Some engaged couples are quite indignant when their priest suggests to them – or even makes it a requirement – that they must enroll on a pre-marriage course. Why do they needs this before they book a wedding in his church?
Many couples live together for months or even years before formalising their union. What can they hope to gain from a pre-marriage course, that they don’t already know? Aren’t they virtually married already? Don’t they know from personal experience exactly what it takes to live in harmony, more or less?
The priest would answer that a pre-marriage course is not for imparting new information, or things that engaged couples don’t already know. It’s mainly about focussing their awareness on things they DO know, but still need to think about. It also clarifies the added meaning of a Catholic sacramental marriage. A typical marriage-course description would be: “to help you reflect on your relationship”, or “to confirm your readiness for this sacred commitment.”
Various pre-marriage courses are available in Ireland, by the Catholic Marriage Advisory Service Accord and others. All these courses get you thinking about good partnership and communication skills. It’s an area that need to be constantly honed, no matter how long a couple may have been living together. Surprisingly, many couples will admit at the end of our courses how it has raised useful questions, and given them insights to improve their prospects for staying together for the long haul.
Okay, you might say, it can be useful, maybe. But still, why should the priest insist on the couple doing a pre-marriage course? Isn’t this a matter for ourselves to decide, without any outside pressure? Well, maybe. The fact is that the Catholic Church lays great stress on the permanence of the marriage union. It sees marriage as a sacramental bond “what God has joined together”, and one that will last “till death do us part.”
The priest has the obligation under church law to ensure the couple have made “suitable preparation” for married life. Rather than have a series of meetings, he is generally happy to recommend any of the well-established pre-marriage courses. In the light of the high ideals of Catholic marriage, this does not seem too heavy a burden to impose.
And if, after attending a pre-marriage course, the couple come back and tell him that it was a very worthwhile experience, then so much the better. Deep down, his desire is to genuinely be of service to them and help them towards a happy future together.
Fr. Pat Rogers
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