The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

Heading to class before walking down the aisle

The Church is always looking for ways to strengthen marriages — and, according to the Catholic News Service, one diocese is taking it very seriously, even before marriage begins:

Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond has approved a new diocesanwide marriage preparation process that will require engaged couples to take a premarital inventory, a full course in natural family planning and an educational program on Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body.”


The changes came at the urging of a committee formed to review and recommend enhancements to the diocese’s existing marriage preparation process. Engaged couples still will begin their marriage preparation process by meeting with their parish priest or deacon.

Under the new structure, however, that meeting will be followed by a premarital inventory to assess the couple’s strengths and areas that need further exploration. Additional components of the marriage preparation process will include a new catechetical program on marriage and sexuality called “God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage” and instruction in one of the many natural family planning methods taught in the diocese.

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


The bishop convened a committee of marriage preparation leaders, laity and clergy in January 2006, asking the group to create a demographic, psychological and sociological portrait of modern engaged couples and develop a standardized but flexible marriage preparation curriculum appropriate for that group.

He also charged the committee with recruiting and training competent marriage preparation facilitators and implementing the program across the diocese.

Committee members found that modern engaged couples seeking marriage in the church 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,” said Bishop DiLorenzo. As a result, many of them feel little connection to the institutional church and pay little attention to the sacraments.


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 multidisciplinary approach and include theological, interpersonal and practical training.

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

All well and good, of course.

But when I mentioned this to several people in my diocese, both clergy and laity, they all had the same reaction: watch the number of church weddings in Richmond plummet. Reasons: too demanding, too time-consuming, too involved.


From what I’ve seen, most people coming to a priest or deacon to arrange a Catholic wedding are already living together. Many have pre-nuptial investigations that are, to put it politely, complicated: previous marriages, or annulments that need finalizing, or marriage and baptismal records that are locked in a vault in another country. Couples have wildly varying work schedules, sometimes working multiple jobs. It’s not uncommon for children to be involved, so there are child care issues. It’s a major achievement just getting these couples to show up for the rehearsal on time.

But maybe Richmond is different. We’ll see. The article goes on to explain that the program will take three years to be fully implemented. Stay tuned.

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posted September 9, 2007 at 6:44 pm

But when I mentioned this to several people in my diocese, both clergy and laity, they all had the same reaction: watch the number of church weddings in Richmond plummet. Reasons: too demanding, too time-consuming, too involved.No, Deacon, what you’ll see is the number of cultural Catholics looking for an attractive setting for their wedding.

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Deacon Tim

posted September 9, 2007 at 9:17 pm

I am a deacon in Lafayette, Louisiana who is charged with the marriage preparation in my parish. In my albeit limited experienced (ordained 1 year tomorrow), many couples are living together and do not attend Mass. The church rite, for many, does seem simply to be a way to get an attractive surrounding for photos.The attitude described in your article seems to be another manifestation of the widespread attitude that there are no such things as “truth” or “right and wrong”, and that it is quite rude to suggest otherwise. These couples reject the Church becaus the Church does not seem “tolerant”.Still, I think it is worth extending the invitation to learn and grow as a condition for a Catholic marriage. Otherwise, in a society with such attitudes can one say that these couples would have the ability to commit to a sacramental marriage?I look forward to follow-up stories from experiences in other dioceses and for other comments to this story.

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posted September 10, 2007 at 9:07 am

Since I live in the Richmond Diocese, I guess I have a unique perspective on this news. Bishop DiLorenzo has placed a focus on documenting and formalizing a number of areas of the church’s mission. A colleague of mine commented the other day that his legacy may very well be one of handbooks and manuals! Fortunately, at least in my opinion, he is taking a very pastoral approach to this undertaking. As you can note in this article, the new guidelines were not simply an edict handed down from on high, drawn up entirely by (unmarried) clergy. Instead, a deliberate process was used, gaining input and perspective from a number on constituencies.I think Tony makes a very important point. The church teaches that the sacrament of matrimony is a life-long committment. It is “not to be entered into lightly”. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to state that most couples spend more time registering for gifts (or winnowing down the guest list) than they do discussing how the sacrament will impact their faith lives or how they will live a sacramental marriage.If a couple wants to get dressed up, have a big party, and receive a ton of gifts, a justice of the peace (and many other ministers, for that matter) will be happy to oblige them. I think what Bishop DiLorenzo is saying, is that if you want the Church to bless the union, it has got to be sacramental. Remember, the priest (or deacon) is not the minister of the sacrament. Through the exchange of vows, the couple performs the sacrament. The church stands in the place of witness, and offers her prayers and blessing upon the couple. As with all of the other sacraments, it is the role of the church to help discern whether a given individual or couple is called to receive a sacrament.This may very well decrease the number of ‘church weddings’ However, I have a feeling it will not have an impact on the number of sacramental marriages. As yesterday’s Gospel points out, the path of discipleship is not easy and is rarely popular. But that is the life the church – Bishops, Priests, Deacons, and Laity – is called to live.

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