AS Peter and Ellyn Gasparin approach their first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, the Brisbane duo well remember the impact of Fr Adrian Sharp’s wedding homily in St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill, last September.
They remember not only because the wedding was in a church they’ve long admired, surrounded by a loving contingent of family and friends, including almost 60 of their former or current work colleagues in the funeral industry, but mostly due to Fr Sharp’s fulfilment of a particular request.
“We asked Fr Adrian to ‘not hold back’, talking about the sanctity of marriage,” 24-year-old Peter said, leaving simmer his family-inspired pasta sauce recipe in their home on Brisbane’s northside.
“(And) it was amazing how many people, especially people we didn’t expect, quoted him after the fact.
“The homily definitely made an impact.”
The Gasparins first met the Annerley-Ekibin priest when attending the Latin Mass and when Peter began playing the organ at the Ordinary Form Mass at 5pm on Sundays at Mary Immaculate, Annerley, a role he relishes to this day.
Both raised in the faith, Ellyn was enthralled by the reverence and sanctity of all she uncovered in the priests, young people and families at Annerley-Ekibin.
“I had strayed from the faith,” the Nambour-born and Catholic-school-educated woman said.
“Bringing it back for me was the Oratory (at Annerley) and how concerned they are for me and our souls.
“They want us to get to heaven.”
Peter interjected light-heartedness, saying, “The Oratory must have the worst sinners in all of Brisbane because our confession lines are huge”, and practical Ellyn replied, sitting close to her spouse on the couch.
“The grace of God and the grace of the Oratory formed my faith again and changed my life,” she said.
“They brought spiritual nourishment back into my life.
“I realised, through Peter and his family too, that I really didn’t know what I should have known.
“There were a lot of questions.”
It was Ash Wednesday last year when Ellyn, now 26, attended her first Mass in Latin, while Peter, born and raised in Stanthorpe with a sister, Teresa, a Verbum Dei Sister in Spain, had attended Mass in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Form across his lifetime.
The well-paired couple fondly recalled their marriage preparation with Fr Sharp, a priest of the Brisbane Oratory in Formation community, based at Mary Immaculate, Annerley.
“His fatherly preparation was so good,” Peter, one of six children who grew up with an affinity for Mother Mary and many saints, said.
“The whole process was such a faith-strengthening scenario especially for Ellyn, but for me too, from the moment we asked him to be our celebrant.
“While we were looking forward to the wedding, we weren’t looking forward to not seeing him (in sessions) anymore.”
Peter said he and Fr Sharp “often went off in tangents” to discuss organs, a special interest for them both as “enthusiasts”.
And while light-hearted, a particular saying came to his mind to describe the experience of worshipping in Annerley-Ekibin.
“I think of the saying, ‘Those who wed themselves to the trend of the day will find themselves to be widows in the next’,” he said.
“The Oratory Fathers do what is true, holy and beautiful.
“There are a lot of young families who attend, the liturgy is always good and the homilies are always on point.”
Peter’s involved in “a lot of parish and diocesan things” and said he had attended or played the organ for countless funerals, weddings and Masses in general.
He encouraged people to “not criticise” anyone who attended Mass in Latin, something he and Ellyn find profound connection with God in, but to “come and have a look”.
“We aren’t scary,” he said of Latin Mass-goers.
“We will say hello – maybe not inside the church because we’d rather talk outside – but come and have a bit of a chat.
“If you want to know where young people in the Church are, come and see.”
For the wedding, Peter and Ellyn chose musical accompaniment carefully, with the processional to welcome the bride harking back 1000 years, from the Latin Missal, and connecting “to husbands and wives married over the centuries”.
There was a hymn from the same Ash Wednesday Mass the year before, called God of Mercy and Compassion and another, inspired by the apparitions of Mother Mary at Lourdes.
They also chose “Ad Orientum posture even though it wasn’t a Latin Mass”.
“The Ordinary Form (of the Mass) helps us appreciate the Latin Mass and the Latin Mass helps us appreciate the Ordinary Form (of the Mass),” Peter said.
In the wedding homily, Fr Sharp spoke of the “confusion” that existed in Western society about marriage.
“Bit by bit, the very things that make marriage what it is have been stripped away,” he said.
“Marriage’s ordering to the procreation and education of children, along with the good of the spouses, is undone with the acceptance of contraception.
“The intrinsic indissolubility of marriage and its permanent and life-long character have been chipped away at through the acceptance of no-fault divorce.
“And in our own days, the most fundamental element of the divine plan that a man and a woman leave father and mother and join to become one flesh is seemingly wiped away with legal redefinitions.
“We’re left with something stripped entirely of its meaning and purpose.”
Fr Sharp quoted Pope Francis, reiterating, “The Holy Father states that the health of the ‘human ecology’ depends on a healthy marital culture,” he said.
“(And) even though it’s taken a beating, marriage – properly understood – is a profoundly robust institution.
“God knew what He was doing.
“In fact, all the deformations of marriage, properly understood, in many ways only make the beauty of true marriage stand out all the more.”
On their wedding day, Fr Sharp continued to encourage Peter and Ellyn in their vocational commitment and charged them with “helping others see why marriage and the family, properly understood, matter”.
“Pope Francis says, ‘We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism, and in this way, inviting them to take up the challenge of marriage with enthusiasm and courage’,” he said.
“Peter and Ellyn, as you embark on marriage, we pray that you will have that generosity, commitment, love, heroism, enthusiasm and courage to live out your commitment.”
Recalling that Fr Sharp described their wedding day “as the easiest of their married life”, the duo who honeymooned in Peter’s family homeland of Italy, among Ellyn’s Irish relatives and with a stint in London, were in fits of laughter, saying, “It wasn’t easy to get to there but it was the easiest day”.
Peter said he “felt sad” when Fr Sharp stood for the final blessing of their Nuptial Mass.
“I remember thinking, ‘Can we go back to the beginning?’” the newlywed said.
“I wasn’t ready for the Mass to be over.
“I wish I could marry you every day, darling.”
The Gasparins were committed to a yearly “spiritual pilgrimage” until the day they died, they said, to set aside time to be on retreat and surrounded by opportunities to be prayerful.
Due to their work in the funeral industry, they were to be responsible for the transportation of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents Saints Louis and Zélie Martin.
Together, they will be “driving the Annerley-Ekibin leg” with the relics and Peter will continue further afield into northern New South Wales.
“Together, our faith has grown stronger,” Ellyn said. “We do important things together to make the bond stronger.
“We pray together and say the Rosary.”