Celebrating married love with a parish event is a meaningful way to publicly affirm the beauty of this sacrament. It also strengthens couples’ sense of belonging to the parish community.
A New Jersey parish has made an annual tradition of honoring married parishioners who are celebrating a milestone anniversary by providing a special Mass and anniversary dinner. Those who have participated agree that it is a memorable experience—almost as memorable as their wedding ceremony itself.
“It’s the most wonderful gift for couples. It hits you in a place you forget you had,” remarked Camille, speaking for herself and her husband, Paul.
Here are the key elements of a successful anniversary celebration effort:
Planning Team. A Celebration Team of parishioners oversees every detail of the evening from the invitations to cleanup. Team members agree to serve in this ministry for at least one year. Each year they are joined by another group of parishioners—the prior year’s honorees who volunteer to help another group celebrate the next year.
Prayerful meetings. The process begins months in advance with at least two planning meetings. The lead couple begins meetings of the Celebration Team with prayer and a reading from Scripture followed by a faith-sharing question. All readings are carefully chosen to emphasize the spiritual dimension of marriage. Team members report that they feel closer because of the sharing they do at the meetings.
Celebration Mass. The liturgy, which includes a renewal of the marriage vows, is filled with prayers, readings, and songs specially selected to deepen the marriage commitment. At the end of the Mass, as the honorees leave the church and walk to the reception and dinner in the parish center, Celebration Team members line the corridors and applaud them. One volunteer notes, “The couples, both men and women, are very touched by the tribute. Many of them are filled with tears.”
Reception and dinner. Careful attention to details makes the rest of the evening memorable as well. Here are some suggestions:
- Seat couples celebrating the same anniversary year together.
- Decorate each table with flowers, candles, and photos of the couples. Consider using special wedding cakes made by parishioners as the centerpieces.
- During the dinner, a DJ plays different wedding songs selected by the couples in advance. Have the DJ announce couples by name and ask them to dance to their song.
- Parishioners skilled in photography take pictures of each couple in a specially decorated area, such as a bench surrounded by flowers. Give the photos to the couples as a gift; consider other keepsake items such as a frame or a pair of goblets with the date engraved.
Barbara sums up the experience for the Celebration Team. “It’s an easy, happy ministry,” she says. “We’re preparing for a big party. The volunteer couples who were honored last year are eager to give the same experience to others.” Her husband, Denny, adds, “The smiles on the couples’ faces throughout the evening make all the preparation more than worthwhile.”
Here are six steps to initiating a Wedding Anniversary Mass and Dinner in your parish.
- Discuss the idea with the pastoral team. Solicit parishioners to serve as coordinators and as members of the Celebration Team. They will be responsible for all planning from invitations to cleanup. Emphasize that the event should have a spiritual dimension as well as a festive atmosphere.
- Select a date many months ahead. Put it on the parish calendar. Place an announcement in the parish bulletin and website several months before the event. Ask parishioners who are celebrating a special anniversary to notify the parish office so that they will receive an invitation to the event.
- Prepare for the Mass. Be sure to involve the parish liturgist and musician. Print a booklet to distribute to all the couples. It should include the words to the songs, the readings, the prayers, and the vows.
- Divide up responsibilities. Take into consideration the kind of event (formal or informal) and the gifts your parishioners can offer. Some to remember are invitations and nametags, decorations, food preparation and serving, photography, music, and cleanup.
- Plan ahead. Remember that for the first year you will not be able to count on extra volunteers from among the prior year’s honorees. Ask for volunteers for next year’s event at this year’s dinner.
- Have fun. Celebrate!
To read more, visit our topic Belonging and Why It Matters.