Government statistics show the number of people getting married is on the decline. There are fewer Catholic marriages as most couples now prefer civil ceremonies. The reason: the rising cost of weddings.

Is the Church to blame for this?

The little-known fact is that the cheapest way to get married is through the Church, said Fr. Nicanor Lalog II, parish priest of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Sta. Maria, Bulacan. The Sacrament of Matrimony is free, he said.

“There is a decline in the number of people getting married, but I would not attribute it solely to poverty,” said Lalog.

The problem is that weddings have become huge productions, payments for which go to an army of service providers – wedding planners, couturiers, photographers, make-up artists, florists, caterers, and others – rather than the Church. It has become an industry dedicated to producing the so-called “perfect wedding.” But this has nothing to do with the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Last June 27, the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) reported a 1.5 percent annual decline in the number of marriages in the country between 2001 and 2010. The survey included Catholic, Muslim, and civil weddings, tribal marriages, and other religious rites. There were 559,162 marriages in 2001 while there were only 482,480 weddings in 2010.

According to the NSCB report, there were more civil marriages registered at 43.5 percent of the total, than Church weddings which accounted for only 35 percent.

Pangasinan Rep. Kimi Cojuangco said in a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Aug. 21 that “majority of Filipinos are poor and they don’t have access to Catholic Churches. The cost of having a Church wedding could be another factor in the rise of civil marriages.”

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Cheaper

But Lalog said poverty is not the reason behind the decline. “I don’t think [the notion that Church weddings are costly] has basis. If you try to understand, it’s more expensive to get married in the civil court. It’s cheaper in the Church. If you don’t have money, just tell the priest,” he said.

The inability to pay the “arancel,” the basic fee the Church charges for the sacraments, should not stop a couple from receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony, he said, citing Canon Law.

The arancel is used by the Church as a traditional support system, to be distributed among the priests administering the sacrament, the parish priest, and for the Church’s fund. People can pay any amount they are capable of for the arancel.

“In Bulacan, you have to pay 1,000 pesos for arancel. But it’s not really a payment because you cannot buy the sacrament. You give a certain amount as a sort of donation and help,” Lalog said.

Deeper reason

Lalog said there is a deeper reason for the decline in marriages.

He pointed to the decay in morality and the change in peoples’ perception of sacramental values.

“The spirituality of the people comes into play. Some people have looked down on marriage. They see it as a contract, a paper to be signed,” Lalog said.

People also lack of knowledge on Church teachings, such as the fact that living together without being married in Church is a sin, Lalog said.

Church weddings have advantages over civil marriages, he pointed out.

“Marriage is not only a natural thing. It’s also a supernatural origin. It’s a plan of God. It requires special grace from God, and that’s what is being given in Church weddings by the Lord,” Lalog explained.

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He said the Church’s requirements for marriage, including the marriage banns —the canonical investigation done to ensure that a person has not been married and does not have other impediments— are important for the welfare of the couple.

“It’s not because the Church is strict. That is for the benefit of the person. You cannot fake a Church wedding,” he added.

Elaborate bridal gowns, flower arrangements, and a big choir only make a wedding expensive.

“Wedding is not a fashion show. Wedding is always to extol the greatness of God,” he said. Denise Pauline P. Purugganan

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