Did you know that Canon Law in the Catholic Church dictates the foundational content of marriage preparation? In the chapter entitled, “Pastoral Care and Those Things Which Must Precede the Celebration of Marriage,” Canon Law has this to say about what constitutes a solid marriage preparation program:
Pastors of souls are obliged to take care that their ecclesiastical community offers the Christian faithful the assistance by which the matrimonial state is preserved in a Christian spirit and advances in perfection. This assistance must be offered especially by:
Preaching, catechesis adapted to minors, youth, and adults…by which the Christian faithful are instructed about the meaning of Christian marriage and about the function of Christian spouses and parents;
Personal preparation to enter marriage, which disposes the spouses to the holiness and duties of their new state;
A fruitful liturgical celebration of marriage which is to show that the spouses signify and share in the mystery of the unity and fruitful love between Christ and the Church;
Help offered to those who are married, so that faithfully preserving and protecting the conjugal covenant, they daily come to lead holier and fuller lives in their family. (Can. 1063, emphasis added)
In his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, St. John Paul II said, “Marriage preparation has to be seen and put into practice as a gradual and continuous process. It includes three main stages: remote, proximate and immediate preparation” (FC 66, emphasis added).
He explains that remote preparation begins in early childhood and gradually becomes proximate preparation at the suitable age and with adequate catechesis. Immediate preparation should take place in the months and weeks immediately preceding the wedding:
[This] give[s] a new meaning, content and form to the so-called premarital enquiry required by Canon Law. This preparation is not only necessary in every case, but is also more urgently needed for engaged couples that still manifest shortcomings or difficulties in Christian doctrine and practice.
Among the elements to be instilled in this journey of faith, which is similar to the catechumenate, there must also be a deeper knowledge of the mystery of Christ and the Church, of the meaning of grace and of the responsibility of Christian marriage, as well as preparation for taking an active and conscious part in the rites of the marriage liturgy. (FC 66, emphasis added)
In other words, John Paul the Great is saying that marriage preparation starts in the family through the example of the mother and father to their children, continues through adolescence right up to the actual marriage. The Pope stressed that this training is “more urgently needed for engaged couples that still manifest shortcomings or difficulties in Christian doctrine and practice.” This is even more needed today when young engaged couples have few examples of healthy and holy Christian marriage lived fully according to God’s plan.
Note too that the Pope says this lifelong “journey of faith” should be similar to the catechumenate for those entering the Church. In the early Church, the catechumenate was a two- to three-year process. If today’s marriage prep was this extensive, imagine how the health and stability of marriages would increase.
Also note that Canon 1063 includes a marriage enrichment obligation for couples already married. Sadly, few parishes in our country offer any type of marriage enrichment opportunities for couples.
A plethora of annulments is an indictment against marriage preparation programs during the last half century; they have been woefully inadequate in equipping couples for lifelong faithful and fruitful marriage. The time is ripe to revamp our marriage preparation and marriage enrichment programs so that couples fully understand the sacramentality of marriage and receive fully the graces that God wants to pour into their marriages. The mission of Calling Couples to Christ is to do just that.
We exhort you to speak to your pastor and with his permission, initiate programs such as Witness to Love (marriage preparation) and the Augustine Institute’s Beloved series (for both marriage preparation and marriage enrichment). We would be delighted to help you. Just give send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.