Every bride knows the symbol of the white dress and how harrowing the search for the perfect one can be. Fortunately, I bypassed all of that. My grandmother's wedding dress, folded up in blue tissue paper, had been carefully preserved for years waiting to be worn by another woman in our family. More than 100 years old, the dress was worn first by my grandmother's aunt and then by my grandmother. My grandparents had only one child, a boy, so the task of carrying on the cherished family tradition had fallen to me, the only granddaughter. My parents felt so strongly about the dress, that I never looked for another one.
Our biggest worry was that the dress wouldn't fit, since my grandmother stood barely five feet tall in her stocking feet and weighed 90 pounds when she got married. A comparative hulk, I measured 5"5' and 135 pounds. Our friend, Valeria, declared she could take care of altering the dress without any problem at all. Valeria, who specializes in restoration and repair of antique cassocks and opera costumes, said she collected pieces of antique silk and could easily find a panel to sew into the back of the dress. When Valeria and I were at church choir rehearsal one day, she whipped out a tape measure and took three measurements -- bust, chest, and hips. That was it. A few weeks later, Valeria brought the dress back to choir rehearsal so I could try it on in the rectory bathroom. It fit perfectly, and I couldn't see a single seam where she had added the extra panel.
At the wedding, my parents proudly confided in me, "You looked lovely, darling, of course, but that dress really stole the show." And that was perfectly okay with me. My parents had chosen my wedding dress, but I was carefully preparing a white garment of another kind, to adorn "the hidden person." (1 Peter 3:4).
In the Christian tradition, white symbolizes purity and sinlessness. Babies wear white garments at baptism to symbolize being freed from original sin. At First Communion, little girls wear white dresses to receive the Eucharist into their bodies for the first time. And at the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the bride wears white. When we approach the altar in white, we symbolize "the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Rev. 21:2). We are like the Church whom Christ presents "to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, ... holy and without blemish" before him. (Eph. 5:27). But not everyone makes it to the altar without spots or wrinkles or blemishes. Not everyone who approaches the altar can say that they have always remained pure.
Popular culture pushes people to have sex at ever younger ages, and ridicules those who don't. It is sometimes easier to give in than to fight it. Authentic Catholic culture encourages the opposite, but until recently that Catholic culture seemed drowned out by shouts of "sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it, but everybody should." Growing numbers of young Catholics today are defying the pressure of popular culture and are living their single lives as virgin, chaste, and proud. I hold immense admiration for these people; sadly, I did not have their strength. Fortunately, the Church offers cleansing and renewal through the Church's beautiful sacrament of confession to all those who confess their sins with true sorrow and a desire never to sin again.
Growing up Episcopalian, I never had the chance to go to confession. It's one of the things I cherish the most about my new faith. My first confession took place in my late 20s. It included the sins of a lifetime, the sins of more than twenty years. Recognizing and admitting what I had done wrong, and still being forgiven, made me exultant. I have loved the sacrament of confession ever since.
The Church requires anyone who is conscious of grave sin to go to confession before receiving the Holy Eucharist at Mass. This is especially important to do before uniting yourself to your spouse at your wedding Mass. What appears as a requirement is actually the best wedding present you will receive, better than the biggest box wrapped in the sparkliest paper and bearing the silkiest bow. You can even make a general confession, which includes all the sins of your life, whether you have confessed them before or not. A general confession can help you reflect deeply on any barriers you need to overcome to achieve ever more perfect unity with your future spouse. In confession, Christ will cleanse you and present you in splendor, without spot or blemish. So, the white dress you put on your body adds to your beauty, but the purity of your soul, cleansed from any stain of sin, is your beauty.
Karee is a happily married mother of six children -- five girls and one boy. She is writing a pre-Cana book faithful to the teachings of Blessed Pope John Paul II. She also blogs at Can We Cana? A Community to Support Catholic Marriages.