Question 73


Diocese updates marriage prep program 
By Misty Mealey

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo has approved a new diocesan-wide program recommended by a committee formed to review and recommend enhancements to the diocese’s existing marriage preparation process.

Engaged couples will still begin their marriage preparation process with the important initial meeting with their parish priest or deacon.

Under the new structure, however, that meeting will be followed by a pre-marital inventory to assess the couple’s strengths, as well as areas that need further exploration.

Additional components of the marriage prep process will provide engaged couples with a compelling and thorough catechesis on marriage and sexuality through a new program based on John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body,” as well as a full course in natural family planning.

These new additions will supplement and round out the marriage preparation gained through existing programs such as Engaged Encounter, Unitas, Christian Marriage Formation, and Catholic Charities.

A new curriculum to help standardize these programs also was approved by the Bishop. These curricular concepts and components will serve as a yardstick for the various programs to ensure quality preparation for the engaged couple.

“Marriage preparation was an area in our diocese that needed to be strengthened and updated, and this program does that,” Bishop DiLorenzo said in late July.

A Four-Step Process

The Bishop convened a committee of marriage prep leaders, laity, and clergy in January 2006 after several people approached him about the need to update and standardize marriage preparation in the diocese.

At the initial meeting, the Bishop asked committee members to accomplish four tasks:

1) create a demographic, psychological, and sociological portrait of modern engaged couples;

2) develop a standardized but flexible marriage preparation curriculum appropriate for that group;

3) recruit, train, and certify competent marriage prep facilitators;

4) implement the program across the diocese. 

Committee members charged with presenting a portrait of modern engaged couples seeking marriage in the Church found that today’s culture dominates much of their perspectives. When it comes to faith, they are more likely to describe themselves as “spiritual” rather than “religious.”

“Young people today have no problem cutting out the ‘middle man’ when it comes to faith, and we’re the middle man,” says Bishop DiLorenzo.

As a result, many of them feel little connection to the institutional Church and lack of attention to the sacraments is common.

In addition, an alarmingly high number of engaged couples are living at odds with the faith before they approach the altar. Premarital sexual activity, cohabitation, and contraception are normative for many couples.

After studying this portrait of engaged couples, committee members decided to take a multi-disciplinary approach and include theological, interpersonal, and practical training.

“We wanted to prepare couples not just for marriage, but for a sacramental, Catholic marriage,” said Jim and Sandy Dyk, from Richmond and with Catholic Engaged Encounter.

New Additions

The FOCCUS pre-marital inventory out of Omaha, Nebraska was recommended as the tool to help couples learn more about themselves and their unique relationship.

Already in use by many parishes in our diocese, this inventory is administered by a facilitator who then guides the couple through a process of identifying issues that may need to be addressed prior to marriage. 

To ensure couples are catechized thoroughly in the Church’s rich teachings on sacramental marriage and sexuality, committee members also recommended that every couple attend a new program titled “God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage.”

The program, developed by author and speaker Christopher West and a team of marriage preparation leaders, is comprised of two sessions. The first part, “Catholic Faith & Your Marriage,” provides an overview of Biblical teaching on marriage and explains the meaning and importance of the commitments made in the exchange of vows.

The second part, “Sacramental Sexuality,” draws from the scriptural foundation already laid to present the beauty and goodness of God’s plan for sexual union, explaining the “whys behind the what’s” of Catholic teaching.

The information gleaned from the God’s Plan program will prepare couples for another new marriage prep component: natural family planning (NFP) instruction. Under the new program structure, engaged couples will receive instruction in one of the many NFP methods taught in the diocese. Committee members recommended a full NFP course as a way to ensure couples have the tools they need to exercise responsible parenthood when they find it necessary to space their children.

Committee member Jamie Walker, an NFP instructor, was pleased that marriage prep leaders from across the diocese recognized the value of making NFP instruction normative for engaged couples.

“When couples see that NFP is not the rhythm method, but is healthy and effective, I’m certain more of them will choose to use NFP over contraception,” he says. “I wanted other couples to experience the benefits of NFP that my wife and I have, such as drawing closer to the Lord, experiencing increased communication and cooperation, and enjoying an increased awareness of our children as God’s gift to us.”

More time required

The new marriage prep structure will obviously require more time on the part of couples, but committee members pointed out that preparation for any sacrament requires a significant investment of time and resources.

“It may be a challenge for some couples to fit marriage prep into their schedule, but once they’ve completed this program they will better understand the value of being so well-prepared for their lives together,” Sandy Dyk said.

Committee members designed the program to be user-friendly for parishes. The committee is currently working on a brochure that will outline the steps for marriage preparation and include referral and schedule information for the various components.

“We wanted to offer as much support as possible for our priests and deacons,” says Jim Dyk.

Some components are already in place, while others will take time to implement. The committee foresees a three-year time line for full implementation of the program. In the months ahead, the diocese will begin recruiting individuals and couples to help implement the new program.

Facilitators for “God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage,” as well as NFP instructors, will be needed. Couples or individuals to administer and facilitate the FOCCUS inventories also will be needed in parishes or regions where it is currently unavailable.

Those interested in serving as inventory facilitators can contact Jim and Sandy Dyk at 804–320–8289 or