There has been very little time, of late, to pay attention to private rites amid all the public rituals, but last night the Senate took time out from the general rejoicing to honor the wedding of one of its own.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) married Catherine Chandler at the end of December, but he whisked her away for a honeymoon in China before his colleagues had a chance to give them a proper reception. This they finally did in a small room at the Capitol dominated by a portrait of Mike Mansfield.

"We are about to perform a rite all of us look forward to with great pleasure," said Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), as Sen. Stevens and his bride, a lawyer from Anchorage, prepared to cut the cake. "The Senate, of course, is a very special place, but it is less well known that the Senate is, indeed, a family," one in which, he said, there is an understanding that "a part of our family makes a very special sacrifice -- our wives."

Baker's co-host, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) toasted the bride as well. "I always did like good-looking women," he said, smiling at his wife, Nancy, before turning to Mrs. Stevens. "Cathy, we admire your beauty, we respect your intelligence, we adore your charm, and we love you because we can't help it."

The object of all this attention carried a small bouquet while accepting the congratulations of a seemingly endless stream of senators who approached her from both sides of the aisle.

"Welcome to Washington, I'm Dan Inouye," said the Democratic senator from Hawaii.

"Hi, I'm Dale Bumpers," said the Democrat from Arkansas. "Don't let this guy corrupt you."

The Republicans, of course, were all there, from Abner through Warner, and the food piled high on the gleaming china reflected the regional tastes of both the hosts and the guests of honor -- Alaska king crab, South Carolina shrimp, and Tennessee baked ham. "John Glenn said we'd only been in power a week and look how good we were living already," Stevens said with evident satisfaction.

Mrs. Stevens divided her time between greeting the senators and waiting for the fireworks that were visible from a window just across a hall from the reception. Many of the senators had been present at the ceremonies to greet the former hostages. "It was one of the most moving public occasions I've ever witnessed," said Baker. "But what was even more impressive was the number of people stretched out for 30 miles to greet them."

The multi-colored light rained down on the Washington Monument, accompanied by the distant thunder of the gunpowder, and a senatorial courtesy of awed silence was extended to greet them. "This is getting to be a weekly occurrence," said one of Stevens' colleagues. "It's a wonder we're not all swept away by history."