| By Father Joseph Krupp

Why does the Church require nine months preparation before marriage?

Dear Fr. Joe: Why does the church require nine months preparation before marriage? If couples feel they are ready, why is the church making them wait?

Great question! Let’s take a look at a couple of ideas that will help in answering your question.

First of all, like priesthood, marriage is a vocation. Training for a priestly vocation is an eight to 10 year process. We study the meaning of the priesthood; we practice different elements of the priesthood; and, we take time for prayer and discernment so that we can keep ourselves centered in Jesus Christ and his church as good spiritual leaders. It’s a long and difficult process that helped me tremendously, despite all evidence to the contrary.

When we look at the state of marriage in our country, can we honestly say that more preparation isn’t necessary? We give hours of our day, days of our week, weeks of our month and years to television and the ideas about marriage that are presented to us there. We have been so “catechized” by the TV that nine months of exposure to Catholic catechesis seems nowhere near enough.

You see, getting married in the Catholic Church is not to be done lightly. The church has a vision for marriage and family. By marrying in the church we are saying we want to be a part of that vision. So, in the nine months of preparation, engaged couples learn about that vision – the vocational aspect of marriage. It is in this preparation that we ensure the couple agrees with that vision (at least in principle) and are willing to live it as best they can with the help of God. Again, much the same as I did in my preparation for priesthood.

One of the best examples of this vision is the church’s teaching on the life-giving aspect of marriage. Most couples that I have met with do not understand why the church has such a “problem” with artificial birth control. They have heard of Natural Family Planning (NFP) only through critical and mocking references in the media. Marriage preparation allows the couple a chance to be exposed to the beauty of the church’s teaching. The testimony of many couples who practice NFP was enough to convince me that it can be an incredible, life-changing experience. If a couple is hustled through marriage preparation, they may miss this amazing teaching.

And, frankly, a couple that feels they are ready for marriage may be wrong. How many times in your own life have you been sure you were right about something, only to discover you were not? Now, that never happens to me, but I have heard about it from people who come to talk to me. A marriage preparation program may help a couple determine whether they are ready or not.

Next question!

Dear Fr. Joe: Why should I go to a priest to talk about marriage when a priest doesn’t have any experience in marriage?

Not too long ago, I was reading an article in the Detroit Free Press. In it, a married man wrote an article about the priesthood. He had several thoughts about what priests should be, and he challenged the celibacy of priesthood. At one point, he asked, “How can a celibate man tell my wife and me anything about marriage?” Is there an irony here?

I learned much about my priesthood in the seminary. I have also learned about my priesthood from the thoughts, ideas and support of the larger Catholic community including married couples, single folks, and other religious.

The reality is, we all have gifts of wisdom from two sources: experience and observation. Which one can a priest offer? Both. You see, despite the fervent expressions of denial on my parents’ part, I was raised in a home with a mother and father, some sisters and brothers, etc. I saw and experienced many elements of married and family life. Also, in the seminary I was taught many ideas on how to help couples that have proven effective in my time at parishes. From observation and experience, I have some idea of what works and what doesn’t. And I am happy to share that with couples who ask.

By immersing themselves in the wisdom of the church, engaged couples will find that they are better prepared for marriage psychologically, spiritually and emotionally. Couples want their marriages to succeed, right? Why not enter into it as strong as possible?

Once a couple is married, please remember the church. We are here for you – please come to us when you need help. We all get by with a little help from our friends.

Enjoy another day in God’s presence!