A Sorta Catholic’s Very Catholic Wedding
I am a Sorta Catholic. Growing up in New Jersey, I was raised Catholic and went to 12 years of Catholic school. But as a comedy writer living in Los Angeles, being Catholic is not a huge part of my deal. I only go to church on holidays or when the world feels particularly grim. I usually give up something lame for Lent, like “being hard on myself.” I practice what I call “Chipotle Catholicism”: I go down the line picking and choosing the parts of Catholicism that appeal to me (charity, Pope Frank, spooky stories about saints) in order to create a custom-made spiritual burrito.
So two years ago when I got engaged to a fellow Sorta Catholic, I assumed we would have a Sorta Catholic wedding. We would get married at a fancy hotel or in one of those woodsy fields where Pinterest people get married. I would walk down the aisle to a cool, meaningful song and be married by our funniest friend. The ceremony probably would not mention Jesus. Maybe God, but God would be called something vague like The Universe, as not to make anyone uncomfortable.
When I told my mother my vision for my wedding, she got on a plane and flew across the country just to spit in my face.
Where did I come up with this crap? When you get married it is in a church with church music and your aunt reading “Love Is Patient.” A priest does the ceremony, you repeat after him and then once it is done, you have a relaxing, 20-hour break until your reception at the Knights of Columbus.
So where did I come up with this crap?
Now I know what you’re thinking: L.A. sucks. And it does. When I moved here four years ago, my realtor tried to talk me into renting the guest house of a pornography director who grew marijuana in his garden and had a pet wolf. But outside of the occasional L.A. nonsense, the people I have met out here are truly wonderful: kind and funny and smart. And regardless of background or religious affiliation, they all have fancy, cool weddings.
If my mother was going to force me to have a Catholic wedding (“Which I am!” she flew across the country again to scream), it was going to be a Sorta Catholic wedding.
So if my mother was going to force me to have a Catholic wedding (“Which I am!” she flew across the country again to scream), it was going to be a Sorta Catholic wedding.
We started looking for churches in New York City. As anyone who has ever attended a Catholic wedding knows, there is never a seamless transition between the ceremony and reception. Because most churches have 5 p.m. Mass on Saturdays, they require wedding ceremonies to take place at 3 p.m., giving all of your guests a nice three-hour window to spend at a hotel bar and then arrive at your reception ready to fight and act weird.
When I raised this as a concern to my mother, she rolled her eyes. “They can take a nap or go to Starbucks.”
I called dozens of churches. Would anyone be willing to marry us at a more reasonable time? But every church lady in Manhattan had the same answer: “No.” One Dana Carvey character hung up on me for not knowing that “Mass is at 5:30 but Father has confessional hours prior and you have some nerve thinking he’s going to move them for your wedding!” I was beginning to think I was not the first annoying bride who called inquiring if she could bend the rules.
We settled on a church in midtown that my mother had fallen in love with after her visit there. Running out of time, I booked it sight unseen. I flew home a few months later to check it out, and when I got there, I was surprised. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this was a church. Not one of those new-age, modern churches with clean lines and lots of light—the kind that could be a church but could also be an Apple store. This was a church with stone floors, crazy-high ceilings and stained glass. Granted we were seeing it with all the lights off on a cold February night, but the vibe was less “chill wedding” and more “the Coronation of Pope Celestine V.”
I did not like it. As usual, my mother thought I was just being difficult. “It’s classic and beautiful. Why can’t you like nice things like Kate Middleton?”
And why couldn’t I? Why did any of these little things matter? It was just a wedding. I had always quietly judged women who got super into planning their weddings, women who threw fits because the Chiavari chairs they ordered were supposed to be champagne and not rose gold. I would smugly shake my head, “Girlfriend, it ain’t about the Chiavari chairs.” These women clearly had bigger issues going on that they were not interested in addressing. But that was not me. Sure, I was having bi-weekly meltdowns, not just about the Catholic parts of the wedding, but everything: the invitations, my dress, the Chiavari chairs that I did not order in rose gold—why would I ever do that unless I was purposely trying to make the table look like disgusting trash from hell?! No, I was different. I was just trying to plan a nice wedding, and everyone was getting in my way.
And that was the kind of chill headspace I was in when Bev the Church Music Director (name changed to protect the innocent) came into my life. My fiancé and I had talked about music that we wanted at the ceremony, in particular a George Harrison song that had special meaning to us. Trying to be helpful, my fiancé offered to email Bev about our selections. His email was met with a list of four classical songs from which we could choose. I nixed all four immediately (boring, boring, spaghetti sauce commercial, Looney Tunes). Surely, if I could explain the situation in person, Bev would understand and let me have my way. “But she said these were the only choices,” mumbled my husband-to-be, his eyes searching for a nearby exit from the room/this impending marriage to a crazy woman. I told him, “Well, we’ll just see about that!”
I was not asking to walk down the aisle to “Who Let the Dogs Out.” I just wanted a sweet, tonally appropriate pop song.
My mother and I showed up at Bev’s office ready for a fight. Bev, a small, smartly dressed church lady, very politely explained that this was a traditional church and therefore had traditional standards. She handed me the list again. I did not want the list. What was the big deal? I was not asking to walk down the aisle to “Who Let the Dogs Out.” I just wanted a sweet, tonally appropriate pop song. But Bev wasn’t budging. My mother tried to explain that in the parish where I grew up standards were a little more...relaxed. It was not unusual at a special event for the church musicians to “have a little fun,” maybe pull out an Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” “Oh, well, not here,” purred Bev. “A man once asked me if he could play a Rolling Stones song at his father’s funeral. I guess it was his father’s favorite song,” she chuckled at the memory. “I told him, absolutely not.”
Excuse me, Bev? Now, I know I am not the one whose paycheck is signed by J. H. Christ and Associates, but this felt like a wild abuse of power. If God flows through everything good and joyful on this earth, God would absolutely be on board with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” That song has even got a choir in it! God can’t get enough of choirs! And surely God would not begrudge a grieving man who wanted to honor his dad.
After throwing a pretty embarrassing crying fit in her office, I stormed out, resolute. In the planning of this wedding, there were many battles that I ceded. I couldn’t say my own vows. Fine. I couldn’t get married in a Pinterest field. Whatever. But The Battle at Bev Run was not a battle I was willing to lose. Church music was the hill on which I had chosen to die.
I couldn’t say my own vows. Fine. I couldn’t get married in a Pinterest field. Whatever. But church music was the hill on which I had chosen to die.
My campaign raged on over email. Back and forth we went. I would suggest a song, and Bev would refer me back to the list. Little by little I ceded ground. Fine, a pop song was out of the question, but what about a different classical song? Something less stodgy and serious? Maybe, teased Bev. What did I have in mind? I researched classical music, pouring over YouTube clips, consulting musician friends. Finally I found a church-appropriate, classical, Bev-proof piece and sent it to her. She emailed back: “I don’t have an arrangement for that. What about a song from the list?” Who taught this woman to negotiate? Sun Tzu? I was getting nowhere.
A month before the wedding, my fiancé and I attended pre-Cana. Initially, I balked at the idea. I was too busy for this, between my full-time job as a TV writer and my part-time job as a Wedding Tantrum Thrower, plus the shifts I had picked up as a Florist Antagonizer. Being so busy, I did not love the idea of wasting a Saturday in a school gymnasium listening to some Catholic power-couple talk about the rhythm method.
But the thing they don’t tell you about pre-Cana is—it’s kinda fun. Sure, there was an elderly Korean couple who spoke about sex with the in-your-face confidence of a Cosmo magazine editor, but the rest of the speakers were pretty normal. It was basically just a daylong religion class full of easy quizzes and little art projects. One of the worst parts of being an adult is there are not any “easy classes.” Kids in school get to balance math and history with religion and art, but for adults, it’s just work and taxes and submitting health claims. Maybe that is why people like taking Buzzfeed quizzes and going to those weird places where you pay to drink wine and make pottery.
We were coming into the home stretch of pre-Cana and, for our last exercise, the priest told us all to stand and face our spouses-to-be, holding hands. The priest would say vows and we would repeat them. “Yikes,” I joked, pretending to yank at my collar, “this feels a little too real.” My fiancé and I took each other’s hands, and as we started repeating the vows, saying them in unison with the 60 other couples in the gymnasium, something weird happened. I started crying. I had cried a lot during the past few months, but this was not a tantrum over the price of gold embossed napkins. This was an emotional catharsis, the kind of deep tears reserved for a Pixar movie you watch a little drunk on an airplane. My fiancé was concerned. Why was I crying?
Why was I crying? Because I realized I was getting married. Feels like I could have used context clues to figure that one out sooner.
Why was I crying? Because I realized I was getting married. Feels like I could have used context clues to figure that one out sooner, but somehow it had not occurred to me. Like really occurred to me. We were embarking on this giant, life-changing life change. And it was both terrifying and comforting because we were not doing it alone. We were doing it with one another. And with the 60 other couples that had just listened to an ancient Korean man talk about how he likes to have sex on his birthday and with the billions of people who had done this before us and who would do it after we were long gone. It was one of those moments that strikes you and makes you feel both very big and very small at the same time.
Then, the epiphany: “Girlfriend, it wasn’t about the Chiavari chairs.”
How could I not see it before? All the fits and the fights and agonizing over stupid details were just a distraction. A distraction from the simple, unavoidable truth: I was getting married. For real and forever.Rather than confront the enormity of what was happening, I poured my fears into wedding planning. My mind went to Bev. Poor Bev! She was right. Getting married was serious business. It should happen in a serious place, scored by a serious song written a long-ass time ago.
And you can’t sorta do it. It’s like being Catholic. Or having a kid or climbing Mount Everest or doing anything worth doing. You can’t sorta get married.
After my realization at pre-Cana, everything felt a little lighter. Things went wrong on our wedding day, as they always do. It rained. The church accidentally mixed up the reading we chose so my brother-in-law read “Love Is Patient” after all. People got drunk and weird. But overall, the day was perfect. Special and joyful, with a ceremony that would have made Pope Celestine V himself say, “Damn, this is, like, super Catholic.”