WASHINGTON — The global coronavirus pandemic has derailed many things for Americans, including access to the sacraments — and weddings are not exempt from the restrictions.
As the coronavirus reached more than 11,000 cases and 150 fatalities in the U.S. on March 19, many Catholic couples have made difficult decisions about whether to proceed with spring weddings — adjusting them to meet small-gathering guidelines — or to postpone their weddings indefinitely in a time of uncertainty.
The coronavirus response coordinator for the White House, Dr. Deborah Birx, advised this week against gathering in groups of more than 10 people, and dioceses throughout the country have announced that small weddings limited to immediate family can proceed. Dioceses are also directing that weddings use “The Order of Celebrating Matrimony Without Mass” in the ritual book.
Therese Bermpohl, the director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Respect Life for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, told the Register that the diocese had to cancel its upcoming “Conference for the Engaged,” which was scheduled for March 21, but they are working to make the materials available online.
“We’ve got 75 couples registered for the April 18 conference, and we just canceled one [conference],” Bermpohl said, adding that while there are existing programs to assist engaged couples online, they would like to be able to offer their own program in an online format.
“I’m praying for all of them, because I know how hard it can be,” she said of the couples preparing for marriage during such an unprecedented time. “We acknowledge that this is difficult, and yet we also know that as long as you and your fiancé are there and the Lord is there, then you can enter into the bond.”
“The question becomes: What is the Lord asking engaged couples?” Bermpohl emphasized. “Of course they want their families and friends at their wedding but now they are being told they can only have 10 people. That can be crushing; but if they look at their situation through eyes of faith, reminding one another that on their wedding day, no matter how many people are present, God will be there to join them in holy matrimony that will last a lifetime. The party can come later.”
Some have opted to postpone their weddings, and Bermpohl said that due to the uncertainty over how long social-distancing guidance and restrictions will last the question for many becomes, “Do you hold out for the big wedding or do you just get married in simplicity and celebrate another time?” She said the answer to that is “going to be different for everyone.”
Prioritizing Marriage Over a Big Wedding
Amy Winkler, the director of faith formation at Our Lady of Good Counsel in the Diocese of Arlington, is a bride-to-be who had to face that question for her April 18 wedding.
“We’re still planning on getting married April 18, but our restriction is that we can only have 10 people there,” Winkler told the Register, saying she and her fiancé came to that decision after “prayer and discernment and talking through things and talking with our family and friends.”
“Everybody has been very encouraging of going ahead with the wedding and that it’s more important for us to get married then to wait for everybody to be able to be there,” Winkler said. “They’ve been very supportive of that, too, and the most important thing at the end of the day is our marriage rather than the wedding itself.”
Winkler and her fiancé, Jonathan de Bernardo, were planning a reception at Our Lady of Good Counsel, where they met a few years ago working in youth ministry. She said that once they know more about when the coronavirus restrictions will be lifted, the plan is to “have a reception later that we’re able to invite more people to or even to maybe do a Mass of celebration beforehand and then do the reception following.”
She said that fortunately they have been able to communicate with the caterer and other vendors about the change of plans and are hoping to use their services for the reception.
Facing a Difficult Time With the Sacrament of Marriage
Colleen Zewe, who was preparing to wed March 21 at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University, ended up tying the knot with fiancé Colin Reum Thursday night due to concerns that there could be a shelter-in-place restriction that could prevent their small ceremony altogether.
“We decided we would still have a micro wedding with just a couple people, and still have a ceremony, just because I felt like we’d been waiting a year to get married, and I wanted to get married,” Zewe said. “We really had waited so long, and it wouldn’t feel right to go through this really difficult time without getting married.”
“I would feel more sad if this weekend passed and we weren’t married than if this weekend passed and we got married but it was really small,” she added. She said they moved the date to March 19, coincidentally the Solemnity of St. Joseph, patron of families, because “we just thought if there was a shelter in place it probably wouldn’t happen, so we wanted to try and get married before that happens.”
Zewe and Reum met on a dating app five years ago as college freshmen and were struck by how they matched on the app even though they lived hours away from each other.
“We just kind of kept talking, even though we were so far away; and we both really felt compelled to meet each other, so I took a train to Chicago, and we spent the day together — and we just knew we had to be together, so we’ve just been together since then,” she said.
The audience for their wedding was limited to Reum’s parents, brother and two groomsmen, as her bridesmaids were not local and a doctor had advised her mother against attending. They are also planning a delayed reception with their vendors, who have been very flexible.
“What my mom said is now my reception is going to be 10 times more fun because people are 10 times more excited to celebrate with us, and people will be happy that it’s over, and everyone will just be ready to party,” Zewe said.
Growing Bridal Dilemmas
Zewe is part of a Catholic brides-to-be Facebook group, which highlights that many couples are facing the same dilemma of choosing a small ceremony or an indefinitely postponed wedding.
“What I hear is most brides are postponing the reception but still want to get married; but something a lot of the brides are struggling with is all the courthouses are closing, so you can’t go get a marriage license,” Zewe said. “I’m personally thankful that Colin and I did that last week before everything got really crazy; because now even if you want to get married still on your date, but you don’t have your marriage license yet, you can’t because you can’t go get one.”
She added that the uncertainty has also been very difficult for brides with summer and even fall weddings.
“No one knows how long this will last, and there are things out there that say this will end by the end of May; and then there are things that say this will go on through August, and even October brides are nervous,” she said. “I just think anyone who has a wedding in 2020, regardless if it’s spring or fall or winter, is just feeling a lot of pressure right now.”
Lauretta Brown is the Register’s Washington-based staff writer.
Editor's note: This article was amended after its initial publication.