coronavirus

New Jersey Couples Finding Ways to Wed During Pandemic

Agustin and Rebecca Vazquez are seen during their wedding at Sacred Heart in Lyndhurst, N.J., Aug. 24, 2020. (Photo: CNS /courtesy Agustin and Rebecca Vazquez via The Catholic Advocate)

By Jai Agnish

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) — It’s not easy getting married during a worldwide pandemic, but New Jersey couples are rising to the challenge.

They are rebooking venues in record time while shrinking guest lists and navigating social distancing requirements. Masks and hand sanitizers are the fashionable party favors of the day.

Indoor dining restrictions have sent couples scrambling to find adequate outdoor reception space. Meanwhile, travel restrictions and health concerns are keeping friends and family away while complicating honeymoons.

“It’s been a difficult time,” said Debra Loprete, weddings administrator at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.

Typically, the cathedral hosts about 65 weddings a year. The coronavirus lockdown wiped away the entire wedding calendar from mid-March to July. Loprete has been rescheduling marriages since.

“They’re experiencing a range of emotions,” Loprete said. “Some of them are angry. They’re frustrated. They’re sad, disappointed. And I get that.”

The first post-lockdown wedding at the cathedral occurred Aug. 1, followed by two more Aug. 15 and Aug. 29. Three weddings in August is far from normal, Loprete said, and while the first ceremony hit the maximum allowable of 100 people, only 10 people — including the bride and groom — were at the second.

Some couples have rescheduled into 2021 and Loprete already is filling dates for 2022. Still other couples have opted to wed sooner, choosing to postpone their reception into next year.

Despite the pandemic-inspired obstacles, one New Jersey couple managed to successfully overhaul their wedding and rebook their honeymoon, only to have to postpone it for 10 days when a family member tested positive for the coronavirus.

Rebecca and Agustin Vazquez were married in Sacred Heart Parish in Lyndhurst, north of Newark, Aug. 24. For the young couple, the road to their wedding took many last-minute twists and turns, but they were determined to make it happen.

“From August last year when I proposed, everything looked smooth,” Agustin recounted. “We started putting together a small blueprint for the wedding and then March hit. The word ‘pandemic’ wasn’t around, so I’d say the scare came around.”

When the lockdown arrived the wait began. The couple had just booked a venue for their reception the month before and made two deposits on it.

“We were thinking, ‘Oh, OK, this is going to be a lockdown for two weeks like everyone thought. ‘Everything is going to get back to normal,'” Agustin said, thinking that the wedding could go forward as planned.

As the lockdown went from weeks to months, Agustin, who works for a video and photography company, began seeing his business’ wedding shoots canceled. “That’s when I think it hit me personally,” he told The Catholic Advocate, newspaper of the Newark Archdiocese.

Rebecca and Agustin took a hard look at their guest list, cutting it in half to 60 people. They convinced the banquet hall to refund their deposit. Then the race was on to find a suitable outdoor alternative.

“We were looking for anything that would be safe for everyone that would follow all the protocols,” Rebecca said.

The reception ultimately was held 17 miles from the church ceremony at Our Lady Mother of the Church in Woodcliff Lake, where there was plenty of outdoor space.

Rebecca and Agustin were determined to celebrate the sacrament of marriage in August despite the hard work they faced. There were moments of uncertainty, Agustin admitted, but they saw it as an opportunity to grow in their faith and strengthen their relationship with each other.

“It wasn’t only the realistic things,” Agustin said. “It was also from the faith side. Realistically, everyone is saying, ‘OK, well, just reschedule.’ But our faith tells us, ‘Is this a moment where God is asking us to look to him? And I think we both firmly believe it was.

“We went into prayer realizing, ‘What is being presented to us? What is God’s plan in all this?’ What took a year to plan, literally, by the grace of God and praying and understanding that he has the wheel in all of this, we were able to plan the wedding in two months.”

It’s encouraging that couples are choosing to get married now despite numerous difficulties, said Brian Caldwell, Newark’s archdiocesan director of family life, whose office helps couples with marriage preparation.

“By not deferring their marriage, they are choosing to enter into the sacrament and receive the accompanying grace now in the midst of the uncertainty we face,” Caldwell said. “That is a hopeful sign to me that they want God at the center of their marriage in a time of great distress for our world.”

Local parishes and archdiocesan staff have been working with couples to plan weddings. For example, Caldwell’s office has been conducting marriage preparation through Zoom videoconferencing.

The cathedral staff has developed “Guidelines for Weddings During COVID-19,” which is guided by New Jersey’s pandemic regulations. The number of guests is capped and masks are required to be worn by everyone in attendance, including the bride and groom.

Loprete said that masks are a deal-breaker for some couples.

“I had one bride say to me, ‘I’m going to look at these pictures and I’m just going to see that mask and that’s going to be my memory.’ And then another bride conversely will say to me: ‘I’m going to look at these pictures. I’m going to see that mask and I have a story for my children and grandchildren.’ It’s very personal.”