CATHOLICISM AND ZEN BUDDHISM WEDDING CEREMONIES


Christianity and Buddhism are worldwide recognised and respected religions. Both are similar yet different in religious significance through ritual and practical aspects and have different symbolic realms for material structures.


Ninian Smart’s seven dimensions help characterise the similarities and differences in all five major religions. This approach outlines the various aspects or dimensions of the religions.


Both the ritual and practical and material dimensions are the basis for this comparative analysis of wedding ceremonies of Zen Buddhism and Catholicism, two sub-traditions of Buddhism and Christianity. The focus of this essay is the similarities and differences of the ritual of matrimony within these sub-traditions. Comparison of the religious ceremonies of both traditions and the symbolic place of matrimony and the exchange of gifts will be the focal point. (Danes et al, 1994, pg. 49).


‘The ceremonials of marriage may be entirely of a religious nature, include both religious and secular elements, or be entirely within the secular and legal realm.’ (Adams et al, 1987, pg 220-1). Two elements used to mark a marriage, whether there be a ceremony or not, is the sharing of food between the bride and groom and the necessity of a public statement or the requirement of witnesses to the marriage event, which may even include proof of virginity and consummation. (Adams et al, 1987, pg 220-1). These two elements are present in both Catholicism and Zen Buddhism, however the ways in which the ceremonies are conducted; the people who attend, gifts that are received and the settings are diverse.


Zen matrimony unlike Catholicism is not a sacrament or a religious ritual, however religious rites are given separately to the ceremony. (Ganeri, Anita, 1997, pg. 38). The presider in a Catholic ceremony is a priest; he unites the couple by linking hands and placing them in a circle as a symbol of the everlasting nature of the sacrament of marriage. (Danes et al, 1994, pg. 49). In Zen Buddhism a monk is fed a special meal in the brides home the morning before the wedding, blesses the couple and reads from the scriptures, but does not take part in the wedding ceremony itself. An uncle or a cousin then performs the wedding. (Ganeri, Anita, 1997, pg. 38). The exchanging of rings and vows is akin to both traditions symbolising the love shared by the couple and the undertakings expected of them. (Ganeri, Anita, 1997, pg. 38). (Danes et al, 1994, pg. 49).


The element of sharing food between the bride, groom and families is a major part of both ceremonies but is carried out differently. In Zen Buddhism the special feast acquires merit for the couple to be married and for the parents of the bride. A religious ceremony is then held the evening after the wedding at the village shrine and the bride, her mother and the mother of the groom make offerings to the guardian spirits of the ancestors. During the secular ceremony the couple are instructed to worship their parents and the Buddha. (Adams et al, 1987, pg 220-1). In Catholicism the sharing of food and drink with the guests follows the wedding, this part of the ceremony is not sacred but is tradition. The ceremony may include the Eucharist, ‘the sacred sharing of the mystical body of Christ that unites all participants with God.’ (Adams et al, 1987, pg 220-1). Each religion adheres to their own matrimonial practices, following their beliefs and customs. Through Ninian Smart’s Ritual and Practical dimension differences are observable in the practical sense and similarities emerge in the underlying religious connotations.


‘The material expressions of a religion are those natural features of the world which are singled out as being of special sacredness and meaning.’ (Smart, Ninian, 1989, pp12-21). Throughout a wedding ceremony there are many sacred symbols to show the compassionate love for each other and the uniting of the couple. A Catholic wedding is held in a Church or a Cathedral (Adams et al, 1987, pg 220-1) where as a Zen wedding is held either at the brides house if there is a ceremony or a shrine if the couple wish to be alone to worship the Buddha. (Adams et al, 1987, pg 220-1). The most symbolically recognised symbol of matrimony within