Striving to be the rule: Ethics for wedding guests

One must admit that a certain culture of disrespect has crept in at wedding celebrations. This culture of disrespect has now become a cycle of acceptable behaviour and one that seems to raise no eye brows.

Striving to be the rule: Ethics for wedding guests

By Fr. Warner D'Souza
The Bible is filled with analogies and parables relating to weddings. Yahweh was the bridegroom to His people Israel, in the Old Testament. Jesus begins His public ministry at the wedding feast of Cana and punctuates His parables with analogies of wedding processions, banquets and bridesmaids.

Looking at the Gospels, one can draw from it an ‘ethics for wedding guests.’ Why do we need such ethics? Simply because we have reached a stage where common courtesy has disappeared, and the focus now needs to shift to that which should have been the obvious.

All exceptions not withstanding, one must admit that a certain culture of disrespect has crept in at wedding celebrations. This culture of disrespect has now become a cycle of acceptable behaviour and one that seems to raise no eye brows. I am irked and so I write with the hope that somewhere this discourtesy will be frowned upon with many thumbs down of disapproval.

Weddings today are an expensive affair, and while I continue to advocate for a debt free marriage (not to be read as don’t have a celebration), I hope that we will cut our coat according to our cloth. Given the fact that an average celebration runs into a couple of hundred thousand rupees, it stands that for most people, a wedding celebration of two and half hours amounts to several years of scrounging and savings.

For those who transcend beyond the social pressures of wedding celebrations, the reception is a special dream, cherished by many a bride and groom. Years of planning, years of saving and hard work and coordination all dissolve in a ‘two and a half hour whirlpool’ of time, that just disappears in a jiffy. Just like that, several thousands of rupees have all been spent in less than 150 minutes.

So that brings me to the ethics of the wedding guest. Do we then not have an obligation to be an integral part of the celebration in every way; from the religious celebrations to burning a hole in the dance floor?

Assume the total guest list has two hundred and fifty people (that’s a low estimate), and the total cost of the wedding is four hundred thousand (also a really low estimate), your host ends up paying 1600 per person, or a whopping 2,666 rupees per minute for a 150 minute celebration. This is the minimum. A family of five could cost your host a cool ten thousand g’s. That’s reason enough to be respectful when we get an invitation.

Ethic 1: Let your yes be a yes or your no be a no.
The fact that you have received an invite means that you have been chosen as the honoured one, over many more; people who would like to attend, but for some reason your host with their limited guest list, has chosen you instead. The first thing that courtesy demands is an answer to your host. Most invites have an RSVP at the bottom of the card; it means ‘Répondez s’il vous plaît’ meaning “Please respond” and that’s what you ought to do.

Don’t keep your guest waiting for an answer, and if you must, let there be an outer limit date in your head. If you are unable to go, your host will be able to invite someone else who really wants to attend. Remember the ‘rage’ of the king in the parable of Jesus who sent out his servants to invite the guests? Well, keeping all the customs of that time in mind, the guests knew very well their obligation to attend and the honour to be given to the king. Yet they disrespectfully declined the invitation at the last minute incurring the wrath of the king. If you know you will attend, say yes; if not politely decline.

Ethic 2: Be on time!
So don’t give me that yarn that you were stuck in traffic, especially if you live in Mumbai, or one of India’s traffic crazy metropolises. Traffic is nothing new to the city and is a perennial problem. Besides, the red lines on Google maps tell you exactly how maddening the route you have taken will be. Plan in advance; leave early!

You owe it to your host to be on time; especially if your card has the words, “reception at seven thirty sharp.” That word ‘sharp’ has been put there deliberately, it need not be said; but unfortunately invites in India have that word inserted; a telling sign of tardiness now come to be known sarcastically as India Standard Time (IST).

It is unethical, and if I may dare say criminal, when brides and grooms have to wait for an hour after the scheduled time, just because the guests are late. Ironically in one parish I noticed that those who lived closest were always strolling in last. Keep in mind the ten foolish virgins who were late for the wedding banquet; the bridegroom shut the door on them. Am I hinting at a revolutionary idea?

Ethics 3: The wedding is not about you, it’s about your host!
It’s no rocket science and nothing at a catholic wedding is out of the blue. You eat, you dance and you drink; the choice of activity is very limited and hence one does not get the privilege of refusing participation on the grounds, that you don’t agree with the agenda, barring ill health or physical inability. Even if your day was bogged down by an insensitive boss or a nagging wife, the wedding reception is not about you! Get up and dance, have fun, laugh. You owe it to your host.

I would like to think of Jesus at the wedding of Cana not merely as a helper in need, but as one who was celebrating in every way, the joy of being at a wedding. It’s painful when the emcees at every wedding practically go down on their knees begging people to dance and enjoy themselves. It’s equally ironic to see those who never dance or participate at any wedding, implore their guests to shake a leg at their loved ones event.

Ethic 4. Dress appropriately!
Appropriateness of dress at wedding nuptials should be ingrained in our social consciousness. Reverence for God must be shown in Church and by extension, reverence for the sensitivities of guests at the reception. After all, our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and that is not a geographical privilege to the House of God, but extended everywhere we go. I don’t subscribe to the maxim, “if you have it flaunt it”.

At the same time, one is expected to dress for the occasion. I am a bit appalled as a priest, to find poorly laundered vestments given to the celebrants at a wedding nuptial. Poverty should never be an excuse for untidiness. Jesus in one of His parables took to task a guest, who had walked in without a wedding garment.

All things said, there are exceptions to the rule. But this wedding season strive to be the rule.

(Fr. Warner D'Souza is the priest-in-charge, St. Jude Church, Malad East) with permission)

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