BY FR. FRANK REITTER
Over a year ago I visited the Philippines for three months to learn the culture and the Tagalog language, as many parishioners of St. Mary’s Church here in Kodiak are Filipino.
I had a wonderful experience and found some of the kindest and most empathetic people I’ve ever met. I learned a lot about their culture and Catholicism, did a Visita Iglesia (visit to seven churches), went to Quipo and Cebu to see the Black Nazareno and Santo Nino de Cebu.
In the Mountain Province I saw a mass wedding, where more than one couple is married at the Mass. It seemed like a good idea given the cultural expectation of a big expensive celebration afterwards hosted by the newlyweds. When I returned to Kodiak, someone asked me about doing a mass wedding. We decided to see if there was interest.
Eight couples initially expressed interest. For a few it was a wedding, for most it was a convalidation of their marriage. Sandy Jackson, a parishioner who is a psychologist met with each couple separately and conducted a weekend similar to Marriage Encounter.
We decided we’d do the weddings at a normal Saturday evening Mass, celebrating not only the newly married, but also all of the marriages in the parish. All couples had the opportunity to renew vows at each of the Masses and the preaching was about marriage as a sacrament.
The parish’s “Couples for Christ” group planned the party, decorations and programming, and a parishioner donated a roasted pig. We ended up with three couples for the mass wedding as a few couples decided to do their weddings individually, and two couples were moving to be closer to family and decided to get married after their move. The goal was not to get a maximum number of couples but to help people towards the sacrament of marriage.
The Mass went wonderfully: each couple pronounced their vows and attending parishioners renewed marriage vows at all of the Masses. We gave white roses to widows or widowers, thanking them and reminding them that their heartache shows that love is truly forever. We then had a rousing parish celebration with tons of food, music and dancing. It may be the first time three newly-wed brides danced simultaneously in Alaska. It was really good for the parish and for all of the married couples to be appreciated and valued.
We believe that marriage is a sacrament, along with holy orders, the Eucharist and baptism, and is both part of God’s gifting to us and needed for us to experience the fullness of salvation. Our pews, however, are filled with people in irregular marital situations. Sometimes it’s due to the expense of a wedding, which leads to a civil union rather than a sacramental marriage. Sometimes quick decisions are made because of visas and sometimes a mistake is made, perhaps due to a lack or misunderstanding and fear of the annulment process. Other times people just need us to reach out to them.