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This article was published in the January 1999 issue of The Journal.

Our Silver Wedding - A special occasion

Ee sat in our parish priest's sitting room discussing our wedding celebrations. It was a curious sensation, as we had done this before - twenty-five years earlier. The celebrations this time were for our Silver Wedding.

The actual anniversary was in April. Liz was still recovering from an illness, so it was a quiet family time which meant a great deal to us. Later we began to feel that we should like to do something in the community in which we had worshipped for 25 years. Eventually many things came together to provide a day we shall not forget.

We felt that the Catholic church was the place where we should like to celebrate and part of this celebration needed to be that we both received communion. Two things made this much easier than it might have been. Our recently-arrived parish priest, a man of warmth and enthusiasm, is the diocesan ecumenical officer, and he and Brian had worked together building up interchurch relationships in the neighbourhood.

Secondly, we had already met the new Catholic bishop he had come to our house to share a meal with the Sheffield AlF, and had listened and responded sympathetically to what we had said. Both he and our priest were happy for Liz to receive communion. Sadly, but not unexpectedly, they felt that they could not extcnd this hospitality to other non-Catholics.

We chose to celebrate during the 9.30 a.m. Family Mass which we had always attended. Our priest responded warmly to this - far from feeling that this was hi-jacking the Mass he felt it was an opportunity for the parish to join in affirming the value and joy of Christian marriage. He produced a newly published liturgy for such occasions.

Brian was concerned that the interchurch nature of our marriage was in danger of being left out. We decided to ask Ruth and Martin Reardon to join us. Our priest knew Martin and was happy to welcome him to take part in the service and to preach. After that things began to fall into place, although there were far more decisions to make than we had anticipated: writing prayers, choosing music, asking people to be involved.

We invited all the congregation to join us afterwards for a drink and light refreshments in the church hall. We invited friends from our Anglican church, from other local churches and, of course, AlF friends. Our caterer responded optimistically to our total uncertainty about numbers (Liz wondered if it was like this at the marriage at Cana of Galilee?).

Most wonderful was a sense of our friends supporting us they provided the music, read the lessons and the prayers, decorated the candle for the liturgy, served coffee and wine, prepared and cleared up the hall, travelled distances, delayed going on holiday ... The list goes on.

The day came. We stood at the back of the churcb to welcome friends. There was particular joy in greeting AIF couples: they knew, as no one else could, what this meant to us. We had married in an Anglican church, so in a real sense

this was the first time the Catholic church had allowed us fully to celebrate our marriage. We sat with our daughters, Ruth and Kate, in the front pew. From the moment when the congregation burst into song with "Love divine", there was a sense of being carried along in love.

Sadly, the day of our celebration was a day of great tension in Northern Ireland, the day of the murder of three young brothers. Several people spoke of how the service, and particularly Martin's homily, gave them hope that barriers could be broken down by love. Several Catholics spoke of the poignancy of hearing Martin's words and then seeing him receive a blessing rather than communion.

During the liturgy for a special occasion we both took tapers, which we lit from the paschal candle, and lit our own candle which was on the altar. This wonderfully symbolised the way in which the two of us were united in baptism and marriage. We renewed our vows and were sprinkled with holy water, again a symbol of our unity in baptism. Our daughters brought up the offertory closely followed by the children of the parish, a lovely reminder of the family nature of the occasion. At the sign of peace, we moved down the aisle. When the time for communion came, we moved forward as a family, all able to receive together for the first time in the church where we had worshipped for 25 years. At the end we received a special blessing. Afterwards a young member of the music group played a trumpet solo as an exuberant and joyful finale.

At the get-together in the hall afterwards, we were overwhelmed by people's responses. They were happy for us, but for many people the celebration had obviously spoken to something deep inside themselves. Several people spoke of being moved to tears. They responded to the sense of joy and hope within the service to the feeling that love could break down barriers. This response is continuing. One parishioner spoke to us of a liturgical breakthrough; many felt a great joy that the parish could celebrate in this way. Some Christian friends had never been in a Catholic church before, and there was a real sense of Christian hospitality.

For us there has been a continued sense of blessing. '\fone of this could have taken place without relationships which already existed and without the openness and support of all those involved. For years we have attended our churches, feeling inevitably that we did not quite fit the mould. This time the mould fitted round us. This made the celebration of our marriage within our Catholic community, with AIF involvement to the fore, more of a joy than it is easy to express.

Afterwards Brian wrote to the bishop to thank him and tell him of the event. He finished, !lOur prayer and hope is that what can happen now only on a special occasion may soon become something that can happen on every occasion." In a warm response, the bishop wrote that he had already heard from the priest what a moving occasion it had been. He joined in our prayer.

Liz and Brian Dwyer