The wedding season has begun and it is a beautiful reminder of the special place that marriage holds in New Church teachings. Many of us remember when seemingly everyone in the community attended most weddings and they were crowded events. As a child and teenager in Bryn Athyn, I went to many weddings, and could count on seeing my friends at most of them. I was familiar with all the wedding customs and traditions. They hardly varied at all, and of course I didn’t know that they were any different from weddings anywhere because I never attended a wedding outside the New Church until I was age 20. The ushers seated people, the special music and hymns were similar, the bride and groom came up the aisle together, and the familiar passages were read.
There is one passage that was almost always read, which is no longer included in the liturgy. It is Arcana Coelestia 2733 about the holiness of marriage, to which was appended: “Since marriage is most holy, it is not to be violated in any manner, for thereby heaven is closed to man.”
This last part is almost a direct quote from a passage following Arcana Coelestia 2733, which says: “I have been informed by angels that when anyone commits adultery on earth heaven becomes closed to him instantly and then he lives immersed solely in worldly and bodily interests.” (Arcana Coelestia 2750) But beginning with the 1995 Liturgy, the references for each quote were included, and since Arcana Coelestia 2733 does not actually end with those words they were omitted. But I mention this just because the wording became so familiar to me, and I was surprised that it was not a direct quote.
Another difference is that weddings did not always include a separate reception in those days. The reception was in the Choir Hall or on the West lawn, and included toasts, wedding cake and drinks. A smaller gathering was then held at home. Over time, however, the practice of having receptions in the Assembly Hall and later Heilman Hall became the norm. Now, of course, receptions at places like Cairnwood and other venues are the way it usually happens, and although costlier, they are very special events.
Weddings at the Cathedral today have more variety. There are not as many weddings as even 20 years ago, but they are still special. In 2003, there were 27 weddings at the church, whereas this year there are only 13. There are lots of explanations for this and for the variations in our customs, but weddings and marriage remain central and beloved aspects of our community life.