was preparing two couples for marriage and I quipped that the decision they were making was for life, and that every morning when they woke up, for the rest of their lives, the first thing they would see is the face of their partner. The only thing that would change is that the face would become older and older. They both cancelled their wedding.
Fr Adrian Stephens