The perceptive reader would have noticed that the heading above uses a capital ‘C’ for Church instead of a lower case ‘c’, the first being a proper noun and the second being a common noun. This is not an English lesson but the distinction has been vital in the journey Jane and I had to make in considering marriage. In the way of a very brief explanation, ‘church’ describes the actual building where people come to pray, for example St Joseph’s parish church, whereas ‘Church’ refers to a particular grouping of Christians e.g. the Catholic Church. Now while Jane and I are both Catholic there is actually more than one Catholic Church, in fact there are twenty three of them. Most Catholics, 98% in fact, belong to the Western – or Latin – Catholic Church, but there are also twenty two Eastern Catholic Churches which are autonomous and self-governing. These are Churches like the Maronite, Ukrainian and Melkite Churches; they have their own liturgical traditions and rich cultural heritage that stem from the very areas where Christ lived.
I mention all this because I am a Melkite Catholic through my father who is Syrian. Although I was baptised and raised completely in the Latin Catholic Church, one’s ‘Church’ is transmitted through the father regardless. About five years ago I felt a desire to embrace this ancient Church of my ancestors so began attending the Melkite Church each Sunday. Jane is very involved in the life of her Latin Catholic parish and I am very involved in the life of my Melkite Catholic parish. So when we came to discuss where we would marry you might begin to see there were a few more complications involved than usual.
Because of my involvement with the Melkite Church I began hinting to God some years ago that I thought it would work out well to meet someone of an Eastern Catholic Church. However, before meeting Jane I realised that perhaps creating a shopping list of the person I wanted was not the wisest idea. Thankfully God then led me to Jane, a wonderful faith-filled woman from the Latin Church but who had little knowledge of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Although I quickly fell for Jane, in the back of my head I had to wonder how God was going to sort this out if our relationship developed.
This matter of Churches became a complex issue to be discussed and we had to contemplate how important our previous held ideas were. Even though both Churches are Catholic finding a resolution was not as easy as tossing a coin or pretending there was no issue because of our sincere commitment to our Catholic Churches.
According to Church tradition in a marriage between people of different Catholic Churches, the marriage takes place in the Church of the husband. And for me I was having difficulty at the start of our discussions considering that I might marry in the Latin Church. Jane was also having difficulty – understandably – considering that she might marry in a Byzantine rite that would be completely different to the Roman rite she knew. We did reach a point where we both acknowledged our in principle willingness to marry in the Church of the other. This was for both of us very important. At the end of the day the fact remained that what we most wanted were the graces of a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church.
It was a seemingly random conversation with a wise Catholic friend which brought clarity to our situation. This friend said simply that in going to the Latin Church to marry I was in a sense going to meet Jane in her place and the place of her family. Then in that place we would marry and from there move into the rest of our lives. There was also the reality that the woman does perhaps give over more than the man in marriage. A woman gives over her family name and to some extent she gives over her body for the birth of children. Both are willing gifts but they are still sacrifices. I began to see that marrying in the Latin Church was not a burden or compromise as I first thought but an opportunity to embrace the spiritual and familial heritage of my future wife. The decision then came to marry in the Latin Church and hopefully incorporate some small aspect or blessing from the Melkite Church.