By STEPHEN O’KANE, Staff Writer | Published January 3, 2008
More than 500 parishioners were in attendance at St. Joseph Church on Dec. 22 for a unique event—one that married 31 couples in one Mass.
The Mass was celebrated in Spanish, the native tongue for most present, by the pastor, Father Jesús-David Trujillo, known to his congregation as Father J.D.
“This is the first time I celebrated a multiple-couple marriage,” the pastor wrote by e-mail afterward. “I know, in Dalton, on May 5, 2001, Father Abel Guerrero celebrated 11 weddings. This year I celebrated 31.”
The Mass brought the couples, who were either civilly married or not yet married, into communion with the Catholic Church.
The couples processed into the standing-room-only nave that was decorated for the Christmas season. A nearly life-size Nativity scene stood prominently in the sanctuary, which was also decorated with poinsettias and three trimmed Christmas trees.
The couples took their seats at the front of the church as the Mass began. The readings, which came from Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew, highlighted the importance and necessity of the relationship between a man and a woman.
Following the readings, the pastor welcomed the couples and thanked the attendees for being a part of this unique event.In his homily, Father J.D. explained how this Mass was a combination of new and old traditions. He also expanded on the Gospel’s message, speaking of marriage as special, definitive and lasting forever. The pastor then expressed his joy that this event was taking place during this particular season of the church, a sense he reiterated when he reflected on it later.“All these couples were able to receive the sacrament of Communion now because they are married,” he said. “Especially at Christmas, they were able to celebrate Jesus born in them.”After the homily, all of the couples stood as Father J.D. blessed them. Then each couple proceeded to the altar to exchange vows and rings. The best man and maid of honor for each couple also approached the altar and provided the rings accordingly.
Following the blessing, a large knotted rope or rosary was placed over each of the couples’ heads, showing how the sacrament of marriage connects human families with God’s family.“The large knotted rope is a Mexican tradition that symbolizes the union of the couple,” commented Father J.D. “Externally, they symbolize what they do when they say the vows.”
The congregation was treated to a special surprise when Father J.D. blessed a married couple also present and celebrating their 25th anniversary.
“I was told that they were celebrating their 25th anniversary,” he said later. “For that reason, I asked them to stand in front of the congregation and in front of the new couples as an example for them. This couple, Fredy and Edith Manzanares, didn’t know about this surprise for them; they received a blessing on this occasion.”
According to the pastor, planning a Mass such as this is no easy task. More than 40 couples were originally scheduled to receive the sacrament, but 31 fully completed the necessary preparation. In the pastor’s eyes, this is still a strong positive for the community.
“I feel so happy that these couples celebrated the sacrament of marriage,” he wrote. “At this moment, I have on a list 16 more couples that have expressed to me the intention to celebrate the sacrament because they consider this is the time to do it and they say they want to do it in a ceremony like this. I know it is a lot of work to do, many papers and preparation, but I was not alone. Father Manuel (de Jesús Rivas-Alvarrado) helped me a lot preparing the couples … and some other volunteers helped me with the celebration.”One of these volunteers was Marisol Sanchez. A parishioner at St. Joseph, Sanchez helps out in many ways, especially in the religious education department.
But on this day, she helped keep the celebration moving, directing couples during Mass and even helping to arrange a reception afterward in the parish hall.“There was a lot of preparation, making sure everything in the Mass went in order,” said Sanchez.
“We wanted to make sure everyone knew what they were doing so there was no confusion. All the couples were so happy to be there and were so happy to receive the sacrament of matrimony.”
While the joint wedding Mass helped the couples save money, most took part in this special celebration in order to re-establish their connection with the Catholic Church, the pastor said.
“The purpose was to bring more people to Communion,” commented Father J.D. “All the couples who celebrated marriage on Dec. 22 were living together or were civilly married for more than five years. Some of them were living together without the sacrament for 28 and 30 years. I enjoyed seeing these couples celebrating this sacrament and receiving the body and the blood of Jesus Christ after a long, long time. That is the satisfaction I received.”
“This was a very special moment for us,” said Sigifredo Garcia, who married his partner Teresa after being together for four years. “We had been waiting for this. It was a beautiful ceremony.”
St. Joseph Church is located at 1775 Haig Mill Road, Dalton. For more information on the parish, visit www.sjccdalton.com or call (706) 278-3107.