While many engaged couples focus undue attention on beachfront weddings and sunset receptions, Catholic brides and grooms spend a great deal of time preparing for a successful lifetime together.
Catholics believe that marriage comes as a gift from the hand of God. It is to be carefully considered in light of the teachings and practices of the Catholic faith. While it may be simpler to elope in a quickie Las Vegas wedding, Catholic vows carry all the weight of a holy sacrament.
Catholic parents may nurture visions of their children at the altar exchanging vows in the church, but should they insist that their children follow through?
“This presents a Catch-22 for parents,” says Katie Dawson, director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange. “If the couple are not well prepared with a truly Catholic understanding of what they are committing themselves to, they are setting themselves up for problems down the line. In coming to the altar they are held responsible in the eyes of the community for all that marriage entails.”
Catholic marriage is such a serious proposition, Dawson believes. Only the two individuals considering marital commitment can determine if they are approaching marriage in the proper frame of mind.
There is no yes or no answer to parental influence, Dawson concludes. “It’s a high-stakes game. Sometimes all you can do is walk with them, ask them a few well-thought-out questions about how they are approaching it, and say a big prayer.”
The Catholic Church has a long history of helping couples prepare for marriage. Couples wishing to marry in the church participate in approved marriage preparation programs, which range from a series of weekly meetings to concentrated weekends. A team of lay married couples and a priest or deacon usually presides over these programs.
“More than ever, today our culture is ambivalent about marriage,” Dawson notes. “We have a romanticized, sentimental view of marriage as the answer to all our needs; each of us has a soul mate waiting to be discovered and if we find them, we will live happily ever after.”
In Catholic marriages, Dawson explains, baptized individuals share a transformative life of love in which the imperative is growing in love for the other.
“Romantic love will not carry the day,” she notes. “Every successful marriage involves setting aside personal preferences and expectations for the well-being of the one you’re married to. It’s a sacrificial love – not about me, but about him.”
Because Catholic marriage is a sacrament, there is an actual change in our being, she explains. “We are irrevocably changed and tied to the other whom we have married.”
In contrast to secular marriage ceremonies that can be tailored to the couple’s wishes, marrying in the Catholic Church – both literally and figuratively – is participating in a holy rite.
“The great wisdom of the church is the recognition that no one lives for their own sake,” Dawson notes. “Whether in married life, religious life or single life, a satisfying and beautiful life comes about because we give ourselves to each other. It always involves a sacrifice of some sort, determining what God wants in our lives.”