My husband is Catholic. He is and was a “cradle” and “cafeteria” Catholic—which tends to mean for Americans attendance at Sunday, Christmas and Easter mass, practicing “unnatural” birth control, tithing irregularly, lax observance of the holy days of obligation, and a jovial and comfortable disagreement with Rome on a wide range of topics. What he wasn’t comfortable with was getting married outside the church.
From that concession—yes, I’ll get married by a priest in a Catholic church—came a snowballing avalanche of other concessions. When Protestants get married, they order their clothes, plan a reception, and schedule a date with the pastor for whatever site they have chosen for the vows.
There is process by which one is married Catholic. Catholics can only take the Rite of Marriage, one of the seven sacraments of the church, on consecrated ground, normally a Catholic church or chapel. Catholics must prepare for the Rite of Marriage by taking Pre-Cana; a course on marriage usually taught by a married couple whose relationship is exemplary in the parish. After taking the course, the unmarried couple takes a several-hundred question Scantron compatibility test and discusses the results with the priest who will be performing the marriage. The bride, if she is not Catholic and does not intend to convert, in this example, me, will have to write a letter to the local Bishop requesting permission to marry the Catholic, explaining why she will not be converting, and promising to raise all children conceived in the marriage as Catholics. Finally, it is necessary for the practicing Catholic to take the Rite of Reconciliation prior to receiving the Rite of Holy Matrimony. At some point, the couple provides copies of their baptismal records—the practicing Catholic also providing proof of First Communion and Confirmation in the Church.
And then you have to plan the wedding and reception.
When the couple finally marries, they give each other the Rite of Matrimony; it is the only rite of the Catholic Church in which lay people minister to each other—or so our officiating priest told us.
Each step in the process of marrying a Catholic posed a new set of discussions and compromises. Twenty years into this relationship, I am still in the thick of negotiation with the Catholic Church. My husband does not appear to be negotiating anything, but as he is fond of reminding me, I cannot possibly pretend to know his soul. I let him think so.
This, then is the story of my journey with the Catholic faith told in bits and pieces as it occurs to me when it occurs to me.