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What to Expect
Below you’ll find information about key components of the marriage formation process in the Diocese of Manchester. If you have questions about any of what follows, you may contact your pastor/officiant, his staff, or your local Catholic parish.
Contact Your Pastor/Officiant
Ideally, you’ll inform your “home” parish of your intention to marry in the Catholic Church very soon after you get engaged. You’ll speak with someone from the parish office and likely set up a time to meet with your pastor/officiant. If you’re not registered in your local parish, now is a great time to do so. You can find a listing of all Catholic parishes in New Hampshire here.
Did you book your reception venue and “set the date” before contacting your parish? That's something that can be worked through, but it’s even more important that you be in touch with your parish as soon as possible. That way, you can begin the sometimes-challenging process of coordinating the date and reception location you’ve chosen with the necessary marriage formation and wedding details.
Making time to pray, individually and as a couple, is a vital piece of the marriage formation process. Prayer opens our hearts to God’s plan for our lives and helps us to be the persons God wants us to be. If you already have a regular prayer routine, consider adding particular prayers for your spouse-to-be and your future marriage. If prayer is newer to you, now is a great time to get intentional about it. It doesn’t have to be complicated – every little bit counts! Of course, attending Mass together is a beautiful way to simultaneously grow closer to God and one another. CLICK HERE for other prayer ideas for engaged couples.
The “prenuptial inquiry” is a thorough and personal questionnaire that seeks to assess basic readiness and eligibility to marry in the Catholic Church. You can expect to complete this questionnaire in-person with your pastor/officiant, apart from your fiancée/fiancé. Honesty is extremely important. Prepare for this step by obtaining sacramental records, for baptism and confirmation, along with address and contact information for the parish in which you received these sacraments. The religion of your parents, your thoughts and intentions related to the fundamental aspects of Catholic marriage, and whether you’ve been married before are all things that will come up during this step.
With the assistance of a facilitator, FOCCUS helps you and your spouse-to-be address key issues as you prepare for Catholic marriage. The FOCCUS inventory allows the marriage formation team at your parish to get to know you better, and it gives them resources to tailor important conversations to your particular relational and spiritual situation as a couple. Depending on your parish’s preference, the FOCCUS inventory is taken online or in- person. It is designed to be completed thoughtfully and independently.
To get a sense of what FOCCUS is like, you can take a similar inventory by Dynamic Catholic.
You may have heard about “pre-Cana” or “marriage prep.” These names typically refer to a program, class, or set of classes that convey information about Catholic marriage to engaged couples.
The Diocese of Manchester offers group sessions, in-person and remotely, to assist engaged couples to prepare well for Catholic marriage and family life.
As part of the marriage formation process, you may be asked to attend a diocesan course, you may work directly with your pastor/officiant, or he may recommend another resource depending on your particular circumstances. Speak with your pastor/officiant to register and/or gain more information about this step.
There is a temptation to think that once you have completed a diocesan marriage formation course or a “marriage prep program” that you are “ready.” It’s important to remember that no one is ever finished preparing for marriage. Marriage is not a day; marriage is a lifetime.
Formational experiences are just brief moments of a continual process of marriage formation which span a couple’s lives together.
Meeting(s) with Mentor Couple(s)
One of the best ways to prepare for Catholic marriage is to turn to, and spend time with, Catholic married couples. There may be a system in place at your parish for connecting you with a faith-filled married couple. If not, is there a Catholic couple that you and your spouse-to-be admire? Ask that couple if they would be willing to mentor you or just to meet to share from their experiences. It’s amazing what the witness and wisdom of Catholic families can do for your relationship!
Natural Family Planning Training
Natural Family Planning is just what it sounds like: a 100% natural way for spouses to plan the size of their family. These are extremely effective methods for achieving, or temporarily avoiding, pregnancy, depending on a couple’s situation and intent. All engaged couples are expected to receive instruction in Natural Family Planning before marrying.
There are various methods of Natural Family Planning. To find an instructor and to learn more, visit www.Catholicnh.org/NFP.
Preparing for the Wedding Liturgy
Typically in the weeks leading up to the wedding day, you will meet with your pastor/officiant to go over the wedding liturgy, to pick the readings, prayers, and music. Just before the wedding, there will be a rehearsal to be sure that everyone involved in the ceremony has a sense for how it will proceed.
The Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation (for Catholics)
Marriage formation is a process of bringing various facets of one’s life into a greater state of order: your relationship, your plans for the future, your finances, etc. Most importantly, engaged couples should seek to bring their spiritual lives into greater order. Seeking spiritual healing helps clear away unhealthy attachments and baggage that may keep you from receiving the graces God has in store for your wedding day and beyond. The best way to do this (for Catholics) is to prepare for and participate in the Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation (“Confession”). Through this important healing sacrament, Jesus forgives us of our sins – great and small – and provides us with the divine assistance to avoid sin moving forward.
Reviewing an “examination of conscience” can help identify areas of life that may need to be addressed. CLICK HERE for a few examples of an examination of conscience.
To find “Confession” times near you, visit the church directory page and use the “Search for Reconciliation” feature.
Wedding celebrations and their duration will vary according to location and the details of the ceremony, but all Catholic weddings will be celebrated according to The Order of Celebrating Matrimony. The wedding day is bound to be one of the most memorable of your life. Remember, as wonderful as it may be, it is just a moment of your lives together. The wedding day is only the threshold of your lifelong union in Christ.
Ongoing Marriage Formation
All the things mentioned above are meant to carry you and your spouse-to-be beyond the threshold of the wedding day, not simply get you to it. That’s why we’ve intentionally moved away from words like “preparation,” “pre-cana,” and “marriage prep,” which call to mind things with a clear beginning and end. Marriage formation, on the other hand, begins in childhood and lasts as long as your marriage – a lifetime!
So, once the party is over, remember that you’re never done growing your faith and your relationship. Look for ongoing faith formation and marriage enrichment opportunities in local parishes. Stay intentional and your marriage will greatly benefit.