Mary and Charles Nixon share a kiss after renewing their vows during the 2019 Anniversary Blessings Mass in the Co-Cathedral. The longtime Co-Cathedral parishioners were married 73 years at the time. Jeff Bruno photo
Mary and Charles Nixon share a kiss after renewing their vows during the 2019 Anniversary Blessings Mass in the Co-Cathedral. The longtime Co-Cathedral parishioners were married 73 years at the time. Jeff Bruno photo
This fall, Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., is once again looking forward to celebrating Masses with married couples marking special wedding anniversaries – one year, 25, 50 or more years of marriage in 2021.

And because plans were drastically changed last year because of the global pandemic, an invitation has been extended for couples who marked milestone years of wedded bliss in 2020 to attend this year’s Masses as well.

“Being able to hold live, in-person events is very significant because such events can only be celebrated in a truly human way when we are physically present with one another,” said Peg Hensler, associate director of Marriage Ministries and Natural Family Planning for the Diocese.

“The Bishop’s Anniversary Blessing events are so important because they intentionally gather us from all four corners of the Diocese to honor the Sacrament of Marriage as one diocesan family with our shepherd, Bishop O’Connell, at the helm,” she said.

This year, there will be two Anniversary Blessing Masses. Couples from Burlington and Mercer County parishes will be recognized during the Oct. 3 Mass in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton, while couples from Monmouth and Ocean County parishes will be recognized during the Oct. 10 Mass in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.

During both Masses, which begin at 3 p.m., all couples will receive a blessing from the Bishop and have an opportunity to reaffirm their marriage vows.

As a precautionary measure, Hensler noted that the number of people allowed in either Cathedral or the Co-Cathedral will be limited. For the Oct. 3 Mass, the goal is to allow each anniversary couple to invite two family members. For the Oct. 10 Mass, the number of people permitted in the Co-Cathedral will be kept to the anniversary couples along with diocesan, parish and volunteer staff members and clergy.

As a way for families to celebrate along with their loved ones, Hensler said both Masses will be livestreamed on diocesan social media platforms, and that the parish halls for both events will be open with hospitality and livestreaming for family members who serve as drivers or helpers for their anniversary couple “so no one will be turned away.” She noted that receptions will not be held after each Mass but each couple will be presented with a gift package. All couples will receive a certificate which will be mailed to their homes.

“After being limited to livestreamed and recorded Masse for such a long time, the experience of returning to church in general and being surrounded by so much artistic and architectural beauty, seeing and hearing our Bishop in-person, gathering as an assembly of worshippers, lifting our prayers to heaven and sharing in the Eucharistic banquet – all of these graced moments bring us back to the wonder of our Catholic faith,” Hensler said. She noted that the Anniversary Blessings also have “deep connections” to both Amoris Laetitia and the Year of the Family, which is being observed from March 19, 2021 to June 26, 2022, as well as the Year of St. Joseph, which is being observed from Dec. 8, 2020 to Dec. 8, 2021.

“For the Year of the Family, honoring couples for their commitment and sacrificial love is a perfect way to honor the family as ‘the Church of the home,’” she said. “For Catholic husbands, the Year of St. Joseph is an opportunity to learn more about such an important role model of obedience to God and of the sacrificial love of fathers.”

All couples planning to attend the Anniversary Blessing Masses must register and can do so through their parish. Qualified couples can pre-register online  pending approval from their parish at www.dioceseoftrenton.org/bishops-anniversary-blessing. Registration opened July 1 and closes Sept. 15.

For more information about the Bishop’s Anniversary Blessing, contact Hensler at 609-403-7156 or phensler@dioceseoftrenton.org.