One of Albania’s two Catholic archbishops has barred the celebration of weddings on Sundays, stirring debate among the country’s small Catholic population, and also raising questions about whether, if you’re going to do weddings on Sundays, they belong inside or outside the regular Sunday Mass.
Archbishop Angelo Massafra of Shkodrë-Pult in northwestern Albania announced the ban August 3, saying it will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018. Massafra is also the president of the Albanian bishops’ conference.
Father Artur Jaku, a priest in Shkodrë, told Albanian Public Television, RTSH, that the most important reason was that on Sundays, Catholics should go to Mass.
“A traditional Sunday for us Catholics is to attend Mass, and with weddings celebrations on the same day, the couple and all their family and friends could not attend,” Jaku said.
Jaku appeared to be referring to weddings on Sunday held outside the usual Sunday liturgy, since his concern is with people using the fact of the wedding to avoid going to Mass.
Another reason offered in support of the move is the fact that during summer months in the main cathedral in Shkodrë, some 15 to 20 couples take their vows every Sunday, making it impossible to deliver individual pastoral and liturgical attention.
“It’s really a large number to be given the care they deserve during the ceremony,” Jaku said.
With a population of roughly 3 million people, around 60 percent of Albanians are at least nominally Muslim, though it’s considered one of the most secularized societies from the former Soviet bloc. Somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of the population is Catholic, though Catholics are a narrow majority in Shkodrë.
Jaku said that Albanians were long accustomed to celebrating weddings on Mondays, and that it was really only in the 1990s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that doing so on Sundays became fashionable.
“Now they have a chance to return to the old tradition,” he said.
According to local press reports, reaction to the decision on Albanian social media platforms has been mixed.
“There should not be a more cheerful moment [than Sunday] for the church… It has to be always ready to serve people and not to impose limitations,” one user wrote on Facebook.
Another spoke in a similar vein.
“Sunday is a beautiful day to celebrate love in church, it shouldn’t be changed,” this user wrote.
Some critics suggested that by banning Sunday weddings, the archdiocese may in effect be encouraging people not to celebrate their marriages in church.
Yet Klevis Paloka, a Catholic, told a local media outlet that he supports the ban, because the Sunday Mass should stand on its own.
“The wedding can be organized on another day. In the Bible, it does not say that it has to be on Sunday, but it says that that is a day to be dedicated only to God,” Paloka said.
Meanwhile, one question raised by the Albanian situation is whether, if pastors don’t want a Sunday wedding to become an excuse for skipping Mass, they can simply incorporate the wedding rite into the normal Sunday liturgy.
One American expert says that while it’s a “rare” practice, it’s growing, and there’s a theological argument for it.
“The scheduling of weddings during Sunday Mass is an increasing, if still rare practice in the United States, due to the shortage of priests,” Monsignor James Moroney told Crux.
Moroney is the rector of Saint John Seminary in the Archdiocese of Boston, and a former chief of staff for the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Divine Worship as well as for the Vox Clara Commission, a body set up to advise the Vatican on English-language translations of liturgical texts.
“The new Order for Celebrating Matrimony encourages the celebration of weddings ‘during the Sunday assembly’ as a way to emphasize the communitarian nature of marriage,” Moroney said. “This responds to a widespread concern in the United States and elsewhere that marriage is often treated as a private affair for family and friends, rather than a liturgical celebration of the entire Church.”
Although there is no general ban on church weddings on Sundays, some dioceses and parishes have long had an informal practice of discouraging them, in part because of the conflict with regularly scheduled Masses and other parish activities. Some dioceses and parishes also do not celebrate weddings during Lent, whether on Sunday or any other day, given that it’s a season of penance.
Under universal Church rules, there are only a handful of Sundays on the liturgical calendar when the wedding ritual using special readings may not be celebrated within the Mass: The Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday), Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, and any solemnity that is a holy day of obligation. In the U.S., this includes the Assumption, All Saints and the Immaculate Conception.
On those days, however, the marriage rite may still take place outside the Mass.