If someone were to ask me what marriage prep is/how it is typically done, I would explain that a newly engaged couple meets with a priest a few times, at least six months before the date of the wedding, and that some of these sessions will include a Pre-Cana Retreat and a FOCCUS Pre-Marriage Inventory.
However, in Familiaris Consortio, no. 66, Pope St. John Paul II refers to three main of marriage formation that begin long before a ring is ever placed on a finger. JPII explains that “Marriage formation has to be seen and put into practice as a gradual and continuous process. It includes three main stages: remote, proximate, and immediate preparation.”
You may be surprised to learn that preparation for marriage begins in early childhood. And yet, when you think about it, is it all that surprising? Think of all the values and habits we instill in children from a young age to ensure that they are successful, functioning members of society as adults. The importance of personal hygiene and health is learned not only by teaching your child to brush his/her teeth, or making sure your child eats a healthy and balanced, but is also reinforced (or undermined) by the way you demonstrate the importance of these values.
Likewise, in the remote stage of marriage preparation, families must be models and schools of love and virtue. After all, the family is the Domestic Church. Thus, it is “necessary, especially for Christians, is solid spiritual and catechetical formation that will show that marriage is a true vocation and mission, without excluding the possibility of the total gift of self to God in the vocation to the priestly or religious life” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 66).
Parishes ought to ask themselves whether or not they are hindering or enhancing families in their God-given duty to be the primary educators of the faith.
Questions Every Parish Should Ask
- Do the environment/facilities of the Church communicate the families are valued
- Are there changing tables in the bathrooms?
- Are highchairs provided at parish functions?
- Is child care ever offered during the programs?
- Are children seen as a nuisance or a joy?
- Does the parish ever cater events towards young families? (Think of time, day, environment, activities, etc.)
- Does the parish recognize that marriage prep and baptismal prep are often “re-entry points” for young adults? How is the parish capitalizing on this opportunity to evangelize?
- What type of faith formation is being offered for children ages 0-5?
- Does the parish offer life long faith formation opportunities, or do the programs at the parish reinforce the incorrect notion that formation ends at Confirmation?
- Are parents supported in their role as primary educators of the faith? Do they feel equipped and uplifted or inept and unable? (I’m a big advocate for family catechesis programs)
- Are there faith formation programs specifically geared towards moms? Dads? Parents?
During the proximate stage of marriage prep, there is an emphasis on the sacraments and the necessary preparation for them. Thus marriage will be presented as as an
“interpersonal relationship of a man and a woman that has to be continually developed, and it will encourage those concerned to study the nature of conjugal sexuality and responsible parenthood, with the essential medical and biological knowledge connected with it” (Familiaris Consortio, no. 66).
In addition to learning about true love, the gift of our sexuality, and how to live a life of sacrifice and discipleship; by studying Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, young people will come to understand that our primary vocation is to become self-gift and that the sacrament of marriage is one of the ways can live out that gift. In fact, marriage is the oldest revelation of God’s plan:
[Marriage is the] most ancient revelation (manifestation) of the plan [of God] in the created world, with the definitive revelation and manifestation – the revelation that ‘Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her,’ conferring on his redemptive love a spousal character and meaning (Theology of the Body, 321-322).
Thanks to the work of many brilliant people, students can begin to learn about this theology as early as middle school. Resources like Theology of the Body for Teens Middle School Edition, YOU: Life, Love, and the Theology of the Body(for high school students), and Joy Filled Marriage (marriage prep), can help young people of all ages learn these beautiful truths.
Finally, we reach the immediate stage. This is the stage we all think of, the one I described at the beginning of this post. As JPII writes, “the immediate preparation for the celebration of the sacrament of Matrimony should take place in the months and weeks immediately preceding the wedding, so as to give a new meaning, content and form to the so-called premarital enquiry required by Canon Law.” Having a beautiful, substantial, meaningful marriage preparation course is key to the success of this stage. Engaged couple’s should discuss what their spousal love will look like if they’re modeling it after Christ; they should be educated on the Theology of the Body, should discuss children (and what happens if you can’t conceive), should be mentored, and should enter fully and prayerfully into this final stage of discernment.