Twice a year, we encourage couples who are in merely civil unions or long-term cohabitation to take advantage of a program I started up a few years ago. We take these couples, most of whom have children and are together for several years, and who for whatever reason didn't seek the sacrament of matrimony when they got together. They hear it advertised at Mass, so almost all of them are regular Mass-goers, but obviously unable to receive Holy Communion or to fill leadership roles in the parish. Two married couples and I give them marriage talks, meet with them, put together their paperwork, and make sure there are no obstacles to solemnizing their marriages. Then, together with the people with whom they've taken the classes, they make their vows in the parish Mass, surrounded by fellow parishioners who've been praying for them while they've prepared. The parish pays for the music, pays for the decorations, and doesn't charge a dime. And they return to the Sacraments that night at the same time they receive the convalidation of their marriages.
The week afterward, we always get a deluge of phone calls of people who were moved by the beautiful and festive celebration and want to have their own unions blessed in the same way, as well. The event is palpably sacred, the newlyweds end up becoming some of our most active parishioners, and the communal nature of the Sacrament is made patently obvious. There's no fretting over trivial details. There's no obscene expenditure of money. There's no worrying over guest lists, as all are welcome.
Even though validation isn't the best way to go -- that is, being married in the Church after a civil ceremony or concubinage -- these group weddings are my favorites, and the couples tend to be the ones who impress me most. I've also been edified by the way our parishioners look forward to them each season and the interest and joy they show in the couples. It really is a celebration within the parish community, and not merely a private ceremony attended by people one has never seen before. To that extent, the joy of the event seems several orders greater, as well.
Over at Whispers, Rocco reports on Archbishop Collins of Toronto and his thoughts on priestly vocations:
As for vocations strategy, the subway-hopping prelate came down firmly on the side of an approach he termed as "people, not paper," repeating it to underscore the point.
"That's gotta be the way," he said. "We can always retreat into a bunker surrounded by paper, and we can give ourselves the illusion that we've done a full day's work.... You can hand guys [who've already expressed interest] information on the seminary -- that's fine. But posters, brochures, stuff like that -- I think they probably have zero influence."
In his days as rector, the archbishop -- who said that "hearing confessions" has been the greatest joy of his 34 years of ministry -- recalled that he once asked his seminarians what influenced them to enroll in formation. From the group of 50 or so, he said, "I forget the exact numbers, but it was something like this: 'the example of a priest,' 45 of the 50 said yes. 'I was invited by someone' -- I think that was 40 of the 50. 'Vocation literature,' zero."
Keeping with his prior practice, within days of his arrival as the chief shepherd of Toronto's 1.6 million Catholics, Collins set up a phone number for men considering the priesthood to be able to call him directly.
He gives the digits out from the pulpit at every Mass he celebrates. When that moment arose at the close of last week's ordination liturgy, the crowd responded with a standing ovation.