On Sept. 1, 2016, the following marriage preparation guidelines will go into effect in the Archdiocese of New Orleans:
MARRIAGE PREPARATION PROCESS OVERVIEW
The process below will begin at least 6-8 months prior to the wedding date. Phases 1-4 will be completed 2 months before the wedding date. These stages will begin as soon as practical after the couple contacts the parish priest or deacon. If the couple approaches the parish for marriage preparation more than 8 months before their wedding date, it is recommended that the parish will respond promptly to meet their pastoral needs rather than delay their preparation until the wedding date is closer.
Phase 1: Orientation
(Numbers 1-4 are the responsibilities of a cleric and may not be delegated to a lay person.) Phase 1 comprises at least one meeting between the couple and a Roman Catholic priest or deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. “The First Step to the Altar” form guides the content of the meeting(s):
❶ A welcoming pastoral environment should be established as the couple begins to form a relationship with the priest or deacon.
❷ The couple is assisted to select a date, place and officiant for the ceremony. Freedom to marry is established in general terms (questions such as“Have you been married before?” need to be asked in this first meeting even if the priest/deacon decides not to do the Pre-Nuptial Inquiry until a later meeting).
❸ While it may be delayed until a later time in the preparation process, a priest or deacon must complete the Pre-Nuptial Inquiry, explain what documentation is needed from the couple and determine whether any dispensations or permissions will be necessary.
❹ Other topics may be discussed such as motives for marrying and special circumstances such as cultural background, pregnancy, military service, physical and/or emotional problems, levels of faith and religious practice.
❺ The couple will also be informed about the entire marriage preparation process and which marriage preparation program they should select according to the hierarchy below.
❻ Administer a premarital instrument to assist in beginning the assessment of the couple’s readiness to marry. These include: PREPARE/ENRICH, FOCCUS (4th edition or later)/REFOCCUS, Fully Engaged and others approved by the Family Life Apostolate.
Phase 2: Diagnostics
❶ Complete the premarital instrument (Prepare/Enrich, FOCCUS (4th edition or later)/REFOCCUS, Fully Engaged or other inventory). The results will be reviewed with a priest, deacon or lay minister. The minister should be suitably trained to guide a discussion and analysis of the instrument given to the couple. Each instrument supplies its own course of training or certification. This will ensure that the pre-nuptial inventory is used for the maximum benefit of the couple.
❷ These discussions will also explain the sacramental nature of their bond and assess the couple’s readiness to marry.
❸ The couple may begin the liturgical wedding plans and be presented with the parish guidelines for their wedding liturgy.
❹ During Phase 2, the priest or deacon, along with the couple, will make the decision to proceed or delay the marriage. If the wedding is to proceed, the wedding date is confirmed and the process continues.
Phase 3: Instruction
(or “Marriage Preparation Program”) This phase presents the essential human and Christian aspects of marriage so that the couple becomes aware of the total dimensions of the marriage covenant. Formal marriage preparation includes reflection on the nature and sacramentality of marriage, married love, family life, couple prayer, marital responsibilities, communication within marriage, personal expectations and other practical considerations. During this phase, each couple will have contact with a Natural Family Planning professional within the context of their chosen program. Priests, deacons or marriage preparation ministers will offer marriage preparation options in the order of preference shown below. Numbers 1 and 2, listed below, will be presented as most preferable.
❶ Mentor couple program (such as In-Home Prep, Witness to Love, Evenings for the Engaged and others approved by the Family Life Apostolate). These not only prepare a couple for marriage, but do so in a way that fosters relationships with fellow parishioners, aids in internalization of the faith, external practice of the faith through involvement in the parish and continued mentoring into the first years of marriage.
❷ “Engaged Encounter Weekend” retreat, which provides an opportunity for focused dialogue on key topics as well as support from well-trained couples and a priest in the context of prayer and the sacraments.
❸ If they are truly unable to take advantage of the first two preferred programs, the priest or deacon will make available the two-day “Days for the Engaged” seminar. The content of this program will be set by the Family Life Apostolate and will occupy two day-long sessions, not to include an overnight stay.
❹ If the two engaged are in different locations(military, offshore, etc.) or if for some other reason none of the above options are available, online marriage preparation via catholic marriageprep.com can be made available.
❺ Special programs are available for couples who are entering into a valid marriage after a civil law marriage, or for couples who are remarrying after the death of their spouses, or for couples who are remarrying after having obtained a declaration of nullity of their marriage from a Catholic Church Tribunal. The Family Life Apostolate can be contacted to obtain more information about these offerings.
Phase 4: Sacramental Catechesis:
(Numbers 1-3 are the responsibilities of a cleric and may not to be delegated to a lay person.) This phase is to be completed at least two months before the wedding date. Less than two months prior to the wedding, the couple often finds it hard to concentrate on anything other than the details of the ceremony. Therefore, it is important to keep the long-term perspective on the sacramental nature of marriage, not the ceremony. Items 1-3 below comprise the second mandatory meeting between the couple and a priest or deacon. In this phase, the couple will discuss:
❶ What they have learned and experienced at their formal Marriage Preparation Program. The Pre-Nuptial Inquiry needs to be completed at this phase or earlier; it contains discussion questions which may be used for further conversation.
❷ Discuss the reception of Penance and Holy Eucharist as a fitting preparation for the celebration of marriage.
❸ Their understanding of sacrament in light of their formal preparation.
❹ By this time, the couple will have completed the premarital instrument (Prepare/Enrich, FOCCUS (4 edition or later)/REFOCCUS, Fully Engaged or other inventory). See phase 2, No. 1.
❺ A lay minister may discuss with the couple their responsibilities as members of God’s people, as spouses and future parents.
❻ A lay minister may ensure the completion of needed documents (e.g., the Pre-Nuptial Inquiry, completed by a cleric), certificates of baptism, rescripts, decrees of freedom to marry, decrees of nullity, civil marriage license, and/or appropriate permissions or dispensations, etc.)
Phase 5: Liturgical Planning:
During this phase, the couple will work with their place of marriage and other marriage preparation ministers to finalize the wedding liturgy and discuss the wedding rehearsal.
Delay of marriage: Upon agreement with a couple regarding a date for the wedding, a cleric has made a significant commitment to the engaged parties. A cleric should not be unduly hasty to set a date since the couple may be committing themselves to reception venues and travel arrangements once that date is set. Should a significant reason to delay the marriage arise, a cleric will consult with a diocesan official before counseling the couple to delay their marriage date. The diocesan officials that a cleric may consult are a dean, the Vicar for the Clergy, the Judicial Vicar, the Chancellor, the Vicar(s) General or the Archbishop.
To download the complete marriage preparation policy of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, go tohttps://www.arch-no.org/system/policies/documents/000/000/015/original/N-Marriage.pdf?1444420734.
Engaged couples also are encouraged to contact the archdiocesan Family Life Apostolate at 861-6243 for any questions about marriage preparation.