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Marriage Prep Guidelines Adopted
Building up holy families

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Over the next six months, the Office of Family Life will proceed with the implementation of the new Marriage Preparation Policies and Practices.

According to Sean Martin, director of new evangelization, catechesis and family life, over the past five years, the Family Life Advisory Board has been discussing ways to implement Bishop Walker Nickless’ pastoral letter, “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church is Always in Need of Renewal,” especially in the area of marriage preparation.

“The board began drafting new proposed marriage prep policies and practices in 2010,” he said. “The board thought it was important to be able to catechize and evangelize – or re-evangelize – the engaged couples who come to us for the sacrament of marriage and address the issues of our time; such as, cohabitation and premarital sex, high divorce rates and the use of contraception and sterilization for contraception purposes, so that they have joy-filled lifelong marriages.”

The bishop’s pastoral letter calls on the faithful to “protect, build up and foster holy families in our midst.”

“In addition to my letter, about two years ago the U.S. bishops set four pastoral priorities – one of which was strengthening marriage and they have done a lot in that area,” Bishop Nickless explained. “Also, it was clear that our preparation practices needed tweaking.”

Sponsor couples

The diocese has been using sponsor couples for marriage preparation for a number of years and Bishop Nickless felt that approach had a great deal of merit.

“What was lacking was providing the sponsor couples with a background in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” he said. “We wanted to provide them with information on that, as well as beefing up their understanding of the many benefits of natural family planning.”

Bishop Nickless clarified it was not that the sponsor couples did not promote family planning.

“We certainly will continue to use them, but we wanted to strengthen their understanding of the church’s views on natural family planning,” he said. “We were hearing that engaged couples were not grasping how important that is to married life, that every marriage act must be open to life.”


Under the previous marriage preparation practices, the couples took the FOCCUS pre-marital inventory with the priest and then either went to a Sponsor Couple or a Pre-Cana class, Martin pointed out.

“The new marriage preparation includes all of the former practices, so it’s no longer an either/or, but rather a both/and approach,” he said.

In addition to the FOCCUS inventory and use of Sponsor Couples, this holistic approach includes “Called to the Wedding Feast,” a marriage catechesis class that examines the proclamation of the Gospel, basic evangelization, catechesis on the creed and the Sacraments, prayer opportunities and experiences, such as Mass, confessions, rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours.

Martin noted couples will also participate in “Walking in Love,” that covers topics concerning living the virtues, communications, conflict and resolution, and finances within the Sacrament of Marriage.

“Couples will also spend time on the Theology of the Body, sexual morality, and an introduction to natural family planning,” he said. “They will review wedding plans with their priest and also have the option of an Engaged Retreat Weekend, which includes the content from both ‘Called to the Wedding Feast’ and ‘Walking in Love.’”

Once the guidelines were in place, the new marriage preparation practices were piloted in the Northwest Deanery, Martin reported.

“The response was very positive,” he said. “Many couples were reporting, after taking the marriage prep classes, their desire to live a holy, chaste life.”

Martin provided a number of responses of the couples after taking the marriage prep classes:

– “Overall, the retreat was inspirational, joyful, and thought-provoking.”
– “Brought us closer as a couple and to the Lord.”
– “All of the real world and real couples’ side of things.”
– “Taught me a lot about how God brings us together in marriage.”

Bishop Nickless promulgated the new guidelines on Dec. 29, 2013, Feast of the Holy Family.

“That was very appropriate,” the bishop said.

Over the next six months, the implementation will continue from deanery to deanery in successive months in the following order: Southeast, Northeast, Central, Southwest and South Central. Pastors will receive overview packets during the months of implementation in their deanery. By Aug. 1, the new policies will be in place throughout the diocese.


Bishop Nickless stressed the importance of not becoming complacent about the need for marriage preparation.

“The greatest threat to marriage is the attempt to try to redefine what marriage is,” he said. “We know it is the union of one man and one woman. Add to that the acceptance of cohabitation, the ease of divorce and the contraceptive mentality of society and all of those are negative impacts on the institution.”

“I think the greatest threat to the Sacrament of Marriage is the lack of respect and understanding of the nature and dignity of the human person, lack of understanding of how God created man and woman and how God loves and calls us to love as human persons,” Martin added.

“This is manifested in the culture of death, acceptance and practice of abortion, the use of contraception and sterilization for contraception purposes, widespread divorce, high rate of couples cohabitating and engaging in pre-marital sex,” he added.

However, Bishop Nickless was optimistic the rich and beautiful teachings of the church on marriage would overcome those challenges.

“The strongest weapon the church has is the grace that comes from the sacrament of marriage,” he said. “That will make all of the difference.”

“Blessed Pope John Paul II offered the church the teaching of the Theology of the Body which unpacks the mysteries of the human person and the Holy Trinity and how we are to love as human persons,” Martin noted.

“This, I believe, is the church’s weapon in our modern times to bring people back into the fold of the church and into a relationship with our Blessed Lord.”

Questions regarding the new diocesan marriage preparation policies may be directed to Martin by calling (712) 233-7516 or emailing The policies can also be found on the diocesan website,

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