Just recently I attended the wedding of two good friends. It was one of the most memorable weddings I have been to. It was in a gorgeous church, the mass was beautiful, and the homily amazing. I also had the opportunity to sit with two non-Catholic (or as I like to say, mostly Catholic) friends from the dance community. They were there because they, along with myself, had taught the couple how to dance. In fact, the couple had discerned there call to marriage with each other as practice partners! And in the homily Father said two things that really hit me that day.
“they did not come here to get something from the church, but to become something” a sign, a source of grace.
that their wedding day was not their greatest moment of love, because they were not yet the best version of themselves, because both had so much room to yet to grow in love.
Of course, after the wedding we went to the reception, and for a change there were also many dancers. In addition to my two friends there were several of my students who had taken lessons with the bride. For all of us it was a lot of fun to watch them dance- to see a dance that was a true conversation between man and woman. Our table cheered the loudest, strongest, and quite shamelessly.
Wedding receptions fascinate me because they have two ceremonies, each of which echo a sacrament- Marriage and the Eucharist. A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible reality, instituted by Christ which provides grace. The Sacrament of Eucharist takes a very animal behavior- eating, and blesses it- making it holy, a sign of union. The Sacrament of Marriage takes a very animal behavior- reproduction- and blesses it- making it a sign of heavenly and divine unions. Both sacraments are in the form of body and blood, which intermingle and becoming one, and yet which retain their identity. These sacraments anchor us in the the material world while at the same time they draw us to heaven.
When we look at the reception we see the image of the Eucharist in the wedding cake. It’s perhaps easy to forget that cake, though it is sweet and beautiful, is still bread. In fact, in its sweetness and in its beauty it images that sweetest bread come down from heaven, Christ. This bread is cut, or broken, by the couple, and shared with all. Thus all in attendance become one body of believers who celebrates the love of the couple is one in the sharing of the bread.
We see the image of marriage in the first dance, for in the dance the two who become one. The couple, if they dance well, form a union of two wills that become one- the man who initiates and the woman who responds. This union is based a free and total commitment to the other in the dance. In dancing well their bodies show what is called the Theology of the body- the reciprocity- the two paths of blessing- between the man and the woman.
I can’t help but notice the dichotomy between the cake and that dance in an average wedding. According to some sites the average wedding cake costs around $450, and most couples would not dream of doing it on their own, unless they were expert bakers. And in its excellence it makes a better sign of the Eucharist. But when it comes to dancing the opposite is true. Instead of turning to a teacher to learn how to dance the couple try to do it on their own. But for those of us who dance, the lack of lessons is obvious. Now, I don’t expect the first dance to be perfect, or anywhere close. And if the couple does not know how to dance I need to look past the body to see the spirit of love- (indeed, I am called by charity to do so!) But the Theology of the Body says that the body makes the spirit visible! And the standard dance is not a dance at all! In fact, instead of showing two people giving themselves to each other in a dance, what we often have is a man and a woman who physically take one another. That is, when one does not know how to dance, one hugs in such a way that grasps the other person and limits mobility. Whereas when one knows how to dance one uses one’s entire body to stay in relationship in a way that accentuates freedom.
I want to return to what the priest said in the homily- that they came to become a sign, and that their love was far from being perfected, and apply it to the first dance. My average couple needs six lessons to dance well. With me, that’s less than the average cost of a wedding cake. In the case of my friends they had spent a lot more money and time on dance because they loved it, and it showed. Now they will be the first to tell you that they are not great dancers. But I could recognize Marriage in their dance as well as I could recognize the Eucharist in their cake. He led and she followed in the image of Christ and the church. It still very spontaneous yet ordered, and a great fun to watch, and far more like an actual marriage than simply holding the other person for three minutes. So as Father said, it was a sign. It was not a perfect sign, but as he said, we should not expect that! It was filled with much good and some bad, many successes and some mistakes, much communication and some miscommunication. If this is the best dance they will ever have, something is wrong, because they have so much more room to grow.