Ava Lalor" />

Marriage prep needs some work, but time isn’t the problem

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My fiancé and I are in the final stretch before our October wedding, and praise God for that! (In fact, on the day I’m writing this, it’s exactly three months away!) While I was worried that the 10 months of engagement would feel like an eternity, I’ve been surprised that each month seems to go faster and faster. There is always something to do, some wedding-related project to check off the list. Even more important, we’ve been going through marriage prep at our parish.

Currently, most dioceses require that a couple planning for marriage be engaged for six months to provide enough time to prepare themselves for and understand fully the nature of the sacrament: that it’s a lifelong commitment, that we should be open and ordered to having children, and that marriage is a dying of self in the fashion of Christ dying for his Church.

Going into our engagement, Dominic and I had already done our homework. We were both blessed to be raised in authentic Catholic families, and our young adult years have been spent surrounded by peers who want to know Christ and his Church. Additionally, from the early days of our relationship, we’ve been listening to podcasts and reading books about theology of the body (thanks, Christopher West, for your wealth of knowledge!), which has led to countless deep conversations about what we want our marriage and family life to look like.

So, when we started marriage prep, we were hoping for formation that would help us take the next step. And while it has been good, it’s mostly been because of the same things that were good while we were simply dating based on our own intentionality. The program offered by our parish isn’t bad; it’s just that it’s for couples who may not already understand what the Church teaches or why it’s important. As our pastor noted, we are a “softball” couple. He and our associate pastor (who is guiding us through marriage prep) don’t have to convince us not to cohabitate, to abstain from sex until we are married, to be open to life, to go to Mass on Sundays and pray daily. But that is news to a lot of couples who decide they want to be married in the Catholic Church. Some are honestly seeking Christ but haven’t had the formation; others thought all these Catholic rules are outdated and had been shoved aside decades ago, only to be surprised when their expectations are incorrect.

So, when I read that Pope Francis and the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life were proposing a revamped approach to marriage prep around the world, I had mixed opinions.

First, I agree: Most marriage prep programs offered at the parish and diocesan level are not enough. As Pope Francis wrote: “With too superficial a preparation, couples run the real risk of having an invalid marriage or one with such a weak foundation that it falls apart in a short time and cannot withstand even the first inevitable crises. These failures bring with them great suffering and leave deep wounds in people.” Amen. We are seeing the consequences of people being married in the Church without understanding what that means.

However, the main suggestion to have a yearlong “marriage catechumenate” rubbed me the wrong way. And my gut reaction is in regard to the timeline proposed. While one year could be beneficial for some couples, especially those who are less formed in the Faith, others are fully ready to be married within six months.

Luckily, Pope Francis noted that the dicastery’s document detailing what the new approach to marriage prep must be adapted for local situations and for the people involved: “It is an outfit that must be ‘made to measure’ for the people who will wear it.”

It’s too early to tell how this new “marriage catechumenate” will be implemented around the world. What I hope is that it doesn’t prevent couples who are ready for marriage from getting married earlier due to a time requirement. But I also hope priests and bishops are able to authentically look at how they could better prepare a generation of Catholics, both those who have a strong faith and want to go deeper, and those who have not been well-formed in the Faith, to help them understand the beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage from a Catholic perspective.

Ava Lalor is associate editor for Our Sunday Visitor and editor for Radiant magazine.

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