SOUTH BEND, Indiana— Growing up in a small town, Mackenzie Chapek never thought she’d have a small wedding.

She and her now-husband, Nick, were part of active families in their hometown, and looked forward to celebrating their nuptials with lots of friends and family present. But when COVID-19 hit, restrictions limited the number of guests at their April 4 wedding to eight people. 

The Chapeks weren’t the only ones. As the COVID-19 pandemic settles into its fifth straight month, couples are adjusting to new health protocols when planning their weddings. In almost all circumstances this means downsizing the number of guests, and slashing any sort of reception afterwards— but some say the changes are not all bad. 

In the case of the Chapeks, the Nebraska couple enjoyed the more intimate experience a pandemic wedding offered. 

“You could feel everyone’s emotions throughout the whole Mass,” Mackenzie Chapek said in an email. 

While the bride and groom could only invite immediate family members inside the church, they livestreamed the ceremony on Facebook so others could tune in.

But even if a downsized ceremony can be a good thing, it’s hard to say the same about the celebration afterwards. That’s why many couples are choosing to postpone their wedding, so they can still have a big bash once restrictions loosen.

For Holy Cross Father William Dailey, stationed in Ireland this spring, the two don’t have to go together.

Dailey married a couple at a small ceremony in May, which was also streamed for family and friends who couldn’t attend the ceremony in person. The reception, though, will come later.

“When they’re able to have a party, they’ll have a party, but those are separate things,” said Dailey, who directed Notre Dame’s Newman Center for Faith and Reason in Dublin.

Back in the States, the Chapeks didn’t have a reception, but still found a way to celebrate in compliance with health restrictions. Many of the would-be guests threw small fêtes in their front yards, which the Chapeks visited from a safe distance. Later, the couple had dinner at the bride’s family’s house, and shared their first dance in the living room. 

For Dailey, the willingness of couples to get married without the usual wedding frills is an example of the trust that a successful marriage requires.

“It’s a wonderful act of hope whenever those vows are uttered. To utter them in circumstances that feel hopeless to people… I found very moving,” he said. 

For the Chapeks, the experience was difficult, but one that they said made them stronger.

“Your wedding day is what you make of it,” Mackenzie Chapek said. “We made the most out of our COVID-19 wedding.”