Clergy and laypeople will collaborate to help engaged couples throughout the Jefferson City diocese prepare for sacramental marriage, under a new diocesan policy.
The policy, which will become mandatory in all parishes July 1, is designed to bring uniformity to marriage preparation and lead couples toward happy, holy marriages and strong Catholic families.
“It’s really the best of both worlds,” said Father Francis Doyle, the diocesan moderator for marriage ministry.
Priests and/or deacons in each parish will collaborate with specially trained Marriage Preparation Facilitators.
These typically will be couples in strong marriages who have what it takes to help engaged couples reach the same goal.
Through this collaboration, engaged couples will enter the Sacrament of Marriage with the best preparation possible.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight has instructed pastors throughout the diocese to identify Marriage Preparation Facilitators for each parish.
They typically will be Catholic couples who are married in the Church, have healthy marriages and are practicing their faith.
Single or widowed Catholics who have experience and gifts for working with couples or have special qualifications, such as counseling experience, may also serve with the pastor’s consent.
All clergy of the diocese and the laypeople who will collaborate with them as Marriage Preparation Facilitators are required to participate in a diocesan training session this spring.
The training for laypeople will take about six hours and will be offered in English and Spanish.
It will be offered simultaneously in person and online over Zoom.
It will provide the information and resources needed to properly and effectively implement the formation for engaged couples, as described in the diocesan Marriage Preparation Policy.
Deacon Enrique Castro, diocesan director of marriage and intercultural ministries, and Deacon Burdett Wilson, the diocese’s parish outreach coordinator for marriage preparation, are organizing the sessions.
The right questions
Fr. Doyle noted that until now, there has not really been a standardized protocol for marriage preparation for the diocese.
Bishop McKnight created a diocesan Office of Marriage Ministry two years ago to support the existing marriage preparation and marriage enrichment programs.
He appointed Father Anthony Viviano to serve as moderator, Deacon Castro to serve as director, and several other deacons and their wives to coordinate various aspects of marriage ministry.
Last summer, Fr. Doyle succeeded Fr. Viviano.
A survey was sent to priests, deacons, parish religious education directors, and representatives of Engaged Encounter, Marriage Encounter, people who help with marriage preparation, and several models of Natural Family Planning (NFP) in the diocese.
The goal was to find out what’s already taking place for marriage preparation and what should be included in a diocesan policy on the subject.
The surveys revealed that parishes are having couples who are preparing for marriage take some sort of pre-marriage inventory, talk about their answers with a priest or deacon, attend a communal/instruction experience, and learn about NFP.
“The issue was, some parishes were doing one or two of these things, but not all of them,” said Fr. Doyle. “There really was no standard from parish to parish.”
That’s a problem, because the Church wants every couple who’s seeking marriage to have the best, most complete preparation possible.
Several people who answered the survey noted that people preparing for Priesthood, the diaconate or religious life, or even for some of the other sacraments, usually receive extensive preparation.
But some couples preparing for a lifelong union in the Sacrament of Marriage were receiving little or none.
“The same page”
Bishop McKnight, Fr. Doyle, Deacon Castro and several other advisors set about formulating a standard policy for people seeking marriage in all parishes.
“That way, we know we’re all on the same page and that we’re supporting each other in this effort,” Fr. Doyle stated.
Bishop McKnight was adamant that laypeople, especially married couples, should be involved in the process.
“Who knows more about marriage than married people?” Fr. Doyle stated.
Deacons and priests can help address the spiritual and theological aspects of marriage, which are very important, while married couples or single people with experience or special credentials such as a degree in counseling can help with the practical aspects of being married.
“It shouldn’t be either/or,” Fr. Doyle stated. “You want the perspective of the Church’s proper teaching on marriage and the history of marriage, but also people who experience marriage — married couples.”
This fits very well into the philosophy of a parish being run as a community.
“It makes sense for the priest to want help and cooperation with sacramental preparation,” he said, “because there are people who can bring things to the preparation that we cannot, such as the experience of being married.”
“Worth the effort”
Fr. Doyle is convinced that the diocesan policy calls for reasonable, constructive preparation that doesn’t put an undue burden on couples.
He pointed out that these are more than rules or “hoops for people to jump through.”
“This is really about helping people lay the groundwork for happy, holy marriage,” he said. “It has a real benefit. It’s worth the effort.”
He said the very act of making time to prepare for marriage shows the future husband and wife that they are committed to building and maintaining a strong marriage.
“It should not be viewed as burdensome, but as a joy to want to work on and preserve something as beautiful as a marriage,” he said.
He said the main goal is to strengthen families and family life throughout the diocese.
“A family is the domestic Church,” he noted. “What’s more, it’s also a domestic society, because we’re not just trying to raise and form good Catholics, we’re trying to raise good members of society.”
Parents with solid marriages and a clear understanding of their roles as spouses and parents will help create a stronger Church and society, he said.
Companions on the journey
Marriage Preparation Facilitators will accompany the engaged couple through the entire process of preparing to enter the Sacrament of Marriage.
This will start with the standardized online portions of the program, including a new, interactive online inventory couples take together, leading to discussions about their beliefs and expectations about various aspects of marriage.
Facilitators who are married couples will also share insights from their own experiences living out their married vocation. Therefore, it is highly recommended for couples chosen to serve as Marriage Preparation Facilitators to have been married for at least five years.
All potential facilitators should also:
The pastor has the final say over who serves in this role in a parish.
Dialogue and accompaniment
The Marriage Preparation Facilitators will also help the couple evaluate which option for the communal/instruction phase of preparation would be best for them. The options include a program offered by the parish or recommended by the parish, an Engaged Encounter weekend or diocesan Pre-Cana conference, a recommended online marriage preparation program, or a retreat.
Couples seeking marriage in the Church must also learn about Natural Family Planning and attend an introductory session with NFP provider who is sanctioned by the diocese.
The facilitator will then meet with the priest or deacon who began the couple’s marriage preparation to help assess the couple’s progress in preparing for marriage.
The priest or deacon will then work with the couple to finalize their preparation and help them plan the wedding Liturgy.
Giving and receiving
The number of Marriage Preparation Facilitators needed for each parish will depend on the need, considering the number of sacramental marriages that take place there each year.
Fr. Doyle also believes these facilitators will find their own marriages and their own relationship with God being strengthened through helping others.
“It’s really about drawing all the talents and gifts of everyone in the parish and everyone in the Church,” he said.
“That’s how God made us,” the priest stated. “He gave us different gifts, and we have the opportunity to draw on all those gifts from one another.”
The new policy and related information can be found online at: