By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent
FALL RIVER, Mass. — Two-by-two, the couples climbed the stairs of the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, clinging to each other on a windy Sunday afternoon.
They were the guests of honor at the Diocesan Anniversary Mass Celebration, all observing “significant” wedding anniversaries this year.
Entering the beautiful Sanctuary, they were handed a white packet, inscribed with their names, anniversary year and parish. Then they were ushered to reserve seating at the front of the church.
Overcome with curiosity, they opened the envelope together. Tucked inside were a certificate of the Celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage with the words: “The Most Reverend Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., Bishop of Fall River, extends cordial best wishes and asks God’s choicest blessings” on the occasion of your anniversary; artwork of the Marriage of St. Joseph and St. Mary; the poem “Marriage Is What We Make It”; and the “Renewal of Marriage Vows” that they would recite during Mass.
A short time later, the hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” began, and the congregation rose; but all eyes were focused on the Sacristy. Altar servers appeared, followed by 10 parish priests who would concelebrate the Mass. Then a murmur was heard throughout the Sacred space, as excited couples spotted their new bishop processing toward the altar.
Greeting the congregation, Bishop da Cunha, said: “We are very happy to celebrate this special day with you. God’s blessings to you and your families!”
Lectors read from the Book of Exodus and the First Letter from St. Paul to the Thessalonians.
After the Gospel reading from Matthew, Bishop da Cunha approached the lectern to deliver his homily.
“I know that this is probably just a happy coincidence that the Gospel today speaks about love — love of God and love of neighbor,” he says. “We are here with so many of you celebrating the anniversaries of your Marriage, which is testimony of your love. The readings today speak about our relationship with God and our relationship with one another.”
He reminded the gathering that no one in this world is isolated.
“No man is an island; we are all connected,” he said. “What we do affects others. If we do something good, the goodness has an impact on other people. If we commit some evil, it also impacts other people. We are, therefore, responsible for each other. What we do not only affects our relationship with God but with one another.”
He says that it is not easy when God asks us to love with our heart.
“In the Hebrew Scripture the heart and soul were experiences of one’s whole being,” he explained. “The heart is the seat of the intellect and will. The soul is the life force. Therefore, there are no half measures here. The totality of the human person is called in love.”
The bishop pointed out that 119 couples had gathered together in observance of their wedding anniversaries — one couple was celebrating their first anniversary, and another, their 70th, and the rest, all the years in between.
“I looked at 119 couples, and I thought, ‘How many years is that all together?’” he said. “And to satisfy my curiosity, I took out my calculator.”
The congregation laughed.
“Do you know how many years?” he asked. “That’s 5,078 years, and that is 60,936 months, 264,056 weeks, and 1,853,740 days. We live in a time when people are afraid of lifelong commitment or afraid of giving love to others. That is your testimony. Yes, it is possible to love unconditionally, unselfishly and generously and until death do us part.”
Next, the husbands and wives married their spouses all over again by saying to each other: “I reaffirm my Marriage vows and rededicate myself in the same spirit that I pronounced when I took you for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.”
Then the bishop prays: “Almighty God, look with blessing on these couples who have just renewed their Marriage vows. They have come before your altar with happy hearts to offer their thanks to You; grant that they may continue to live in genuine Christian love and attain with their family and friends the joys of many more years together. Amen.”
The congregation sang “We Have Been Told,” while incense wafted from the altar.
After the Words of Institution and Consecration, the bishop and priests distributed the Eucharist to all.
Before the Blessing and Dismissal, Bishop da Cunha addressed the couples.
“I couldn’t be more proud of you,” he said. “We ask God that your next years will be even better than your last ones.”
He then recognized in a special way the couple celebrating their 70th anniversary, speaking to them in their native language, Portuguese.
The sound of applause echoed throughout the Sanctuary.
After the closing rites, the procession exited down the center aisle toward the doors, where folks assumed the bishop would shake hands with them as they departed. However, he turned around and seemed to be heading back to the Sacristy.
But instead, he walked to the front of the church and began mingling with everyone there. He also posed for photographs with any couple who desired one.
Richard and Claire Racine, parishioners of St. Pius X Parish in South Yarmouth, were one of the first couples to take a picture with the bishop.
“This means a lot to us,” they said.
Celebrating their 65th anniversary, they were married on Dec. 26, 1949, and their close-knit family included four sons, 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
The Racines are very involved in parish life, serving as lector and Eucharistic ministers.
They divulged the secret to their happy Marriage, which is deeply-rooted in their faith.
“I think it is a lot of patience and listening and caring for one another,” Claire said.
“It’s also taking whatever comes and learning to adapt,” Richard added.