The disruption imposed by COVID-19 created all sorts of complications, frustration and additional expense.

A young man from New Zealand called us. His fiancé lived in Canada, and neither country permitted the other to enter for a wedding. Fortunately, they discovered that they could meet in France, get married there, and then he could return to Canada with a spousal visa to take up married life as planned.

Getting married in France was not what they planned, and it wasn’t going to be the typical destination wedding in a picturesque country villa. They were determined to marry and found a way despite the challenges.

The Upside 

They are one of thousands of engaged couples whose plans were turned upside-down by the pandemic lockdowns, travel restrictions and limits on gatherings.

Faced with an uncertain reopening, engaged couples were forced to think carefully about their values as it relates to their wedding. They were dealing with their own disappointment and frustration, as well as the expectations of friends and family.

In a crazy way, it was actually good training for being married: faced with a multi-factor challenge, they needed to reflect on their shared values and plan how to move forward with their unity intact.

This was not to be the only challenge they faced throughout married life. We have heard from many couples over the past few years who have discovered deep differences in their values and expectations as they re-negotiated many aspects of their life.

Downsize, Divide, Delay, or Deluxe? 

In response to this, some engaged couples chose to downsize, like our NZ-Canadian couple – to shed the trappings and just get it done. Others have divided the event into two or more parts, formally being wed with limited guests but with plans to celebrate with an extended network at a later date.

Many couples chose to delay. They hoped to have the wedding celebration as close as possible to their original plans. Though international guests were unlikely to attend, and there was still some risk of a second delay, they hoped to have the wedding they originally planned.

A fourth pathway was the deluxe option. Faced with restrictions on the number of guests, some couples forged ahead with a smaller guest list and a more luxurious celebration. They dedicated the excess budget to indulgent items like lavish decorations, select wines, abundant flowers and exclusive reception venues.

Timeless Traditions

One thing that does not change for Christians, however, is the church ceremony and the vows we make. For thousands of years, Christian couples have stood before their community and the altar of the Lord as we committed our lives to serving each other in marriage.

The words of the vows have endured essentially unchanged for centuries. They speak of an eternal truth – that married love, freely given, images the love of Christ for His bride, the Church.

This is the heart of why we get married; we want to commit the rest of our lives to serving each other and building a shared life.

When bride and groom stand at the altar and pledge to love each other for the rest of their lives, they are participating in a great mystery. In human terms, their vows are seemingly impossible to fulfil – and yet here they stand, eagerly embracing that radical commitment.

Marriage is considered a Sacrament by the Catholic Church because it recognises that married couples, by the way we live out these vows, are a potent witness to the invisible presence of God in our midst. Matrimony makes visible the invisible nature of God.

It is the couple relationship that is sacramental: it’s not the ceremony or rings or the veil, though these are also significant. It’s certainly not the party that follows. It is the couple themselves and their life of love that witness to the steadfast, urgent, and total self-donation of Christ to His Church.

Though we do this imperfectly through good times and in bad, in sickness or lockdown or unemployment, here’s the thing: we don’t do it alone. In marrying in the Church, Christ promises us the grace and the help we need to sustain our marriage throughout our lives.

Keeping Perspective 

Unsurprisingly, we all want to celebrate something as important and exciting as a couple making a commitment like this. But we need to remember that it is the wedding ceremony that really matters on the wedding day.

Everything else is a mere accessory to this magnificent reality. No fine wine, gourmet meal or spectacular venue can come close to the splendour of such a profound mystery.

As parents, family, friends, and communities, we need to remember this and encourage our engaged couples to focus on what’s really important when it comes to getting married in the midst of this upside-down world. We need to keep our expectations for the event in check and free our engaged friends and family members to find their own way through these difficult choices.

Every engaged couple needs to discern their own path. Downsize, divide, delay, or go deluxe – whatever path they decide in this era of uncertainty, the vows they make on their wedding day will be one thing that stays the same.


Originally published at SmartLoving. Photo by Emma Bauso.

About the Author: Byron and Francine Pirola

Married for 25 years, with 5 children, Byron & Francine Pirola are the founders and co-authors of the SmartLoving Series – marriage enrichment and marriage preparation courses designed to help build successful and resilient marriages. International speakers and authors of numerous articles on marriage, more than 3000 couples have attended their programs, workshops and conferences in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain Byron & Francine are Executive Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre from which they run SmartLoving programs and produce digital resources. Francine graduated from Fordham University with a Masters in Religion and Religious Education. Byron is a founding partner of the strategic consulting firm, Port Jackson Partners Limited, and a Director of both listed and unlisted companies. He holds a PhD from the Commonwealth Centre for Gene Technology, Adelaide University.

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