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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

A Wedding's Location is Important

Why Celebrate Weddings in Churches?

Q: I have always dreamed of an outdoor wedding. Since I have been in a serious relationship for about three years, I was recently telling my aunt that I wanted to get married outdoors and how romantic I thought it would be.

She said that the Church does not consider a couple married unless they are married in a church building. That shattered my dream. Is this true?

I have always been taught that the Church is more the people than buildings. How much closer to God can you get than in God's beautiful outdoors?

A: A wedding's location says something important about a couple, in what context they are pledging their undying love and who has a stake in the success of their marriage.

Although your aunt may have overstated the case (exceptions are possible), I think that most Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States have a regulation that the bishop's permission is needed for a wedding outside a church building.

Why? Marriage is a lifelong commitment, which the larger faith community has a responsibility to nurture. Linking weddings to buildings used by the faith community is one way of making that point.

Weddings are usually celebrated in church buildings for the same reason that Baptisms are celebrated there: That is where the faith community most often gathers.

From the Church's point of view, the heart of the matter is, "How is this couple's marriage related to the faith community?"

People are obviously more important than buildings. Once you move weddings out of a church building, however, you face potential questions about having them on a roller coaster or Ferris wheel, while scuba diving or skydiving, or in some other location which the couple considers ideal.

I have read news reports about weddings in all these places. How do such locations favor or discourage participation by the larger faith community?

That community certainly has a stake in the success of every marriage its members enter. Should problems arise in a marriage, will the husband and wife turn only to those who witnessed their exchange of vows?

Please check with your parish priest to learn the regulations in your diocese regarding the site of weddings.

According to one saying, "A wedding is for a day. A marriage is for a lifetime." Best wishes for a beautiful wedding ceremony, followed by a long and faith-filled marriage.

Why Did the Pope Ask Forgiveness?

Q: I would like a clarification about the pope's apology on the First Sunday of Lent. People are telling me what they heard on radio and TV. What did he really say? Where do we go from here?

A: On March 12, 2000, during a very public Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, the pope celebrated a Day of Pardon, asking God's forgiveness for the sins of Catholics against seven groups of people: those persecuted in the service of the truth; Christian unity; the Jewish people; sins against "love, peace, the rights of people, and respect for cultures and religions"; the dignity of women and the unity of the human race; fundamental human rights; plus sins in general.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and six other Vatican officials read these requests; the pope responded with a prayer written for each group.

In his homily Pope John Paul II described "purification of memory" as an element of this Great Jubilee Year. "The Church," he said, "strong in the holiness which it has received from the Lord, kneels before God and begs forgiveness for the past and present sins of its children."

The pope emphasized sins committed during the second Christian millennium. The pope also offered forgiveness to people who, across the centuries, have persecuted Christians for their faith.

During his Angelus message later that day, the pope said this request for forgiveness is not "a judgment on the subjective responsibility of those who have preceded us: that belongs to God alone, who—unlike us human beings—is able to probe mind and heart."

Earlier last March, the Catholic Church's International Theological Commission released Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past. This document examines several theological issues related to this Day of Pardon.

Sin is "always personal, even though it wounds the entire Church," says the document. Cardinal Ratzinger later explained that the Church's aim is to "know ourselves and open ourselves to the purification of memories and to our true renewal."

Pope John Paul II set the stage for this event in his 1994 apostolic letter On the Coming Third Millennium.

In it he wrote, "It is appropriate that, as the Second Millennium of Christianity draws to a close, the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel and, instead of offering to the world the witness of a life inspired by the values of faith, indulged in ways of thinking and acting which were truly forms of counter-witness and scandal" (#33).

In the United States and around the world, bishops and other Catholic leaders made similar requests, emphasizing local needs for forgiveness. The Church will be absolutely "holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27) only in heaven.

The pope sees this Day of Pardon as a way of helping Catholics and other Christians to examine their consciences. How well we use that opportunity is our decision.

Intergenerational Punishment?

Q: People have told me that the families of illegitimate children are cursed with sin. Is that the Church's stand?

A: God loves each person without reservation. God does not love children born within wedlock more than children born out of wedlock. We are all precious in God's eyes.

Jews, Christians and Muslims today believe that God holds individuals accountable for their actions.

Even though God extends neither reward nor punishment from one generation to another, humans often do.

Because most of the Old Testament gives no support to the idea of a life beyond this one, the Hebrew people thought that God was forced to reward or punish people completely in this life, with the possibility of extending either one to future generations. They thought God's "reach" was blocked by death.

Old Testament Hebrews would have said that Oscar Romero must have been sufficiently rewarded in this life and that Adolf Hitler must have been sufficiently punished here. We may well disagree with both of those assessments.

The idea of intergenerational punishment ran into a brick wall, so to speak, when the Kingdom of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Many devout Jews interpreted this calamity as punishment for their nation's sins.

If they had kept thinking that punishment must be extended to future generations, however, their obeying God now would not matter because God must still punish them for their ancestors' sins. Something had to give!

Chapter 18 of the Prophet Ezekiel is very strong on the subject of individual accountability: "Only the one who sins shall die" (verses 3 and 20). A person's repentance now does make a difference. "Dry bones" can live again! (See Ezekiel 37:1-14.)

The concept of an afterlife, where some are rewarded and others are punished, developed among the Jewish people very slowly, only after the events of 587 B.C. There are some hints of it in the last of the biblical Wisdom writings to be completed.

Not all Jewish people in Jesus' day believed in a life after this one. The Sadducees did not (see Mark 12:18). Most Jewish people today believe that individual immortality occurs only through one's descendants and by remembering past good people.

Sometimes our language gets very twisted. In reality, there are no illegitimate children—only unwed couples who become parents. Some marry and succeed in providing a wholesome environment where their children can grow. Unfortunately, many others do not.

If people insist on talking about a curse in these situations, they are describing human actions, not God's.

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