As a Catholic priest in Britain I have to drag couples down the aisle

Your wedding doe not have to be as grand as this (PA)

The Pope’s book, written when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, is out next week, and I have seen an advance copy. The book is co-written with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, and is an exercise in inter-religious dialogue. It is entitled On Heaven and Earth.

One of the things, among many others, that the then Cardinal Bergoglio identifies as problematic is something that most pastors in all denominations will have come across – the desire of brides to have a big wedding. It is something he confesses that he does not quite know how to handle. He suggests that people go to Church to marry to show off, rather than for any truly religious motive.

Reading this, I smiled. Here are my observations on the subject.

People do come to me wanting to get married, but unlike in Argentina, these are in the minority. Usually it is the other way around: I go to couples and suggest to them that instead of just living together, they might like to get married. Britain is rather further down the road to secularisation than Argentina: here the problem is not showy weddings in church, it is rather the fact that people do not want to get married in the first place.

When they do want to get married, I am of course delighted, and recently I have been pleased by couples saying that they wanted a very low key wedding: no music, no flowers, no special dress, just the sacrament with a few witnesses. I enjoy these weddings very much.

At the same time I do traditional weddings as well, though I stress to people that the traditions that surround weddings are merely that – traditions: they are not an intrinsic part of the sacrament or its celebration. You do not need a white dress to get married in – that is not part of the sacrament. You can get married in a pair of jeans. But, and though it is not something I quite understand, brides do love Vera Wang and Armani, and if that is what they want, who am I to stop them? It is, after all, their big day. Nevertheless, it is surely worth pointing out that weddings are cheap, indeed free, in substances: it is the things that surround them that cost a fortune.

One thing I do mention is that the custom of “giving away the bride” and the bride entering on her father’s, or some other male relative’s, arm, is not part of the wedding ceremony per se, and can easily be substituted by something else. The couple can enter together, for example. There is silence in the liturgical books about this. But whenever I say this, brides look at me with barely disguised horror, and not a single one has ever taken up my proposal. They all have to enter on their father’s arm, it seems, and he has to give them away. Whatever happened to feminism?

Again, I would prefer it, if, as in Italy and Spain, women were not to change their names on marriage. But once again, I hardly know anyone in Britain who has done this. One day someone will take up my suggestion – but I am not holding my breath!