Preparation for marriage is a requirement for couples intending to marry in the Catholic Church.
Preparation for marriage is a requirement for all couples intending to marry in the Catholic Church. It should be a broad and thorough process of education for married life, and can be described as a ‘journey in faith’ which does not end with the celebration of marriage but continues throughout the marriage and family life.
What we need is a more responsible and generous effort to present the reasons and motivations for choosing marriage and the family, and in this way to help men and women better to respond to the grace that God offers them.Amoris Laetitia #35
In 2016 the Bishops’ Conference produced Guidelines for the Preparation of Couples for Marriage, proposing a process based on the model and inspiration found in the practice of Christian Initiation. Pope Francis describes this journey of preparation as ‘a path that goes slowly ahead … a path of maturation. This is how we mature, step by step. The time of betrothal can truly become a time of initiation, into what? Into surprise! Into the surprise of the spiritual gifts with which the Lord, through the Church, enriches the horizon of the new family that stands ready to live in his blessing.’ (Catechesis on Engagement, 27 May 2015)
The Bishops’ Conference Guidelines offer a very practical vision for marriage preparation:
The stages of marriage preparation proposed are:
Each of the recommendations for best practice, with the different roles and responsibilities, are described fully in the Guidelines, together with desired content for any marriage preparation ‘programme’.
Marriage preparation is a gradual and continuous process, that begins in infancy through to adolescence, in the witness of love and service in relationships first in the home, the wider family, the community (‘remote’ preparation); moving to catechesis for young people through relational, moral and spiritual formation, and presenting the vocation to marriage (‘proximate’ preparation, shared by home, parish and school); and finally, the period from an engaged couple’s first approach to the Church, a period of preparation for married life (‘immediate’ preparation – shared by families and parish community). Bishops and priests have the primary responsibility of ensuring that Christian marriage is valued and lived in the community. All others in the community are encouraged to share in the responsibility of welcoming and preparing couples for marriage – including roles of administration, welcome, couple support and companionship, and facilitation of programmes or ‘courses’ of preparation.
There are a number of legitimate ways to structure programmes of marriage preparation, and each local church will discern how best to provide a suitable formation.Amoris Laetitia #207
Integral to the process of Marriage Preparation is the diocesan or parish approved marriage preparation course or programme, often provided by external facilitators. There is a range of such courses and programmes. It would be important to choose one where the facilitators are appropriately selected and trained, with on-going development and support. Alongside natural skills and competencies, marriage preparation providers are expected to develop a body of knowledge covering the purpose of marriage in a Catholic Christian context, Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage, fertility awareness, Canon Law references to marriage preparation, relationship theory, communication and conflict resolution, listening skills, facilitation and group dynamics.
Some of the content of marriage preparation can be provided harnessing the knowledge and skills and marital spiritual of individual or couples in the parish, sharing couple-to-couple on the experience of living out their vocation. The priest can be part of this parish-based support, reflecting with couples on the demands and joys of his own vocation, and exploring the parallels with the commitment made in marriage. A number of studies suggest that quality marriage preparation improves marital stability by up to 30%. The links on this page feature the main programmes currently available through the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Marriage Care is the biggest provider of formal marriage preparation in the Catholic Church in England and Wales through a network of volunteers working from centres across dioceses. As part of the marriage preparation process Marriage Care offers a complete one-day course for couples wishing to marry in the Catholic Church which explores the Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage and gives participants the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of the vows they intend to make, and equips couples with knowledge and skills to sustain their relationship. Marriage Care trains facilitators in this programme and offers its volunteers opportunities for supervision and continuing professional development. Income from the marriage preparation service makes it possible for Marriage Care to also offer a counselling service to couples who need extra support.
For more information please visit: marriagecare.org.uk/how-we-help/marriage-preparation
An Engaged Encounter weekend is a form of marriage preparation designed to give couples preparing for marriage the chance to talk openly about their expectations and attitudes in such areas as work, money, children, in-laws, sex, leisure time, church and so on. The focus of the weekend is on growth in relationships through communication as a couple. It is not a retreat and there are no group discussions.
For more information please visit: https://wwme.org.uk/marriage-preparation/
Combining a number of learning methods, the Smart Loving Engaged course is designed to be used in one of four ways – couple to couple mentoring, small home-centred groups, larger groups in parish rooms or online mentored correspondence. Core content is presented on DVD, supported by participant materials with additional take-home activities to stimulate private discussion. Presented by husband and wife teams, the course offers Catholic theology and practical skills and tools for relationships at whatever stage.
Most dioceses offer a range of opportunities for marriage preparation. Click on the links for further information.
There are a number of other programmes available to couples in their local communities, for example, the Marriage Preparation course developed at Holy Trinity, Brompton.
Programmes available online can give couples separated by great distance the chance to prepare together. Here are two different examples from the US:
Love and Cherish is an example of an ecumenical marriage preparation programme
Lookback on what has shaped our current Marraige Preparation Guidelines in England and Wales. The Catholic Marriage Preparation Survey 2010, Marriage Preparation in the Catholic Community, Reports and Recomendations.