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What Every Catholic Marriage Prep Program Ought to Include

June 7, AD2014 19 Comments


Joel recently completed a sacramental theology course for his diaconate studies. One of the questions on the final exam was:

Outline a marriage preparation program for your parish. Explain what components you would like to include and why.

Not only do we think this is an imminently practical question for any deacon-to-be, we think the topic makes for good blogpost material, too. We feel there are six topics that any Catholic marriage prep program ought to cover. We concede there may be others (Joel was given a 250-word count, so he had to keep it pithy! We\’ve added a few more words here simply to make it more blog-worthy.) One could potentially envision the following topics to be presented in weekly classes or condensed into a weekend retreat setting at the parish.

1. What We’re Getting Ourselves Into (Part 1)

Contemporary social forces favoring \”marriage equality\” or same-sex marriage either (1) fail to define precisely what marriage is; (2) present a definition that ignores long-held common beliefs of civilized societies about what marriage is; or (3) overtly aim to redefine the institution of marriage. This discussion would present the Church’s teaching on marriage through a biblical/historical lens, emphasizing Genesis 1 and 2 and the complementarity of man and woman. This all would be contrasted that with “modern” perspectives.

2. What We’re Getting Ourselves Into (Part 2)

If you want couples to understand what they are really getting into, one session just isn\’t enough time. Part 1 continues on, now focusing on Jesus’s teaching on marriage in the gospels. This discussion should also explore Saint Paul’s teaching with particular emphasis on Ephesians 5, discussing marriage as a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

3. What We Should Expect

The four goods of marriagefruitfulness, fidelity, permanence, and partnership — where do these come from, and what do they really mean? We discuss what the early church believed by taking a look at the Augustinian Goods of Marriage. Further, we examine where each of the Four Goods is found in the wedding vows.

4. The Big Talk

What does the Church teach on premarital sex, cohabitation, and contraception? How important are these teachings, really? This is a frank discussion about how each of those three threatens to undermine a couple’s marital promises and what it really takes to approach the sacrament with integrity.

5. Overcoming Obstacles

The normal ups-and-downs of marriage often revolve around issues with parenting, finances, and careers. However, can a marriage survive infertility, addictions, or infidelity? When the rubber meets the road, what does it really mean to marry someone for better or for worse?

6. Richness of the Rite

It’s time to walk through the wedding ceremony itself, discussing the rich symbolism of each of its parts and prepare the couple for the special day. Time away to put away the TV and movie fantasies about what a wedding looks like. What\’s in; what\’s out? What\’s allowed; what\’s not?

That\’s a thumbnail sketch for you. For the record, Joel received a perfect score on his answer. Was the professor too gracious or just right in his assessment? Now it\’s your turn to answer the exam question: What components do you think are essential for a parish marriage preparatory program?

© 2014.  Joel and Lisa Schmidt. All right reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Joel and Lisa Schmidt co-founded The Practicing Catholic, an antidote to the perception that piety is boring or that the Church is filled with “sour-faced saints”. In their writings, the Schmidts provide witness to the adventure of living an integrated Catholic life ... not just on Sundays. For more about the Schmidts, please see their individual bios (Joel's bio; Lisa's bio).

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