Christ – or a sandy beach?

By: Susan Gibbs, Office of Communications

O.K., I admit it. Nearly every Sunday, I read the wedding section of the New York Times.

 After a double dose of bad news from the front pages of the Times and The Washington Post, I usually need some entertainment and the “how-we-met” stories tend to be a lot of fun. Plus, it can be inspiring to see couples ready to embark on a new life together.

Getting married – making that commitment – and holding the wedding in the sacred place of a church keeps the focus on what a wedding truly is – a joining of two people before Christ who now will become one within a community.

 But what started as a diversion turned into something else. I started noticing fewer church weddings. Priests and ministers were being replaced with “Universal Life” celebrants and other officiants who were friends of the couple “ordained” for the occasion. (Like everything else these days, it turns out you can go online and get instantly “ordained.”) No longer held in churches, weddings are migrating to beaches, restaurants and exotic destinations.

 Is this just the result of editors choosing unusual venues, or a sign that church weddings are on the decline?

 Sadly, it seems to be the latter. A new study, released by Our Sunday Visitor and the Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate, reports a nearly 60-percent plunge in weddings celebrated in the Catholic Church alone since 1972.

 Given that the number of Catholics in the United States is growing, that’s not good news. What is going on?

 According to the researchers, it’s not that Catholics are less likely than anyone else to marry, although that’s not saying a lot. The rate of marriage in the United States has dropped by nearly half since 1970, while the number of couples cohabitating has skyrocketed, according to The National Marriage Project. Instead, CARA researchers found:

 Catholics are waiting slightly longer to marry

  • Catholics who divorce may be remarrying outside the Church
  • Catholics are marrying non-Catholics in increasing numbers
  • Catholics are not marrying at all.

 That last one – not marrying at all – turns out to be the biggest factor in explaining the precipitous decline in weddings celebrated in Catholic churches. In 1970, nearly 80 percent of all adult Catholics in the U.S. were married. Today, barely 53 percent are. For younger Catholics (18- to 40-year-olds), the drop is even more significant: 69 percent were married in 1972, but only 38 percent are today.

 In 2007, nearly a quarter of never-married U.S. Catholics said they were “not at all likely” to ever get married.

 And, when they are marrying, they aren’t marrying other Catholics as often as in the past. From 1991 to 2008, the percent of young married Catholics (under age 41) married to other Catholics dropped from 78 percent to 57 percent. These couples may or may not marry in a Catholic Church.

 Does it matter? Yes, quite a lot, because being married means something as a Catholic. There are only seven sacraments and marriage is one of them.

 As the U.S. bishops’ website explains, “The sacraments make Christ present in our midst. Like the other sacraments, marriage is not just for the good of individuals, or the couple, but for the community as a whole. The Catholic Church teaches that marriage between two baptized persons is a sacrament. The Old Testament prophets saw the marriage of a man and woman as a symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people. The permanent and exclusive union between husband and wife mirrors the mutual commitment between God and his people.”

 Getting married – making that commitment – and holding the wedding in the sacred place of a church keeps the focus on what a wedding truly is – a joining of two people before Christ who now will become one within a community. I’m all for friends at a wedding, but I’d rather have them in the pews. After all, having Christ in your wedding and marriage will get you a lot further than a buddy on a sandy beach.

 Learn more about marriage at

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