What Every Catholic Marriage Prep Program Ought to Include


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.

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19 thoughts on “What Every Catholic Marriage Prep Program Ought to Include”

  1. Shannon Marie Federoff

    We’re embarking on a new Marriage Prep for our parish…. and we’d like to invite married couples along to learn again (maybe for the first time!) the beauty and richness of the Church’s teachings. Ascension Press has the components you are looking for in their “God’s Plan For A Joy-Filled Marriage” and “Living A Joy-Filled Marriage.” When we saw their curriculum, we were very pleased! I’ll let you know how it goes!

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  3. I am helping develop and team teaching Pre-Cana courses in my diocese. We divide the day up into three parts: (1) Marriage and the family in God’s original plan; (2) the impact of sin (original and actual) on the same; (3) How all the Sacraments can assist in living Christian matrimony.

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  5. If only this is what all marriage preps looked like! The rest of it–finances, parenting philosophies–is all important but not strictly related to faith. Couples who get this right are almost certain to be able to navigate the other areas with secular resources.

  6. The Pre-Cana classes my husband and I went to were pretty good. They were NOT afraid of tackling the tough subjects. One of the speakers gave his own testimony on how contraception nearly destroyed his marriage, and explained NFP. He’d managed to get the local NFP class to let people from our class take one class session for free. Unfortunately, it was obvious almost everyone tuned him out – shifted in their seats, rolled their eyes, etc.

    1. Elizabeth Jarzombek

      That’s really sad. This is why Church teaching needs to be explained in high school as other comments from both readers and the authors have stated.

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  8. The deep meaning of Sacramental Marriage is demonstrated very well in a Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend retreat. One of the best benefits of the format is the personal reflection, then private couple discussion exploring their attitudes and expectations on all of the above topics. It is important for an engaged couple to take time away from wedding planning to look at how to build a lasting marriage.

    1. Elizabeth Jarzombek

      When we called the Team priest after our EE weekend to ask about whether or not it was a sin to contracept he told us that as long as we made the decision about birth control together we’d be fine. We also don’t remember God and His Holy Church being brought up much at all except during Mass. The weekend was more of a relationship discovery seminar. Hopefully things are different than they were 20 years ago.

  9. If your parish’s deacon or pastor has waited until so-called marriage prep to catechize the flock about the vocation of marriage, the pastor or deacon isn’t catechizing the flock.

    Every one of those topics should be spoken in a dozen homilies during the course of the year. Every one of those topics should be part of pre-confirmation catechesis.

    1. Micha, no argument here. The earlier the better, but always age-appropriate. Please see my response to Andrea.

  10. I would like to see topics 1-4 presented in Life Teen/confirmation preparation. Talking about this before a young person falls in love is vital. I think teens need a real view of romantic love presented in contrast to what they see in the media. Also, by waiting to present topics like birth control, premarital sex and cohabitation until couples are planning to marry is too late for many and turns them off to Church teaching.

    1. Andrea, we wholeheartedly agree. We would assert the best-case scenario is that every child gets 18 years or marriage prep before leaving home, based upon the witness of their parents. Parish youth and teen programs, such as you suggest, should back that up and fill in the gaps. To be clear, we are in no way suggesting parishes should wait until marriage prep to present the Church’s teaching on marriage. That should be done throughout a child’s life at an age-appropriate level by both parents and parishes.

  11. Pingback: What Every Catholic Marriage Prep Program Ought to Include | The Practicing Catholic

  12. Hi Joel and Lisa,

    Thank you for this article. I have thought quite a bit about the premarital education Catholics receive, and I am cringing as I write this, but I am also looking at things from an entirely different perspective.

    My husband, whom I loved dearly, left suddenly while I was 5 months pregnant with our 5th little boy – a surprise pregnancy with complications. I won’t get into all the details here, but I struggled with my Catholic faith for a bit and went to non-denominational churches and so on. One very large church I really enjoyed and agreed with for most of its teachings (I SO missed the Eucharist though and thank the Lord for pulling me back to my Catholic faith!) claimed that 70% of its congregants were ex-Catholics – most of whom had been divorced and felt rejected by the church.


    There is such a misunderstanding of the annulment process and of the church’s consideration of divorced people. Actually, I am realizing that there is a lot of misunderstanding of a lot of the church’s teachings, and too many Catholics are misled by (possibly well-meaning but incorrect) Catholic school teachers, CCD instructors, parents, and so on. When foundations of faith have been built on sand like this and crisis hits, those foundations crumble and people turn their backs on the church.

    With 50% of couples ending up in divorce, would it be wise to have a discussion of annulments and a reinforcement of the church’s Love even for the divorced, a discussion on why remarriage without an annulment is wrong, and other information in a premarital counseling session?

    I’ve often wished I could speak to couples at pre-Cana and let them know about these things BEFORE crisis hits. I am in NO WAY advocating divorce. I will tell you divorce is a more terrible thing than most people think or admit to, but leaving the church is worse and waiting for the house to be on fire before getting cooling waters doesn’t make sense either. I truly wish premarital counseling was simply about the beauty of marriage and NFP (and I do think there is beauty in marriage and in NFP – what living proof my surprise son has turned out to be of the beauty of NFP!), but I wonder if we need to do more.

    I blog about the annulment process, our story, and our faith at http://www.SingleMomSmiling.com

  13. Marriage Prep should also include a study and meditation of the “Song of Songs” as it is part of the Holy Bible. It is a conversation between two young lovers about the more erotic nature of love, probably written by Solomon in 931 BC. It is an often neglected teaching by many, and infrequently referred to. While there is no reference to Yahweh, law or covenant…the dialogue and emotional charge between two young lovers conveys a God-inspired narration of Eros. Very much unlike the rest of Bible, but nonetheless quite instructional and holy.

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