Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

My Photo
Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

October 1, 2010


The NY Times obit list recently noted the death on September 9 of Rabbi Joseph Chaim Gelberman, my long-standing partner in joining Jew and Catholic in the bond of marriage. Long-involved in interfaith weddings, I probably encountered Rabbi Gelberman by chance in the 1960s, when a couple picked both of us off a list of priests and rabbis available for interfaith weddings. Since then, whenever I was requested to officiate at such a mixed marriage, I would suggest Rabbi Gelberman as the rabbi; when he had a similar request, he would suggest me as the priest. Over the years, we officiated together many times.

He was somewhat short, featured a Van Dyke beard, and spoke with a light Hungarian accent. In the ceremony, I would take the marriage vows from the groom and bride; he would bless the rings, first asking the couple and the congregation to close their eyes, and then: "My dear young couple, and all you friends and relatives here,be aware there are others looking on from above; they can be seen only by our inner sight; look,there is Michael, the commander in chief of the angelic host, Raphael, the angel of healing, and Gabriel, the angel of courage. They are participating in this blessing of your rings, assuring you of sharing their heavenly treasures of goodness, healing, and courage to be with you in this new chapter of your lives." It was fantastic! He had almost literally created the presence of these angelic spectators. I could feel that presence myself! He was a master! He would then describe the symbolism of the rings in terms of the everlasting values that would characterize their lives. Rabbi Gelberman was a tough officiant to be partnered with. I worked hard on preparing my part. I was never a match for the beard, the accent, the Hebrew chant, and his ability to create angels on the spot.

Rabbi Gelberman was always friendly, but formal. I was always "Monsignor"; he, "Rabbi". He had good advice. After a wedding, he asked if I had received an offering. No, I had not. "Monsignor, you simply must be more aggressive. After a ceremony, I say here is your envelope (the "ketubah", religious certificate of marriage). Where is my envelope?" Early on, when asked about my fee, I initially disvowed any fee. But I shortly changed that. "Since the rabbi and I do the ceremony together, it would be appropriate that I receive the same as the rabbi." Rabbis are realists; the fee, clearly made evident early on. Years ago, it was $200; when I stopped officiating, the fee had reached $600. Rabbi Gelberman was always solicitous for me. When he had received his $600 after a ceremony, he saw that I had not. "Monsignor, he thinks the $600 was for both of us. You'd better talk to him". "Rabbi Gelberman,he happens to be on the Jewish side. I'd be grateful if you might bring it to his attention". "Of course, Monsignor". He quietly went over to the father of the groom. I soon had my $600, even though the the giver seemed to be mumbling some words!

Both of us delighted in what we were doing, engaging with young people at a happy time. We dealt with all kinds of people, mostly normal family types. There were several where the parties had met through AA; another one, through a drug treatment program. One wedding was in Bensonhurst, where Jews and Italians live happily together. The Catholic groomsmen were on my left, lovely Jewish bridesmaids on my right. Rabbi Gelberman had the congregation under his spell. One of the Italian groomsmen leaned over to me. "Hey, father. This guy is going over his time. You want us to do anything?" "Relax, Aldo. Listen to the rabbi. He's got a good message."

Rabbi Joseph Gelberman died at age 98. May he rest in peace. And you angels: Michael,
Raphael, and Gabriel, you always helped him, when he brought you down to bless the rings. Take good care of him!