(Editor’s note: The following is part of a year-long series highlighting the 15th anniversary of the Office of Marriage and Family Life.
COLORADO SPRINGS. A decree establishing diocesan-wide norms for marriage preparation and the sacrament of matrimony was promulgated by Bishop Michael Sheridan on Oct. 3, 2019, and those who work with engaged couples say that it is already having a positive impact on their ministry.
“When (the decree) came out, it made everything very clear,” said Deacon Bill Bollwerk, who has overseen marriage preparation at Our Lady of the Pines Parish since February 2019.
The decree lays out the exact steps that every couple who wants to marry in the Catholic Church must follow. The process begins with a meeting with the couple’s pastor 12 months before their anticipated wedding date.
“The 12-month preparation period is to give the couple adequate time to dive into the theology of marriage, to finish training in natural family planning, and to get to know each other better,” said Father Sean McCann, Vice Chancellor for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.
Once the couple has met with their pastor and he has determined that both parties are free to marry, they can begin the marriage preparation process.
A key component of the process is a FOCCUS pre-marital inventory — a series of questions that helps the couple identify any potential problems that could surface in the marriage.
“The goal of the inventory is to facilitate a conversation, to bring those things up that wouldn’t otherwise come to the fore,” Father McCann said.
“Some of the most common issues where couples differ include finances, communication and mixed marriages — disagreements about raising children in the Church,” he said. “Sometimes contraception and refusing to remain abstinent before marriage are also issues that come up.”
The results of the pre-marital inventory are usually reviewed by a deacon or mentor couple at the parish. If the results show that the couple is strongly incompatible or has other serious issues, those concerns should be relayed to the pastor. He may then suggest that they delay their marriage in order to address those issues, Father McCann said.
“The purpose it not to set up roadblocks to make their lives difficult. Our goal is to be able to help them be saints in their married lives and give them the tools to do that,” he said.
“The engaged couples are making the most important commitment of their lives, and they need provisions for the journey,” said Christian Meert, who directs the diocese’s Office of Marriage and Family Life along with his wife Christine. “It is our job to give them specific requirements so that they can live this awesome sacrament to the fullest.”
Deacon Bollwerk that at any given time there are roughly 20 engaged couples at Our Lady of the Pines, and there are six mentor couples at the parish that assist him in marriage preparation.
It’s a time-consuming endeavor, but one that engaged couples appreciate, he said.
“They understand that we’re doing this to help them; they’re very receptive,” Deacon Bollwerk said. “I haven’t had any couples who say, ‘I don’t want to do this.’”
Over time, the engaged couples form close bonds with the mentor couples, who commit to being available even after the wedding takes place, he said.
All engaged couples are also required to take a class in natural family planning (NFP) with trained instructors as part of their marriage preparation, according to the decree. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has published a list of approved NFP programs from which couples can choose. The diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry also facilitates in-person Spanish-language NFP classes twice a year at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
Another step in the marriage preparation process is the Engaged Encounter Weekend or similar program.
Once those steps are completed, the couple has a final meeting with the pastor or deacon at least a month before the wedding date. At that time, the clergy member ensures that all the necessary forms have been submitted and also goes over the liturgical details of the wedding, such as readings, music, etc.
For more information, including the complete text of the decree on matrimony, visit www.diocs.org/Offices/Office-of-the-Chancellor.