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.