By Greg Mellen     5/22/2020

Kate Howmann and fiancé Kyle Matthews had their date, church and reception venue all set. A professional event planner, Howmann was on top of all the details from vendors to her wedding dress and shoes. Her parents, Stacey and Eric Howmann, who teach marriage preparation at St. Thomas More Church in Irvine, were there to provide guidance on religious requirements. 

Even when concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic began percolating, Howmann said, “My first reaction was, ‘We can still do this.’”  

Then down came Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place executive order and out went Howmann and Matthews’ June Catholic church wedding. 

“I guess I went through the five stages of grief,” said Howmann, age 28. “There was denial, sadness and anger – we went back and forth with that one for a while. I guess we realized this is just what was meant to be. Now we’re just at acceptance.” 

Howmann said she and Matthews will have a small ceremony at sea on June 26 and on their first anniversary have the large, Catholic marriage service Howmann has always dreamed about. 

Love and death during the time of COVID-19 are difficult and complicated. Joy and grief, which are often meant to be shared, have been constricted. And yet, weddings and funerals are an inevitable part of life, regardless of government mandates. 

Here’s what it looks like in the Diocese of Orange. Except for rare cases, Catholic weddings have been canceled and are strongly discouraged during the shutdown. 

“We’re asking people to wait until the end (of the lockdown,) if at all possible,” said Monsignor Stephen Doktorczyk. 

In the meantime, although the brakes have been pumped on weddings, the Office of Pastoral Care (For Families in All Stages) is still helping couples prepare remotely for their weddings, according to Linda Ji, director. 

“Although rites of marriage are not to take place, many of our couples are in various stages of preparation for this sacrament and need to be cared for,” she wrote to congregants. “This is the time to compassionately embrace these couples (although not literally!), respecting their desire to receive the sacrament of marriage and supporting them to discern how to do so at a future date.” 

Pastors and mentors remain available through a number of virtual tools and courses are available online on the Diocese website. (rcbo.org/resource/marriage-preparation/) 

Couples registered for canceled or postponed events will be contacted. Msgr. Doktorczyk said that in rare circumstances, weddings may be held, adding, “We leave it somewhat to the parish priest.” 

Even in the rare cases when a wedding would be allowed, it is limited to 10 persons, including the priest, bride and groom, with social distancing to be observed, couple notwithstanding. Couples must already have wedding licenses. 

Msgr. Doktorczyk said couples should accept the added time as its own blessing. “You want to be sharing your joy with other people,” he said. 

“I think it’s an opportunity to really work on your relationship with each other and God and come out stronger,” Ji said. 

For those, like Howmann and Matthews, who have small intimate weddings, but want to return with a full sacramental validation, Ji said that’s acceptable. 

“Of course we’d want couples to be sacramentally married from the get-go,” she said, but acknowledged these are extraordinary times. 

While weddings and celebrations can be postponed or adjusted, death comes at its own time and on its own terms. 

“We’re having funerals every day,” said Mike Wesner, director of cemeteries for the Diocese. However, they come with restrictions. 

Graveside services and committals are limited to 10 attendees including the priest, with social distancing required. Attendees must depart immediately at the conclusion of the service while workers complete the interment. 

Families will be welcomed to return when the virus lockdown ends to have more formal and larger services. 

If a family has lost a member to the novel coronavirus, only two family members and a deacon or priest are allowed, and they must schedule a burial between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., before cemetery doors open to the public. 

This is to protect others, as family members may be infected. 

Wesner said many families that chose cremation are postponing burial or placement of the ashes and that cremation services are down 40 percent. 

Although the cemeteries will allow postponement of services for cremated remains at a later date, Wesner said Church policy states that cremated remains should be treated as a regular body and not stored at residences or funeral homes. 

Orange County cemeteries allow visitation, with the same restrictions as burial services. Cemetery schedules and information are available on the Catholic Cemeteries website. (occem.org/) 

Funeral Masses are not being held and are controlled by the parishes. 

When the parishes and cemeteries reopen, Wesner said the cemeteries are girding up for a “congestion of services,” and suggests people contact his office to schedule large gatherings. 

Howmann said in its way, dealing with the delay has been something of an object lesson for the couple. “It helped us with our communication and how we deal together with a crisis,” she said.