What's the use of marriage prep?

THE "TWO WALLIES," AS THEY CALLED THEMSELVES, WANTED TO SET A WEDDING DATE. Walter and Wallyce, both slight with thick silver hair and the same number of adult grandchildren, had lost their spouses, met, dated, and fell in love. They were both 75 when he proposed.

Now they wanted to prepare for their upcoming marriage. They had much history to blend into their new relationship, they said, and they wanted to get it right. The two Wallies obviously took their marriage preparation program seriously. The church does also, for two reasons.

First is our recent cultural history. Most couples have witnessed lifeless marriages or bitter breakups. They are wary about entering marriage and concerned about that forever in their vows—and the church certainly wants them to address that history and those concerns.

And second, the church wants to keep itself honest. It is being asked to witness the administration of a sacrament and can only do so when it has some assurance that the couple has a clear idea of the sacrament, is free to embrace it, and fully intends to do so.

Typically the marriage preparation consists of five or six sessions over several months (some may even extend to eight or nine). Three of these meetings are with the priest, deacon, or parish minister. In addition, a couple can usually choose from a variety of preparation programs, such as pre-Cana or an Engaged Encounter weekend. Couple-to-couple exchanges in the home of married couples are also becoming commonplace and valued experiences.

Couples are encouraged to talk about children, church, creative listening, the difference between love and possession, and how they foster their respect for one another. Most important, they are reminded that when they exchange their vows, they administer the sacrament of marriage to one another.

As they administer this sacrament, couples lead the Christian community into the world of the holy. They bring the Christian community face-to-face with a love that is just like its own—without conditions, without reservations—one that will endure so long as there is breath in each of their bodies.

God places these couples in our midst as a sacred sign and revelation of the love that God has for them, and for all of us. They reveal to one another and the Christian community that divine love described so vividly in the sensuous, erotic verses of the Song of Songs.

God’s Spirit will always be with them, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. The Spirit will help them aspire to a love that is patient and kind—never rude or selfish—a love that believes all, hopes all, trusts all. In a word, a love that goes on forever.

Father George Dyer is founding editor of Chicago Studies and writer and editor of Androgogy, The Three-Minute Theologian, and Catholic Educator.

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