Preparing for Marriage
In general, these are the major stepping stones in a couple’s preparation for marriage in the Diocese of Richmond. In order to allow enough time to accomplish everything that is needed, a couple should begin the preparation process at least 6-9 months prior to their ideal wedding date.
- Step 1: Initial meeting with the priest or deacon
- Step 2: The couple meets with the priest or deacon to discuss the premarital inventory, and all documentation for the marriage file is finalized
- Step 3: The couple begins a marriage preparation program approved by the diocese
- Step 4: The couple meets with the priest or deacon for the final time
- Step 5: The wedding rehearsal and wedding
STEP 1: Initial meeting with the priest or deacon
The priest who will witness the marriage will meet to develop a relationship with the bride and groom, if he does not already know them. If the priest has delegated this role to an ordained deacon in his parish, then the deacon will oversee the process. In this initial meeting, the priest or deacon will introduce the couple to the whole marriage preparation process using the “Preparing for Marriage” brochure provided by the Center for Marriage, Family, and Life. At the conclusion of this meeting or in a follow-up meeting, the priest or deacon will complete the Prenuptial Investigation to determine if there are any potential impediments to the marriage (this involves individual interviews with both the bride and the groom).
Overall, people invest many years and resources into preparing for their professional career. By comparison, the Church reasonably asks that a couple devote a period of time to formation for marriage. To ensure an adequate period of time for marriage formation, it is strongly recommended that the preparation begin six to nine months before the anticipated date of the wedding.
However, this time of immediate formation is not a waiting period to be imposed arbitrarily or without consideration of the circumstances. The priest or deacon will take into account a couple’s cultural background and family situation in determining how much time is necessary for marriage preparation.
In some instances, the period of immediate formation for marriage may either be more or less than the recommended six to nine months. In any case, the priest or deacon should schedule at least three meetings with the couple.
It is recommended that no firm date for a wedding be set until the end of the couple’s first meeting with the priest or deacon. Ideally, the priest or deacon who will witness the marriage should assist the couple in selecting the wedding date. Nonetheless, if a couple has already selected a date for the wedding, that should not inhibit them from beginning the marriage formation process.
STEP 2: The couple meets with the priest or deacon to discuss the premarital inventory, and all documentation for the marriage file is finalized
Premarital Inventory: FOCCUS or Prepare-Enrich
The preferred premarital inventory used in the Diocese of Richmond is Prepare-Enrich. Clergy trained in FOCCUS who prefer to use that tool may continue to do so; however, ongoing training will only be provided for Prepare-Enrich. The pastor will either administer the inventory and facilitate the 3-4 follow up meetings with the couple himself, or he may delegate that responsibility to an ordained deacon or a trained married couple.
Typically, to get the full benefit of these inventories for the couple’s relationship, there should be a minimum of three follow-up meetings after the couple has taken the inventory. This series of meetings provides an excellent opportunity for the facilitator to help the bride and groom assess their readiness for marriage, and to discuss aspects of their relationship that need improving. If necessary, additional meetings or adaptations may be appropriate depending on the needs of the couple (e.g., the inventory needs to be taken orally, significant issues arise that require meetings beyond the ordinary scope of the inventory, etc.).
The premarital inventory is not a test or a predictor of marital success. Rather, it is a means by which the couple can explore its strengths and weaknesses in the various areas of married life. This tool is best used early in the preparation process, since it will enhance the couple’s experiences in subsequent steps. By ascertaining the couple’s strengths and weaknesses, the premarital inventory can encourage the bride and groom to improve their relationship during the period of preparation, so that their marriage will be even stronger. A couple is free to take a premarital inventory even before being engaged.
The results offer a snapshot of particular attitudes of the couple at the time the inventory was taken and are never included in the couple’s marriage file. Results are destroyed once the couple is married.
STEP 3: The couple begins a marriage preparation program approved by the diocese
When a couple reaches the point in their marriage preparation when they are ready to begin a formal preparation session, there are two main options available to them in the Diocese of Richmond.
Option #1: Couple is prepared one-on-one by the priest or deacon
The couple may always be prepared by a priest or deacon one-on-one in their local parish. This preparation is to be done one-on-one, but not in a group setting in the parish or region by clergy or the laity.
Option #2: Couple participates in a marriage preparation program approved by the diocese
To ensure consistency in marriage preparation, there are currently two programs that the diocese approves. Any other programs that may have been active in the diocese, parishes, or LPAs no longer fulfill this step.
- UNVEILED is the Diocesan of Richmond’s Marriage Preparation program. Couples attend a one-day, 12-hour Saturday session that blends video-based content with the testimony of married couples. The program is focused on presenting the Catholic vision of married love in a way that allows each couples to process the material and have discussions throughout the day.
- ENGAGED ENCOUNTER is the Diocese of Richmond’s Marriage Preparation retreat option. The program allows couples to spend a weekend together to focus more deeply on their relationship and communication as they prepare for marriage.
For couples unable to be prepared using any of these methods (for instance, where there is a language barrier, military service interruptions, significant geographic distance between the bride and groom, or some other special circumstance), please contact the Center for Marriage, Family, and Life directly for further assistance and other available alternatives.
STEP 4: The couple meets with the priest or deacon for the final time
Insofar as is possible, this meeting should take place early enough that the couple will have at least one month to focus on their upcoming wedding with the peace of mind knowing that everything has been arranged. It is also a good time to address any questions the couple may have from their marriage preparation program, premarital inventory, or natural family planning class. If needed, time can be devoted to more specific planning of the wedding liturgy.
STEP 5: The wedding rehearsal and wedding
The priest, deacon, and/or members of the marriage preparation team (if applicable) will generally lead this rehearsal. There are three key people involved in planning the wedding (regardless of whether the marriage will be celebrated within Mass or outside of Mass): (1) the bride, (2) the groom, and (3) the celebrant. Couples are encouraged to take an active role in planning their wedding. Parents, other family members, or friends may have a part to play, but it is not recommended that they plan the liturgy. Planning the wedding is an opportunity for the bride and groom to express their faith.