Rethinking the Limo


This May 20th marked Fr. Tim’s 25th anniversary of priesthood, a highlight in a priest’s ministry. Such an occasion is both public and joyous, but my search for celebration details in the parish bulletin came up empty, so I asked him directly what his plans were.

“Probably something small,” he said with a certain satisfaction. “Pope Francis has set a real example of being simple, and a big party wouldn’t be in keeping with that simplicity.”

He’s certainly right about Pope Francis. Just this spring the Pope requested that his newly appointed cardinals celebrate humbly, one facet of his clear call for a less lavish papacy and church.

To the delight of most Catholics, the clergy have taken Pope Francis’ call seriously and modified their lifestyles and celebrations accordingly. Now it’s time for laypeople to do our part and examine our celebration of the one sacrament that is exclusively lay: marriage.

American culture is insistent that a couple have the biggest, grandest wedding they possibly can, and we as a church too readily accept this premise.

The Gospel calls us toward detachment and simplicity, values which are consistently undermined by the wedding industry. If we want, as Pope Francis says, to be a church of the poor and for the poor, we need to think reflectively about our own choices in wedding celebrations.

We need to consider what it means to spend thousands of dollars on out-of-season flowers and one-time table centerpieces.

We need to ask why we accept the idea that wedding parties should wear identical, expensive, and usually single-use formalwear.

We need to examine why we rent limousines and buses to transport that wedding party from ceremony to reception.

We need to question the extravagance of bachelor and bachelorette parties—and what these parties signify to us in the first place.

My intention is not to guilt-trip Christians who have included any of the above in their weddings. It’s normal to follow convention, especially when breaking it risks judgment from family and friends. But the Gospel doesn’t call us to be normal. It calls us to follow Jesus, live with integrity, and care for the poor.

One way of doing so would be a wedding tithe. What if couples gave 10% of their wedding budget to the poor? If we can afford $20,000 for one day’s celebration, we can afford another $2,000 for the poorest members of our community or cut back $2,000 on expenses and give that.

Pope Francis has reminded us all to be disciples not just in church, but in the concrete ways we live, act, and celebrate. May our approach to wedding celebrations be a new opportunity to grow in discipleship.


15 thoughts on “Rethinking the Limo”

  1. I wonder if a number of these “traditions” (elaborate bachelor parties, buses for revelers, for example) also reveal that we place value on excessive use of alcohol, and using the nuptial celebration as an excuse to get trashed. Hardly in line with the purpose of the sacrament.

  2. As I am currently trying to put the finishing touches on a wedding in Chicago, I have many thoughts on this. While the things you mentioned would cut cost, they are not the big ticket items.
    The largest expenses, for us, are not the dresses or the alcohol or the bus. It’s renting the reception space, the food (and servers!), the DJ, and the photographer. In other words, with the exception of the space (which tend to start around $3500 for 8 hours in Chicago – crazy, I know, but it’s not like I have a backyard attached to my studio apartment to use), it’s really the PEOPLE you hire that are expensive.

    That being said, the items you mention could do a lot to change the atmosphere of the wedding. However, depending on how you prepared your guests, it could also make them feel sad for you or uncomfortable. (I’m imagining the crappy banquet tables I rented without any tablecloths or centerpieces.) I think our parents already feel that way visiting the previously mentioned studio apartments!

    Another really interesting thing I learned is that for many items, it’s cheaper to buy than to rent. This is true of linens, silverware, glasses, etc. I don’t know what to do with that ethically because it does not seem sustainable to buy, but it’s not sustainable to my budget to rent!

    Thanks for the post!

  3. I appreciate your thoughts, Wendy! Having not planned a wedding myself, I know there’s a lot I don’t know. Part of my concern is the simple fact that we tend to unquestioningly glorify the most expensive celebrations to the point where planning a “simple” wedding is nearly impossible and not really understood anyway (as you point out).

    A follow-up to this post might be to consider some possible ways people could go about having celebrations that are simpler without losing the joyousness of the occasion. If you have ideas, please let me know!

  4. Not to pat myself on the back — just as a way to share with others who are likewise concerned and exploring weddings, costs, etc. as I’ve found people are encouraged after they hear about my wedding and you’ve asked for insight on celebrations without losing the joyousness of the occasion.

    I do agree with Wendy that it’s the people — especially food/drink and photography/videography — that cost the most, and did so for my wedding.

    Having said that, my husband and I reflected on what the day was for us and what items we felt that we could either minimize or get rid of and to save on costs. Some of which were:
    — We served local Buffalo foods such as chicken wings (cheaper costs)
    — We did not have a bridal party (not even a bridesmaid or best man); all you need is two witnesses
    — No limo; we hired a taxi who didn’t know that it was for a wedding!
    — We had no flowers, not even to walk down the aisle. For centerpieces we had chocolates so that people could nibble on something prior to dinner and not starve
    — Our favors were handwritten note cards of thanks; the outside of the envelope were used as the table assignments. We did make a contribution to Rosary Army for rosaries and each person who came to the ceremony was offered a rosary (which we prayed together after the nuptial Mass).
    — We accepted gifts but expressed our desire for people to donate to specific organizations we support

    Feel free to reach out to me Sara!

    1. You didn’t have a wedding party?! Wow, that never even occurred to me as a possibility. Clearly I have my own unthinking acceptance of convention as well.

      These are really wonderful ideas — I especially love the thought of handwritten notecards of thanks. Must have taken forever. What a beautiful way to show people just how thankful you are for their presence. If any more thoughts come to mind, please post! I’m certain other people will find them useful. And to anyone else– please post your ideas as well.

  5. You could forgo the wedding Mass entirely and just exchange vows on a Sunday in front of the parish. My husband and I did that. We invited friends and family to join us on Saturday at vigil Mass and then had a lunchtime reception on Sunday. We just had two witnesses, no bridal party and I didn’t wear a wedding dress. It was Easter season so the church was already decorated. Like Katie, we didn’t ask for gifts but suggested that people donate to the local food pantry.

    I was worried that we would be “imposing” on the community but my pastor assured me that they would love it, and they did, and it really didn’t take that long. People still come up to me years later and say “I was at your wedding!”

    1. I love how that brings out the communal nature of marriage, demonstrating clearly that we are part of a larger church. I do think it might be hard for me personally to give up the opportunity to choose readings, music, etc — my own conditioning coming through in regards to how a wedding is about “us”, meaning me and my fiance, I suppose. Good food for thought.

      So part of where this leads me is considering how to approach one’s wedding and celebration in a way that honors God and community and is also actually doable. What are the guidelines and foundations that mark that path, knowing that the individual facets of each couple mean that each celebration will be different?

  6. So many thoughts on this, Sara! I really appreciate this post, and think it’s so important for those planning weddings to have a supportive and thoughtful place to really think through some of their choices and what they might say about what they value. In planning our wedding (not even 3 weeks ago!), P and I were really blessed with a group of friends (and family) that validated, upheld and encouraged our choices, especially some of our “non-traditional” ones – but not everyone has that kind of support when they try to veer from wedding “norms.” I would say that the process of planning a wedding on the whole made me a lot LESS judgmental of the way people do weddings. Before planning my own wedding, I’m not sure I really understood that, for better or for worse, often the people getting married aren’t the only ones with a stake in the wedding day. I’ve been at friends’ weddings who would have loved to have a potluck reception instead of fine linens and an open bar, but their families wouldn’t have it. With that being said, P and I were blessed in that on the whole, our families DID stand behind our choices about our wedding, and at the end of the day our guests walked away saying that it “felt like us” – which was the best compliment we could have received. I’d be happy to share more specifics of what that actually looked like if people are interested… just feel like I’ve gone on way too long already here! Thanks for writing!

    1. I also would have loved a potluck (had been saying for years that it would be awesome if everyone could ‘bring a dish to pass’) but due to extreme situation (groom’s family from out-of-state, getting married in my home-town and not where I was living at the time so friends from work, etc, traveled to get there) it just wouldn’t work out.

      I also agree that after planning a wedding, judging others tends to diminish — the same goes with many other things in life such as having and raising kids (once you have them, you understand the trials of kids crying during Mass).

      1. I wish you could “like” comments on the blog; I would be doing so constantly on this thread!

  7. My family are resourceful people–not to brag –and recently had two weddings. The brides were the same size, and wore the same dress. The mothers made silk flower arrangements, which were recycled at each wedding. For the reception decorations, men in the families went into the woods and cut palmettos and small branches (this is in the South), which were spray painted white and festooned with twinkle lights. People in the families brought pot luck; the receptions were held in the social hall of the church after the Mass. Wine and beer were the only alcohol served. A local DJ was hired for the dance music. The combined cost for BOTH weddings was about $8000.

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