So, from next year, Humanist weddings will have legal status in Ireland, following legislation in the Oireachtas. Civil marriage service law will be amended to include such secular ceremonies.
There has been a big growth in non-religious weddings during the past 15 years: in 1996 only six percent of nuptials were in a registry office. By 2011, this had increased to 29pc of all marriages. This is indeed a very substantial increase, and frankly indicates that the churches are losing ground in providing religious weddings.
If this were the world of commerce, it would be the occasion to call in a marketing consultant to research why this is happening. Is it simply a matter of faith - do fewer couples believe in the Christian form of wedlock? Is it a question of fashion, of style, of peer group pressure?
Is it that church weddings seem too old-fashioned and conformist?
Has the Church itself failed to make a sufficiently good case for religious weddings?
Is it because more people are marrying for the second (or subsequent) time and do not qualify (or do not wish for) a church wedding?
Is it a dislike of formal rites? Yet that does not seem to apply to First Holy Communions, which still represent a significant ritual moment in a child’s life?
Is it a fear of expense? More formal weddings often do cost more.
But as the ‘wedding fayre’ business is very pro-active at selling the wedding brand, and all its accessories, I doubt that humanist weddings will uniformly remain budget occasions.
Humanist weddings aren’t my idea of a good day out, but live and let live. If that’s what some people choose, the State is entitled to enable this possibility.
And perhaps the competition will sharpen up the churches’ approach to wedding days.
My suggestions would include: (a) the Christian faiths should advertise the advantage of a church wedding, which includes a unique location for music, flowers and pretty frocks; (b ) they should offer a price-range of weddings, from cheap and cheerful to De Luxe, with all the trimmings; (d) a faith service is a sacrament and emphasise that couples who make sacramental vows tend to have more lasting marriages; (e) no other competitor can offer that special spiritual dimension to the sealing of a relationship like a church wedding; (f) the Church has been doing this for centuries - anything else is just imitation.
The emergence of the humanist marriage service in Ireland should also be the launch of an affirmative campaign by churches to compete - and to beat the competition!
A good nurse’s death
There is widespread blame assigned to the heedless Australian radio pranksters who made a hoax call to the London hospital where Kate, Duchess of Cambridge was being treated.
The episode appears to have prompted the suicide of Nurse Jacintha Saldanha who answered the phone call, purporting to be from the Queen. The late nurseís brother said that Jacintha, who was a Catholic from South-East India, ìdied of shameî.
Some Eastern cultures place more emphasis on ëshameí than on ëguiltí, and Nurse Saldanha, a mother of two, must have felt very mortified to have taken her own life.
As we donít know her state of mind, we cannot judge the situation.
She may have been undergoing a depression anyway.
But we can still be distressed by the act, and we may affirm that an embarrassing episode should not be the cause of suicide, shame or no shame. Three lives have been profoundly afflicted by this death - her husbandís, and those of her teenage children.
The silly pranksters themselves, Mel Grieg and Michael Christian, will be marked for the rest of their careers. And Kate and William will associate the early days of their first pregnancy with a good nurseís death.
Flying the flag – or not
When an English friend asked me what I thought about the hullaballoo over the Union Jack flying (or not flying) in Belfast, I snapped impatiently: ìThey can fly the banner of Red China for all I care!î Honestly! All this trouble over a bally flag!
But that is a mite superficial. Flags and symbols have always mattered in Ireland, north and south. And while folk in the Republic disdain the pettiness of Belfastís discontents, it is worth pointing out that the Union Jack is hardly ever flown in Dublin: or only safely embedded in a cluster of 27 European Union flags.
Even when Queen Elizabeth made a state visit, the British national flag was rarely raised. So it seems there is much sensitivity, still, in Dublin about not flying the Union Jack as there is in Belfast about keeping it atop the flagpole.