By Bill Brewer
August, the second most popular month for weddings behind June, is apparently popular for marriages, too – at least in the Diocese of Knoxville.
Some 65 couples attended the first marriage Mass of 2015 on Aug. 29 at Notre Dame Church in Greeneville, where they renewed their vows before Cardinal Justin Rigali, who celebrated the Mass.
As the Catholic Church continues to focus attention on marriage and family life, and as Pope Francis presided at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia last month, Cardinal Rigali localized the celebration for the sacrament of holy matrimony, which is the first of three scheduled for the diocese.
Father Dan Whitman, pastor of Notre Dame Parish, concelebrated the Mass. Father Arthur Torres Barona served as master of ceremonies, with Deacon Bob Lange serving as deacon of the Word and Deacon Jim Prosak serving as deacon of the altar.
Delivering his homily in English and Spanish, Cardinal Rigali congratulated the couples on their commitment to each other and God.
The cardinal told the married couples this was a very appropriate time to give thanks to the Lord for their marriage and to renew their marriage vows to each other. He cited a text in English and in Spanish that has been used as an introduction to the marriage ceremony, offering the text as an opportunity to further reflect on the sacrament of marriage.
“Dear friends in Jesus Christ: As you know, you are about to enter into a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because it was established by God Himself. It is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future.
“That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so, not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.
“Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that, recognizing their full import, you are nevertheless so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice.
“And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common.
Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this common life, always make them generously.
“Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy; and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; and the Son so loved us that He gave Himself for our salvation. ‘No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’
“No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today, never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest possible measure of earthly happiness. The rest is in the hands of God. Nor will God be wanting to your needs; He will pledge you the lifelong support of His graces and in the holy sacrament which you are going to receive.”
Cardinal Rigali also reflected on the Gospel of the Mass taken from the 15th chapter of St. John, where Jesus says: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you…. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” The cardinal stressed how appropriate it is for the spouses on the occasion of the celebration of their wedding anniversaries to understand these verses as referring to each other.
Bishop Richard F. Stika and the Diocese of Knoxville’s Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment have scheduled two more marriage Masses, with the next one set for Saturday, Dec. 5, at St. Augustine Church in Signal Mountain, and the last one scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 30, at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Lenoir City.
“It is always such a privilege to celebrate marriage anniversaries with couples from all over our diocese. Their commitment to their sacramental marriage is a true testament to the power and grace of the Holy Spirit working in their lives. I especially love to see the entire family come to help the couple celebrate a special anniversary. Their parents’ example of enduring love gives hope to all of us and reflects Christ’s love for His Church into the world,” said Marian Christiana, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment.
Mrs. Christiana said her hope is that the couples in the diocese’s other deaneries will take advantage of the next two opportunities to celebrate their marriage with other couples who also are trying to live out their sacrament on a daily basis.
“Marriage can be a serious challenge in today’s society. It is reaffirming to the participants to be with other couples who also value their relationship. The sacrament of matrimony calls us to be Christ’s light in the world, and these celebrations are an opportunity to witness first-hand a small slice of that light through the couples who attend,” she said, adding that she always feels privileged to be present when so many couples renew their commitment to their marriage during Mass.
Mrs. Christiana said the marriage Mass celebration was extra special because two couples celebrated 60 years of marriage, and 14 couples celebrated between 50 and 59 years of marriage, while two newlyweds at the Mass had been married just 1 1/2 years.
“That is amazing,” she said.