In June the Vatican Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life released new guidelines for marriage preparation, suggesting—among other things—that the normal period of formal preparation for marriage should be one year. The longer period of engagement, the Vatican explained, would encourage the practice of chastity.
Am I missing something? Take two healthy young people who are in love, anxious to fulfill that love and begin their life together. Now tell them that they’ll have to wait a year. Yes, they might practice chastity, and gain much grace in the practice. But let’s face it: there is another option. The 97-page Vatican document makes the argument for chastity, but the arguments for unchastity are coursing through the bloodstreams of ardent young couples. Is it wise, is it prudent, is it pastoral to say that—as a blanket policy, applied to every couple—they must wait?
(Just by the way, there are some good people who find love late in life. Isn’t in uncharitable to tell an older couple that they must wait a year—when they might not have many years left?)
Faced with that one-year waiting period, some couples will remain chaste. (Those couples, I suspect, will be those who are least in need of extra marriage preparation, because they have already formed habits of virtue and already gained a reverence for the sacramental bond.) Other couples will aim for chastity, perhaps with the best of intentions, but fail, because the natural drives—not merely for sex, but for healthy human love—are strong.
Still other couples will nod their heads when the priest (or other marriage-prep counselor; see below) advise them to practice continence before marriage—and then go home to the apartments where they are already living together, having set up joint housekeeping long ago. For them too, the year-long wait will produce no dividends; it is simply a paperwork requirement. So as a practical matter the longer wait does not promote chastity; it merely adds hypocrisy to the indictment.
But again there is another option. The young couple, ready and anxious to marry, visit their pastor to tell him their plan. He announces that they must wait at least a year. They don’t want to wait; they are deeply in love. So they walk down the street to the Protestant church, or to the justice of the peace, and begin their life together without the grace of the sacrament….
The above comes from a July 21 posting by Phil Lawler on Catholic Culture.org.
My wife, MaryTherese, and I provided marriage prep for a number of couples years ago. The six-month preparation period is (in almost all cases) adequate. I hope the Vatican “guidelines” are not imposed around the world. With all the talk of decentralization and synodality, it seems bishops, who know their “flocks” better than Vatican officials, should determine what’s appropriate for their people. And, chastity is only one of the relevant issues. There are other reasons for not mandating a year as well. May God bless all women and men preparing for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
A suggestion is just that…
A Vatican “guideline” is more than a suggestion. It’s not merely a Vatican suggestion. And, Cardinal Farrell says, “The concern of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life is to transmit to bishops, family pastoral workers and formators, the Holy Father’s invitation to seriously rethink marriage preparation.” When the Pope repeatedly “invites” others to rethink something, it is an issue that must be seriously considered and dealt with (even if it’s not imposed and ultimately adopted). I agree that marriage preparation needs to be rethought and improved, starting with the evangelization of our young adults and a willingness to be counter-cultural, but that doesn’t necessarily mean six months more time (which is likely not enough for disciples to be formed).
When I was married in the Church, we had a few sessions with the priest who was gong to marry us and 6 classes of Pre-Cana Conferences (most of which my fiancé skipped because he had tests the next day). I took it seriously. He didn’t care. (People didn’t talk about red flags back then.)
I always wondered why the Church took the Sacrament of Holy Orders so seriously and did not spend as much time preparing people for the Sacrament of Matrimony.
A comment is just that…
Too babyish! Good, devout Catholic couples, as well as many others, have waited for their Big Day, and have happily obeyed our Judeo-Christian teachings of Chastity! They could not respect themselves, committing mortal sin, before God, ruining their once-in-a-lifetime event! Plus, the shame brought upon their families– especially, a pregnant Bride!– would be unbearable! The reasons couples may have to wait to marry, include: finishing high school/college/grad school, work schedules, working to save money, military assignments, working around schedules of family members and all in the Wedding Party, working around church schedules, and working around COVID restrictions. Etc. A few years ago, I knew a young, devout Catholic engaged couple, and the Bride, her mother, and Bridesmaids, all wanted to go on diets, to fit into their desired Wedding clothes, and they decided to give all the ladies almost a year, for all to reach their goal weights, for the Big Day, at a beautiful old New England Catholic church! So worth it! The photos and films are a treasure!
It is a secular rule that you should wait a year-usually because of the way the wedding dress industry operates and because reception venues are booked way in advance.
I think that usually, six months of Marriage Prep should be enough. However, True Love always waits– forever, if necessary! All kids should grow up learning to practice Chastity, and all virtues. A marriage is bound to fail, without the practice of selfless virtue! Plus, young people must be strong and committed, faithful in their Marriage Vows, lifelong! Marriage is for grown-ups, mature and strong in virtue. Immature relationships focused on sex and selfishness will easily collapse.
My husband and I were also involved in the marriage preparation program in our parish for several years and guided about 15 couples through the program. We thought the program materials were actually quite good in helping the engaged couples determine if they were ready for marriage. Two of the couples in the program decided they were not well suited for one another and as a result called off their engagement. After learning about Natural Family Planning and Humane Vitae several of the couples decided to discontinue their use of contraceptives. All of this is to say in our experience, six months is usually sufficient time for the couple to get prepared for their marriage. If more time is needed, the couple could always set their wedding date out beyond six months from the date of their engagement.
Maybe there should be a pre-qualifying program that singles could go through before they are engaged, like you do with a bank for an auto loan or a mortgage. Once you’re pre-qualified for marriage, then you can be fast-tracked for marriage when you become engaged.
It’s also ridiculous that many dioceses have a two-year preparation requirement for teens to get confirmed.
Talking to young people today about chastity is like talking to the wall. Since elementary school, they have been encouraged to “do it.”
No, in good Catholic families, parents shield their young from bad influences of the Death Culture, and teach them to love and serve Our Lord and Our Lady, and become good, practicing Catholics. They all practice the Catholic Faith together, at home, in a strong, Domestic Church. Good, devout Catholic parents send their kids to faithful, orthodox Catholic schools, or else homeschool them. Many future priests and nuns come from devout, faithful, strong Catholic families. Many Catholic kids also are taught to help their parents in Pro Life work, and become Cathollc Pro Life workers, themselves, when they grow up. They are all on the front lines, praying and combating promiscuity and abortion. About 63 million unborn children have been murdered, since Roe vs. Wade, in 1973. And countless souls have been lost to Satan, in the Death Culture.
I’ve seen families such as you described where the kids, all nine of them, abandoned the faith because they were so repressed at home and the parents were overbearing.
I am not describing a Catholic home in which parents are abusive. I am describing an authentic, loving, responsible Catholic home, in which the parents truly work hard to establish a “Domestic Church” in the home, and teach their children all about the Catholic Faith– and try to live it. They attend Mass regularly together, help prepare their children for the Sacraments, teach their children prayers, say the Rosary together, say prayers before meals, teach their kids how to love and respect others, how to resolve differences, how to share with neighbors and help others, help the poor and disadvantaged, are active in Pro Life endeavors, are involved in their parish church and school– or homeschool, with other Catholic families. That is the way that all Catholic families should live. Many priests and nuns of today, come from these wonderful, devout Catholic homes.
I know families like this and they are sincere and their kids stay in the Faith but…they go through problems such as suicide and arrests and addictions and sexual sins just like everybody else.
So then why did the Son of God bother to become incarnate? All for nothing, I guess, in that case.
No, Jesus is waiting for each soul to hear His call, come to Him, change their life, and follow Him! Drenched with sin, it is very hard for a soul to hear His call. It is by grace that we are blessed to hear His call, and to follow Him. We have to keep praying for those drenched in sin, and pray for God to help them. And pray for God’s grace to end the Culture of Death, and to establish the Culture of Life, and God’s kingdom, on earth. With God, all things are possible. But we must work hard, and pray hard.
Actually, this generation is the most “chaste” in a long time. It could be social media.
Because they might sin before marriage is no good reason to hurry up the marriage.
The old song, “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you” is a much better reason to wait a year. We need to see how we each behave in various circumstances and whether such behavior gives us reason to trust the other more.
And one question among many is important: Can you see yourself at age 85, still with me, looking over the life we shared? Pay attention to the answer. Character and commitment matter in a good marriage. We’ll be married 58 years next week.
You write as if the engaged couple hasn’t already been dating for 2 or 3 or 5 or 7 years. People don’t get to know each other in marriage prep. They already know each other well enough to have gotten engaged at that point. After two years or more of dating, a one-year marriage prep requirement is burdensome. It’s not an arranged marriage between strangers.
What you say is so true! I recall, many long years ago, several priests of our parish advising young people to “get to know each other” really well, and take maybe 2 or 3 years– to get to really know your potential spouse’s personality, character, and habits of life, etc., and watch how they respond, in various situations. All so true! You are going to live your married life with that “special someone,” for an entire lifetime! Not all romances are going to be right, for Marriage. You have to pray to God, and discern what He wants, for you and the person you love.
Six months is enough…… more is better, but not always possible.
This is a burdensome requirement. I believe one year could be recommended, but as a requirement it is burdensome. We should improve our remote preparation for marriage, and support for young adult Catholics, and then six months minimum is more than adeaquate to complete approrpiate proximal preparation.
If you want to get married in the TLM you have to wait your whole life now.
Too bad so sad!
I agree that many engaged parties are preparing for the wedding at least one year ahead of the date due to reserving the church, renting venues, getting caterers, etc. So one year of prep for the marriage shouldn’t be too long, but I agree 6 months of active prep is more than sufficient. That does not mean 2-3 mtgs w/ the priest and a weekend engaged encounter that seems to suffice in many diocese. It is the content of the prep and the participation that is important. Too many couples walk into the Church to marry having no idea how their future spouse truly thinks about important issues in a marriage.