Ours was the Bermuda Triangle of wedding planning. I was in Minneapolis, my fiancé was in Washington, D.C., and we were getting married near my rural Minnesota hometown. Things were bound to go awry as we tried to coordinate between our three locations, and plenty did.
Our guest list was imperfect. Groomsmen’s ties weren’t ordered until last minute. My flower choice didn’t really match my bridesmaid dresses. In the end, an ice storm threatened the entire New Year’s Day ceremony and waylaid half of our guests.
However, much did go just fine. We did get married, after all.
Still, a long-distance engagement did make marriage preparation and wedding planning tricky. It didn’t help that our principal celebrant was my recently ordained cousin, who was studying in Rome. Ours was also a short engagement, barely scraping the underside of the six-month requirement in my diocese. We were constricted by my fiancé’s school breaks and my brother’s impending military deployment.
The formal marriage preparation was a little patchwork. My priest-cousin was home for the summer, so we met with him several times right away and took the FOCCUS pre-marriage inventory, which helped us identify the issues we needed to continue to discuss. We met once with another priest who had counseled numerous friends, and he recommended reading and prayer habits. In October my fiancé flew to Minneapolis for the weekend and we attended an archdiocesan retreat for engaged couples. My fiancé and I prayed together daily over Skype, usually reciting the Lord’s Prayer and sharing intentions.
The wedding planning was also patchwork. A to-do timeline I found online told me I was already a year behind on half of my tasks, and I had to evaluate what was really necessary to pull the event off and what didn’t matter. Although I am usually an independent worker, I learned to ask for help for the things I couldn’t do alone. I depended heavily on my parents, my fiancé’s family, our friends and my siblings, all of whom gave generously of their time.
I delegated some duties to my fiancé, especially those that involved his groomsmen, but most tasks I did solo or with my parents, including planning the reception menu, picking the cake and printing the invitations. I wielded executive power on most decisions, as he couldn’t always be reached the moment a decision needed to be made. We used online tools like Google Docs and Dropbox to share guest lists, invitation designs and registry ideas. Pinterest would have been an extremely handy tool for us if I had only been an early adopter!
For a Catholic, wedding planning is double pronged. There’s the planning for the wedding day, and the preparation for a healthy marriage. Unfortunately, the latter doesn’t come presented in a thick, glossy, full-color issue of The Knot, so it’s easy to set it aside while immersed in the day-of details like flowers and fonts.
Much of the Catholic literature I read pitted the wedding planning against the marriage preparation, because the former can overtake the latter. It makes sense. Wedding planning is so concrete – buy a dress, choose an entrée, book the honeymoon, check, check, check – while one’s progress in marriage preparation, even when deliberate, is much more difficult to measure, and there’s really no end point, since relationship building between one’s spouse and God is a lifelong pursuit.
Still, I think a better approach to the prevalent wedding-vs.-marriage mentality is a unified vision, where the tasks cluttering the checklist are not simply exasperating chores but an opportunity to love your fiancé through the preparation one does for him. The more challenging the task or circumstance, the greater the opportunity is to love through it. Scripture is plump with wedding analogies, much of it having to do with the feast itself.
If marriage is what helps to get us to heaven, it’s because the planning can be purgatory. However, if I had been a wiser bride-to-be, I would have been more diligent about espousing this comprehensive mindset by pausing to pray for my fiancé and our marriage before trying to conquer yet another to-do. When something didn’t go as planned, I would have praised God for the gift of marriage and my vocation to it. When I had exhausted my patience, I would have offered my perseverance as a sacrifice for our sanctification.
And, as I’ve observed with my engaged friends, a fiancée who delights in pleasing her fiancé with attentiveness to the wedding is a beautiful witness to Christian joy. And an attitude of joy is one of few things totally in the bride’s control.