CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
A bride and groom getting married in the Catholic Church know their wedding is more than the perfect dress, expertly staged photos and embossed vellum invitations. For baptized Christians, marriage is a sacrament, and for all couples getting married in the Catholic Church, the wedding is a profound expression of God’s love and a witness to the couple’s faith.
Couples want a beautiful and memorable wedding, but even more important is having a joy-filled, solid marriage that can withstand the tests of time.
Once a couple connects with the parish where they will be getting married, they are invited to the parish process for marriage preparation, which includes their participation in one Archdiocese of Milwaukee marriage program.
According to Emily Burds, associate director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life, engaged couples can participate in either day-long or weekend experiences that will offer the opportunity to encounter dynamic married couples that will share about the meaning of marriage, praying as a couple, the gift of sexuality and offer tips for a healthy marriage.
“Our Marriage Preparation Conferences take place once a month on Saturdays at various locations throughout the archdiocese. We travel around as a team of married couples for the day-long conference,” she said. “We also have Marriage Preparation Days that are hosted and planned by several parishes and include large group presentations and time to interact between couples. Another option is the Catholic Engaged Encounter weekends, which are run twice a year and give couples time to talk honestly with other engaged couples. I have a wonderful older couple that runs the weekend programs and they really enjoy hanging out with the young people.”
In the past several months, the Marriage Preparation Conference has had a bit of a facelift as Burds wants it to be more relaxing and retreat-like for the participants. Through offering joyful, vibrant, relatable experiences, she explained millennials are more engaged with the new program model that launched in January.
“We re-envisioned how we communicate with them and try to deliver content in a fresh way; we are also focusing on having good coffee, good food and a good atmosphere,” she said. “We utilize visuals such as emails, watching some content on screens and are working on how to deliver content throughout the day, and use inviting language to prepare them for the sacrament.”
Included in the conference day are talks about the sacrament of matrimony, and the permanent commitment of marriage, what it means to be faithful, as well as giving themselves to each other spiritually, physically, emotionally and intellectually.
“It is really wonderfully captivating and attractive, especially because our married couples lead so many of these sessions and they stay with the couples for coffee breaks and have lunch,” said Burds. “We have moved away from the classroom style and are trying to make this experience more prayerful and peaceful.”
Each participant in the Marriage Preparation Conference receives a journal upon arrival that they will use throughout the day. They can reflect on topics, journal alone and get together as a couple to discuss their responses.
“We begin with welcome and mingling,” said Burds. “We invite them to sit and move them around a lot if we are able. We ask them to share what they are hoping for during the day. We begin with a 30-minute opening session on God’s dream for their marriage as it breaks open how God loves marriage even from the beginning of creation. He planted in humanity a sense of communion mimicking the Trinity. Marriage is a signpost of communion. Afterward, we discuss and write in a sacred space such as a church or chapel.”
A later talk given by a priest focuses on bringing Jesus as the center of their marriage and what it would be like if they didn’t have him as the center. The priest talk includes the Sacrament of Reconciliation and participants are encouraged to make a good confession. Confession is available for a couple of hours in the day.
“I was surprised and overjoyed at that number and I think the environment with their peers really helped them want to avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” she said.
Attending a marriage prep program is required by the Church and originally began as a result of rising divorce rates and the breakdown of the family as family members were not able to help couples learn how to have a healthy marriage. Though a few couples grumble about attending, by the end of the session, most are happy they attended the event and feel it was beneficial for their upcoming nuptials to see what a good Catholic marriage looks like.
“We always tell our couples in the beginning that it is OK if they are a bit unsure as to why they are here. We love that they are here and hope they let us know how to make their experience better,” explained Burds. “We also know that some are not Catholic that are attending and know it could feel a little intimidating, but we try and instruct gently when there is something specifically Catholic that we need to discuss.”
An integral aspect of each of the Marriage Preparation programs are devoted to the Church’s teaching on fertility, namely Natural Family Planning, including the Creighton Model of NFP.
“We have a new NFP coordinator, Tori Pohl, who is being trained in the Creighton Model,” said Burds. “She is young … and really cares about fertility and the couples’ health. She ministers to engaged and single women, and has a background as a dance movement therapist. She has a cool understanding and passion for bodies, and comes up and invites couples to come on follow-up NFP workshops.”
Though the Marriage Preparation Conferences are just a day or a weekend, Burds is hopeful that couples will gain enough from the program that it will spawn a lifelong desire to delve into Church teaching on marriage and work at ways to grow their relationships.
“For those that desire more, we direct them to one of the five million books on Catholic marriages or let them know that the couples who help us with the preparation would love to talk over dinner about marriage or Church documents, such as St. John Paul the Great’s Theology of the Body,” explained Burds. “There are also many video series or podcasts — there’s never a shortage of things on Catholic marriages. We want them to focus not on the venue, but the Sacrament. We want to meet them there, challenge them and invite them to more.”
For more information
Contact Emily Burds, associate director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life, for more information, at 414-758-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org or register online.