Common Wisdom: Something Old, Something New

For the second time in as many summers, I slipped into my mother-of-the-bride dress for an evening wedding and reception. This year, however, I did not hold the title. I was just another guest, knowing none of the others. The bride was a lapsed Catholic, the bridegroom a non-observant Jew, and they married in an Episcopalian cathedral.

The couple are popular celebrities, she a star in an enormously successful television sitcom, he in films with ever-increasing visibility. An outsider to the entertainment industry, I found myself numbered among the elect solely on the coat-tails of my daughter, personal assistant to the groom. I established my credentials by leaning repeatedly on Dr. Laura’s mantra, “I am my kid’s mom.”

Billeted hotel guests were chauffeured to the church. Nearing it, we saw fans and paparazzi lining the sidewalks. Secrecy had been arduously enforced, and security would remain tight, but news leaked and fans came in droves.

It is daunting to alight into a throng of celebrity seekers even when they are cordoned off. Passing them, I felt apologetic to be no one of note and aware that major stars were driven to an adjoining underground garage, whisked by elevator into the cathedral.

My dutiful daughter remained in the vestibule to be of service. A steady stream of celebrities came down the aisle next to my flower bedecked pew. Unfortunately, I missed America’s number one male heartthrob, distracted by a book of liturgy in the pew rack. Riffling through it, I noted that most prayers, psalms, and biblical verses had not suffered the neutered gender and jarring linguistic revisionism as has Catholic liturgy at the hands of ICEL and its Amen corner.

My next discovery was a kneeler, padded but available, tucked under the pew ahead. Kneelers require a humble and sometimes penitential posture and, as such, are found less and less in renovated Catholic churches. I recently attended Mass at yet another spiffed up but furniture impaired cathedral on whose cold floor I stoically knelt at appropriate moments.

A comforting sight was that of a crucifix, an actual cross with corpus, not centered but prominently mounted in the sanctuary. I wondered if it had been secured from among the many discarded from Catholic college classrooms.

The organ was silent, regrettable in a nave where music would have soared. Instead there was a gospel choir, facing the congregation. Spirituals were a natural for this rhythmic group, but the songs chosen were secular, meaningful to the bride and groom if often prosaic or unintelligible to my ear.

The bride’s sleek designer gown was white, the color by now having more or less lost its symbolism. The gaunt maid of honor looked a scarecrow in black, inadvertently suggesting Pope John Paul’s culture of death.

Vows were mercifully familiar, not the embarrassing prose inflicted by couples buying into the ’60s misguided notion that everyday folks can improve on tradition. The minister conducted the ceremony with grace and tact, alternating references to the Deity as God or Jesus Christ. In his homily he did not water down Christianity in deference to the bridegroom and Jewish guests. He even worked in mention of the Holy Spirit when he spoke of love as a trio: the lover, the object of love, and love itself. Only the dense could miss the Trinitarian analogy, but I suspect biblical imagery was not this congregation’s strong suit. Neither was prayer, unison recitation of the “Our Father” sounding rather thin.

The inclusion of a Jewish rite was a thoughtful addition, honoring the bridegroom’s deceased mother. He stepped on a glass goblet, crushing it, to symbolize the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem. This reminds Jews of past suffering, even in the midst of a joyous event. It struck me initially as inappropriate and unduly somber until I realized our crucifix is not veiled or hidden during celebrations. I felt a harmony between two great faiths.

Those of us who endured marriages in meadows with made-up liturgies, in the wake of the ’60s deconstructionism, are heartened to see a revival of religious sobriety, allowing that restored rituals are yet a bit ragged. Against all odds, this high-profile Hollywood couple, children of divorce and living in a community where serial cohabitation and children out of wedlock are routine, deliberately chose to take their vows, to make a serious commitment, in church.

Their decision is surely not lost on their fans, most of whom are young adults. For this reason, as much as for the glamour, I was a most willing witness.


B. F. Smith is a freelance writer and former contributing editor to Crisis Magazine.

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