A month prior to the opening of the first of two major synods of bishops on marriage and family life, Pope Francis will preside over the celebration of the sacrament of Marriage tomorrow in a Mass at the Vatican. Twenty couples will be involved in the rite. It should be a beautiful and remarkable moment — though note that it’s not a first, even in recent history: John Paul II celebrated large public wedding ceremonies twice during his pontificate, in 1994 (the Year of the Family) and the Jubilee Year 2000.
As it happens, tomorrow is the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. It seems to me that it’s a wonderful day on which to celebrate marriage. The truth about God bringing life, grace, joy, and salvation out of difficulty, suffering, struggle, and dying is an important encouragement to all who work daily through not just the joys but the frustrations of marriage and family life. It will also be, for many, an articulation of something they’re already keenly aware of. This truth at the heart of Christian existence and doctrine is also at the heart of married life. I can’t wait to read the Pope’s homily for the occasion.
On a more down-to-earth level, here are some important details about tomorrow’s ceremony: Among those who will be married by the Pope, there are some who have been living together and some who already have children together. (Catholic News Service’s report is here.) If you think this just happened by accident, you’d be crazy. It would not have happened without the express approval, and perhaps the explicit intention, of the Pope. Either someone at some point said, “Holy Father, there’s this couple, they…. What would you think about…?” and the Pope said “Yes, absolutely.” Or, more likely, the Pope, in early planning discussions about this event with his people, said, “I want you to make sure that included in this group of couples are….”
Why would he want such a thing? After all, the fact that he is including these couples on the roster of those he will marry tomorrow will only confirm once again for some Pope Francis’s poor judgment and ineffectiveness as a defender of Catholic doctrine. But clearly the Pope wants to again to emphasize the importance of not putting up barriers to people encountering Christ, of the Church and its leaders having “the smell of the sheep,” and perhaps most of all, the importance and centrality of mercy.
For example, CNS reports:
One of the brides, identified only as Gabriella, has never been married, but she had a daughter when she was quite young, she told the Italian daily La Repubblica Sept. 9. Her grown daughter will also attend the ceremony at the Vatican, Gabriella said.
Gabriella’s fiance, Guido, has had an annulment, the newspaper said.
“We’ve known each other for five years and our wanting to get married in the church stems from no longer wanting to live in a union and with feelings that are deprived of some of the sacraments,” the couple said.
When their parish told them about the possibility of having their marriage in the church presided over by the pope, they said they were shocked. “We didn’t feel worthy, because of our age and personal background.”
And the Church — and this Pope, who says of himself “I am a sinner” — says: Well guess what, Gabriella, you’re not worthy, but none of us are. None of us are worthy of the grace of Christ, none of us are worthy to encounter him in the sacraments, but he comes to us anyway. Come.
The worship aid for Sunday’s Mass is here (.pdf file opens).