Marriage preparation? What is that? What’s the point?
“My fiance and I have decided to get married in the Catholic Church. Why are we being asked to take classes?”
These are all real and legitimate questions that many couples ask when they learn that they need to complete a marriage preparation program (Pre-Cana) in order to get married in the Catholic Church.
Let us examine some of the reasons why the Church asks engaged couples to take classes before they get married.
Why Is It Required?
Everything in life takes formation, preparation, and getting ready. Before we go on a trip, we pack our bags, we look at a map, we purchase airline tickets, etc. Before we graduate from college, we have to study and pass several classes — it takes years!
Important things in life take a time of preparation and formation in order for them to be successful. Same with marriage! It is a very important decision; one that will change the way we live our lives. Therefore, it is a decision that requires an important period of formation and preparation, both individually and as a couple.
First, let us look at the sacrament of marriage in the teaching of the Catholic Church. Marriage or Matrimony is one of the seven sacraments of the Church, together with Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. Two of these are considered the sacraments of service (Marriage and Holy Orders). The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions them:
“Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so. They confer a particular mission in the Church and serve to build up the People of God.” (CCC1534)
There is a connection between marriage and service that we usually miss or that nobody explains to couples preparing for matrimony. Marriage consecrates us to serve others: our spouse and, if we have them, our children, and the rest of the community. Marriage is a ministry — our first ministry — and it is in their marriage where the spouses serve each other. Together, they serve their family and the whole community.
This is the reason why the Church takes so seriously the preparation for these sacraments. Priests have to study for years (six to eight years) before they receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Husband and Wife also need to prepare themselves to become fully informed of the commitment and the responsibility that comes with marriage.
Why Is It Important?
Marriage preparation is not only learning about the religious, spiritual, or theological aspects of the sacrament of marriage (even though these are important elements that are present in every marriage preparation course).
Preparation for marriage also includes practical elements that will help the couple in those “day-to-day aspects” of forming a new family. Family of origin, money matters, conflict resolution, intimacy and sexuality, and several more are important topics that will help the couple deal with important issues that we often forget to talk about before and during marriage.
Therefore, how can we answer the question that many couples ask, “What’s the point of doing marriage preparation?” We understand that, because it is a sacrament and commitment for a lifetime that moves us to serve others, we need an appropriate period of preparation to be fully informed of what that entails. Also, the Church sees the time of immediate preparation (approximately six months before the wedding) as a time of discernment; a time to think and reflect on what the new life that a husband and wife are beginning together will look like.
Immediate preparation for marriage should include not only marriage preparation classes, but also a personal time of preparation. It is wise for each individual to take time alone to think and reflect on the important step that they are about to take. Take time to pray and talk with God about the future family about to be formed.
What’s the Point?
So, what’s the point of marriage preparation? The points include:
- Prepare yourself to serve your spouse
- Prepare yourself to serve the family
- Prepare yourself to serve the community
- Time to talk to God
- Time to think and reflect
It is our hope that this time of preparation for matrimony will be a joyful experience in your life and that, through this time, you learn to discover the beauty and wonder of the sacrament of marriage. Be blessed!