Monday, October 19, 2009

The Catholic Wedding: An Atheist Reports

Recently I attended what many consider the height of all frivolous fancy: the Northeastern wedding. Northeastern Catholic wedding, to be exact. Shrouded in tacky elegance, this occasion is oft-profiled on shows like Platinum Weddings and Bridezilla. Most of this entry will be discussing my reaction to the “Catholic”-ness of it all, while some will just be discussing the “Northeastern”-ness of it all, and the rest just the event itself.

To start- this wedding took place at Convent Station's Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth church. Yeah, there. For anyone who doesn't know me, this is not just any old Catholic church to me. This is the site of many bad or just plain strange memories. This is the church attached to my old high school by a convent.

I attended the Academy of Saint Elizabeth, located on the campus of the College of Saint Elizabeth. It is a little known fact (and also a fact of little importance, but frequently reminded to us by the nuns) that the Academy is actually a few years older than the College, and was the first all-girls high school established in New Jersey. When we'd take our guy friends to school dances, they'd remark that the school in combination with the church and the convent looked like Hogwarts. Yeah, Hogwarts if they castrated all of the guys, put them in skirts, and left statues of saints everywhere. Not having been raised Catholic, I did not attend mass until going to this school. The church is actually beautiful, and seems a bit like a Gothic cathedral. I had my graduation ceremony there, as well as my ring ceremony. I also experienced some of the worst panic attacks of my life there.

At age fifteen, I started experiencing random and intense onsets of panic and anxiety. Though they could and did occur during a number of different experiences, some of the worst took place at places of worship. I sometimes wonder now if it was perhaps my body telling me that I was not suited for churchgoing. However, back then I was a Christian and also under eighteen, so I did not enjoy enough freedom from my parents to be allowed to skip services. Instead, I was encouraged to go to Christian counseling.

I can remember one panic attack that took place during mass. I had to leave the service, and apparently the nuns, particularly my awful, octogenarian principal, thought I was possessed by demons. Yes, those nasty, naughty panic demons that make you throw up in the morning and miss church! They brought me into a back room, placed their hands over the back of my neck so that my head stayed bowed, and prayed over me, doing the sign of the cross mumbo-jumbo. I was cured! The nuns had the answer all along: prayer and spinal stretching! Um, yeah, not so much. Considering how much I hated Sister Patricia for past, mean-spirited nunnish encounters which I may discuss at some other point, my panic was not going to abate with her help. As I sat through my friend's wedding some eight years later, I had to push memories like that one out of my head. It has been years since my last fully fledged attack, so at least I was not too worried about relapsing. As per the rules, only girls who graduated from the Academy are allowed to be married there. Unfortunately, some of my friends have allowed this rule to make them feel a bit privileged. I can most definitely expect to attend at least two more weddings there.

Before the ceremony, one of my acquaintances friends and fellow St. Elizabeth graduate suggested we take our first trip back to high school. Maybe it wasn't the best idea to risk running into old high school teachers while wearing a dress out of which my breasts were threatening to pop. We journeyed through the crusty-smelling convent, above the eerie, cobwebbed catacombs (yes, my high school has catacombs) through which we used to sneak because there was a singular sign of life: a vending machine that sold cheaper sodas than the cafeteria. Through the halls, the nuns we passed told us we looked beautiful. I thanked them and told them they did too. I don't know, what else do you say to a nun? Inside the school itself, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness. I had changed so much in the six-and-a-half years since I last set foot there, and yet it was exactly the same. Even the faint whiff of garlic had not changed. The school has a vampire problem, you see.

The ceremony was lovely, if not unnecessarily long (I told myself I wouldn't, but I did tweet once during the ceremony). I was more impressed with the priest than I thought I would be, as he admitted himself that he was possibly the least qualified person in the room to discuss marriage. He did spew out some fantasy about how religion had taken marriage from the pagans and infused it with “Godly” morality by treating women as an equal partner in the contract. Am I missing something? I wanted to scream about that one, but at least he praised the Jews for this and did not attempt to attribute this to the Catholics. Later on in the ceremony, my friend and her fiancé-turn-husband had chosen to light a unity candle. The priest prefaced the lighting with a commentary on the symbolism of choosing to blow out the individual candles or deciding to leave them lit. You know- will you become fully one or will you remain strong individuals to make a stronger whole blah blah, nonsense, bullshit. They blew out the candles, even though I was attempting to telepathically stop them from doing so. I decided that I want to have a unity candle at my wedding, and just to be total dicks, my groom and I will decide beforehand to blow out one of the individual candles and leave the other lit, just to fuck with people.

I think I may have been the only atheist in attendance, or at least I did not notice anyone else who did not bow their head during prayer (except for the seven-year-old junior groomsman, of course). However, I was definitely not the only one who saw the silliness of the rituals. There was a family of (I will assume based on educated guessing) Protestants, who I caught smirking at the robotic repetition of Catholic mantras. When it came to the Eucharist, many people did not line up to receive it. My often confused friend actually asked if I was going to take it. I had to try hard not to give her a smug, patronizing look and declaim loudly that I had no interest in a bland wafer that might even be a human heart in disguise.

The soirée took place at the Venetian, and after mishap upon mishap we made it there in mostly whole pieces. This is what I mean when I refer to a Northeastern wedding. I tell you now, I have never seen a smorgasbord that more fit the definition of smorgasbord in my life. The cocktail hour alone came complete with open bar, vodka luge (as well as a nonfunctional NY Giants ice sculpture), sushi bar, mini cheeseburger station, other hot meat and seafood stations, platter upon platter of cheeses, crackers, fruits, veggies, and then some. It was enough to make me think again about wanting a small wedding.

The rest of the wedding was uneventful, unless you count taking care of a drunk and sobbing friend as an event. I did not get to enjoy dessert because of this, and a small tear did well in my eye as I passed the trays of tiramisu and decadent brownie. This was a small, though tasty, price to pay to make sure a friend was safe, and the bride-sans-zilla understood. Overall, I'd say it was a good wedding at which to be a guest. Even for an atheist.

1 comment:

  1. Your post is terrific, yet, it's also whorizontal... meaning you'll croak someway someday. You don't want that as an atheist. Why not? Jesus might open-up the pit of Hell and your personal demon might throw you in. Doesn't matter if you don't believe in the hereafter. God does. And you'll git Divinely Judged regardless. Better think summore --- See if you can’t glean from this or read between the lines how much I love you. All atheists believe in death - death is a part of life, is it not? While the term 'indelible' does mean ‘never ending’, we croak and our soul's indelible --- Never fear, miss gorgeous. You'll find-out soon enough in the Warning which will come directly from Almighty God - only a foretaste of Heaven, a horrific picture of Hell, and a picture of Purgatory. You must choose, therefore, which destination you wish to inhabit. God bless you with discernment --- And, yes, I’d be ‘TOTUS TUUS EGO SUM’ (Latin: ‘I’m totally yours’) for however long you’d say. I have desires, too…