While lovers in the midst of a sweltering romance may be tempted to elope to Las Vegas and marry quickly, the Catholic Church insists that couples take their engagements seriously and invest the necessary time to appropriately prepare for their vows. The Church considers marriage a Sacrament and wants couples to be as ready as possible for a loving, lifelong commitment.
Indeed, the Church urges engaged couples to heed the adage that “Your wedding lasts a day, but your marriage lasts a lifetime.” The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that marriage preparation programs help couples develop a better understanding of the Sacrament; to evaluate and deepen their readiness to live married life; and gain insights into themselves as individuals and as a couple.
The Diocese of Orange requires couples to begin the process of preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage by first contacting their parish six months to one year prior to their wedding date. Upon approval from the priest or deacon responsible, they must attend one of several marriage preparation programs.
- A Marriage in The Lord is a 10-hour program presented in a large group setting or a small in-home experience, usually one night a week for four weeks.
- Engaged Encounter, offered nationally, is a 40-hour weekend experience presented by a team of married couples and a priest.
- God’s Plan for Love and Marriage is an eight-hour program offered at St. John the Baptist Church in Costa Mesa. This program is open to all engaged couples from any parish and occurs once a week for two hours for four weeks.
- To Trust Again is a 10-hour program offered at Holy Family Cathedral for couples entering marriage after one or both partners has experienced loss by death or after a Church annulment.
- Treasuring Your Marriage is offered twice annually at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach. There are four sessions.
“Engagement program leaders are aware of the modern issues affecting couples,” says Michael P. Donaldson, director of the Diocese’s Pastoral Care for Families in All Stages. “We cover pornography and its destruction of relationships, domestic violence, abuse and addiction and how destructive those can be. We use a premarital inventory to analyze where couples are at with certain issues so they can understand which areas they need to focus on.”
Georgeann Lovett and her husband Richard have been involved in preparing engaged couples for marriage for more than 20 years. “We cover tough topics,” she says. “If they haven’t dealt with issues – maybe they were promiscuous, had an abortion or were abused – it could carry over into their marriage and lead to problems.”
A Marriage in the Lord programs emphasize putting God first in marriage and the basics required to stay married, Lovett explains. The Lovetts have found that “people don’t talk about serious issues. They’re in the glow of being in love, thinking that love will conquer all.” As a result, when forced to discuss critical matters, some couples decide not to get married. Those who do proceed, she says, tell the Lovetts how meaningful the program is and how it changed their lives.
For its part, the Diocese is making marriage preparation an earlier part of people’s lives, Donaldson says, particularly in light of the 2014 Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which addressed the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.
As a first step, the Diocese is hosting its first marriage program, “Marriage and Family: An Image of God,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Huntington Beach. The free program will focus on the importance of the family in society, spousal love, communication and natural family planning. More information and registration is online at rcbo.org/events/marriage-and-family-an-image-of-god/ or by calling 714-282-4203.