Busted Halo
feature: sex & relationships
June 25th, 2013

Wedding Bells and Church Bells

Getting married is the right time to check back in with your faith -- and make sure you and your spouse will be on the same page


weddingbells-4We thought we were just checking the box of official requirements for a Catholic wedding ceremony. And looking around the room at the 52 other couples, it was obvious many of them did too.

We were all undergoing what priests call “Pre-Cana,” some kind of mandatory workshop on preparing for marriage. My fiancé and I didn’t know exactly what that entailed; but we knew this one took a single Saturday, while others spanned multiple weeks or at least a weekend. So with three months to go before our wedding, here we were.

From 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., we dug into the nitty-gritty of married life: managing our expectations for finances, children, chores and the inevitable disagreements. We were given organizational tools ranging from worksheets to checklists to red and green slips.

The slips were especially interesting. We couples would stand with our backs to each other, and the leader would ask questions. We’d raise our red and green slips to show our agreement or disagreement. Then we’d turn around to face each other and see if our slips matched on issues like whether we’d occasionally have a drink at day’s end, or whether we expected to get along well with our in-laws.

Faith and marriage

A lot of us coast — or outright struggle — through our twenties on the religion front. Long brunches, sports training or just sleeping in fill Sunday mornings that used to be taken up by church when we were kids. I’d allowed activities both active and lazy to take me away from Mass on many a weekend, too.

Suddenly I realized: This is a moment for committing not just to another person, but to our faith as well.

All of this was extremely practical and useful.

But there were certain questions that were never directly asked. Questions about our beliefs — and the practice of them. Like is attending Mass important to us — and how often? Are our future spouses on the same page? What about when we have kids? Would we want them to grow up attending church, going to catechism classes, or even attending Catholic school?

Faith-wise, what would we want to do for holidays? Not to mention facing the deserts of life — illnesses, job losses or deaths in the family. Would turning to God figure into how we coped with such painful blows?

A lot of us coast — or outright struggle — through our twenties on the religion front. Long brunches, sports training or just sleeping in fill Sunday mornings that used to be taken up by church when we were kids. I’d allowed activities both active and lazy to take me away from Mass on many a weekend, too.

Suddenly I realized: This is a moment for committing not just to another person, but to our faith as well. Wedding time is the ideal time to think about what aspects of our faith we might want to revive, or pass down to our own children.

For instance, it struck me that if we don’t currently say grace before meals at home with our future spouses because it seems too formal, it might be the moment to break through that awkward feeling and establish a habit we’d like our family to have down the line.

If just reciting the standard “Bless us O Lord” seems too rote or old-fashioned, as it did for us, we realized we could add our own line at the end, or just pause for a moment in case we wanted to add other special thoughts or intentions.

Checked in again

The church leaders were smart to make the Pre-Cana class mandatory. We were actually glad it was required! And they didn’t shove religion down our throats. They let faith become the question we asked ourselves — and each other.

After our daylong course, we had a Mass. (In another canny move, church officials designed the program so that completion certificates were given out immediately after the service, so everyone had to stay for it.)

I noticed one couple that didn’t seem to have been to church in a while. They were silent at first. Eventually he, and then she, started giving the spoken responses. By the end they were both singing. Clearly, they’d checked in again with their faith — and that’s one major thing marriage preparation is all about.

The Author : Lynn Freehill-Maye
A freelance travel and lifestyle writer, Lynn likes to explore her faith through journeys — both far away and close to home. She's lived and worked in the Midwest, Southwest, Northeast, Europe, Africa, Central and South America, and now upstate New York.
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  • Fr Henry

    I hope most of us begin with a contact and meeting in the parish. There are a huge variety of pre-cana programs and prayerfully a pastoral clergyman will tailor the sessions to the couple and their place in the faith journey. Peace!

    • Ginny Hall

      What I keep hearing is that pastors insist on attendance in NFP classes as part of pre-Cana, even though the couple is clearly past childbearing age. Granted, Sarah was 90 when she conceived, but why does that have to mean that all post-menopausal women must attend? Forgive me if I sound like I’m trying to “get out of something,” I’m not. It’s just that I don’t understand the reasoning behind making an older couple attend NFP classes before marriage.

      • Fr Henry

        Dear Ginny:…That’s the point I was trying to make. Happily not all clergy give the same advice. We usually say: Only the pope is infallible, sometimes!~ yes you’ll find a variety of pre-marriage advice…So if a priest is pastorally rooted, the programs can and should be tailored to the couple’s needs. Peace!

  • Ginny Hall

    Congratulations and thanks for making me think. I’m not engaged, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t be where you are someday. The thing is, I’m middle-aged. I’ve talked to other middle-aged Catholics who took the mandatory pre-Cana classes, and the one consistent theme is the intense discomfort they felt when it came to issues of bearing/raising children and NFP. The universal attitude was that when the topic was discussed, they all feel as if there is a huge neon sign above them garishly flashing the word “OLD!” I understand the importance of both for couples of childbearing age, but what about those of us seeking matrimony whose child-bearing years are behind us? This is something that needs to be brought to attention of bishops and pastors.

    • Sam Porter

      Hi Ginny,
      You may want to check in your area to see if there are any one on one programs. When my wife and myself were working with couples we would tailor the program based on the needs of the couple we were coaching.

  • Andy Otto

    Thanks for this. I’ll be attending a pre-Cana at some point as well probably this fall. I’m surprised they never asked questions about your beliefs and those other things. Do you think it should have been asked? Perhaps those questions did not come up for other couples later as it did for you.

  • http://randomactsofmomness.com/ Ginny Kubitz Moyer

    Thanks for this article. It brought back fond memories of our own pre-Cana experience (ours was a whole weekend, so it did incorporate a lot about faith, which was useful). In general, I think the whole pre-Cana idea is a great way to remember that it’s not just about preparing for a wedding, but about preparing for a marriage.

    Also, it’s a kick to look back at our notes from the weekend. Our ideal division of chores, with my husband doing half of the cooking? Yeah, THAT really happened. :) But eleven years and two kids later, there is a lot that we discussed back then that was right on target.

    And congratulations on your upcoming marriage!

    • http://catchthatkid.com/ FatherTuckerThechildfcker

      Leave your husband and move in with me

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