Couples from throughout the region reaffirmed their marriage vows at a special Mass on Sunday by Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

A n audible gasp went through the crowd.

The Rev. Richard Kramer had just rattled off some incredible numbers.

Gathered under the basilica dome, he told the crowd, were 722 couples, who among them represented a combined total of 32,024 years of marriage.

The Jubilarian Mass, held Sunday afternoon at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was a celebration of the marriage anniversaries — ranging from 25 to 75 years — of the many couples gathered there. In addition to renewing their vows, couples received a special blessing and personalized certificates marking their anniversaries.

It was a special Mass “to celebrate the visible sign of God’s love,” the sacrament of marriage, and the importance of strong marriages for both the church and the world, said Kramer, who is the director of family life and pastoral resource development for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Enrique Palangdao kisses Nina, his bride of more than 50 years, at Sunday’s Mass. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

It is incredible to see “hundreds and hundreds, and hundreds of couples celebrate their anniversaries,” said Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington. “It is a public testimony to enduring human love.”

But that’s not to say that any of this is easy, even though the basilica was teeming with couples who have spent the better part of a century together.

“The message today is that marriage works and that commitment is a beautiful thing,” Wuerl said. Too often, there is a “tendency . . . to look at things in the short term and not to realize that you have to work at good things.” So the gathering of these couples, and the public recognition of their years of deep mutual commitment, are an inspiration and an example to young men and women, he said.

Amancio and Marilen Pascaran, 74 and 72, celebrated their 50th anniversary in April by treating themselves to a transatlantic cruise. They had marked their 40th anniversary at this same Jubilarian Mass 10 years earlier, and were back to mark their golden jubilee.

Originally from the Philippines, where they met as college students, the Pascarans, who live in Bowie, Md., exuded a joyful and youthful energy. When asked how they have made their marriage last so long, Amancio, with a laugh and a twinkle in his eye, said: “I let her do anything she wants.”

Marilen did not object to this characterization, and expanded on her husband’s answer. It’s about keeping a busy schedule so that there’s no time to disagree, she said. But more importantly, it’s about learning to give and take.

“You have to compromise — that’s the biggest thing,” she said.

Marion Miles and her husband of 58 years Solomon Miles, joined hundreds of couples from throughout the region in celebrating their marriages. (Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post)

Seated behind the Pascarans were high school sweethearts Obie and Mary Spence, 81 and 77, of the District. They also credited their 58-year-long marriage to finding happy mediums.

“It’s yes and no, give and take, disagreeing and agreeing,” Obie said. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't choose nobody else.”

For Olney, Md., residents Antonio and Maria Pinto, 51 and 46, their 25-year marriage has been an act of honoring their word to God.

“When you go before God and say it’s forever, it’s forever,” Maria said.

The longest-lasting marriage celebrated Sunday was that of Robert and Laurin Balkam, who are marking 75 years together.

The Roman Catholic faith and his marriage have been the two greatest opportunities that life has presented him, Robert said in a video produced by the Archdiocese of Washington ahead of the Mass.

“ [L]ike the faith, Laurin has enriched me, she has instructed me, she has corrected me, she has encouraged me, she loves me,” he said.

And how have they made their marriage endure for three-quarters of a century?

“Well, my answer is that you do it one year at a time, and then it adds up,” Robert said.

Wuerl likes to talk to couples as they leave the Mass, and over the years he has learned a thing or two about marriage from them.

One secret, couples have told him, is “always to say you’re sorry” when you recognize that you were in the wrong. Another secret is to “not let a day go by without saying, sometime during the course of the day, to your spouse, ‘I love you.’ ”

It may sound simple, Wuerl said, but those three words go a long way.

But perhaps one lesson that has stuck with him the most is from a couple who had been married for 50 years, and who had never gone to bed at night without saying a prayer together.

It was their way of reminding themselves that God is “part of our lives and our marriage,” Wuerl said, and it is perhaps this that is the most important factor for a long-lasting marriage.

“I think that is the secret to how we have hundreds of couples . . . celebrating thousands of years of marriage,” he said.