Support for Marriage

It’s on my mind these days, as we’re looking at upheaval on a few fronts at our parish. Our parish wedding liaison has resigned–she’s long been responsible for on-site wedding preparation at the church, running wedding rehearsals and making sure everything stays sane for clergy, couples, and others.

Our diocese rushed to implement a supplemental program for marriage prep a few months ago, only to have pastors yank it back from the brink. The plan was to charge $85 per couple to attend a regional marriage seminar, God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage. I can see both sides of this debate.

We already require couples to meet with a family counsellor, at a cost of $155, sometimes three or more times. They can have a “lead couple” work with them on a three to six-session program. They meet with me to plan liturgy. They meet with a priest. They are strongly encouraged to attend an NFP class. They often meet with a singer and organist to plan wedding music. And they have other secular, but not altogether profane interests: throwing a party for guests, their decorations, their clothes, their honeymoon, their legal responsibilities. In themselves, not trivial stuff.
I can see why pastors balked when asked to add another requirement. Our lead couple coordinators thought the program might be integrated into the parish offerings, rather than framed out to diocesan folks.

On the other hand, I can appreciate the diocese not wanting to burden the parish personnel with more training sessions and more material. Yet perhaps something in the content or execution of marriage preparation is flawed. Is it clergy who are out of their depth? Lay couples willing to give youngsters a pass? Publishers who aren’t up to date on Theology of the Body? Or secular influences overriding the faith instincts of good young Catholic women and men?

Pastoral ministers are indeed concerned about marriage. We’re somewhat doubtful the answer has a quantitative solution.
I was reading Nate’s slightly bewildering post on Vox Nova today. I confess my skepticism for putting the lion’s share of blame on troubles with the marriage as institution (whether you term it contract or sacrament) outside of the fold. It seems as silly as blaming a non-existent solar surge for global warming.

Why can’t Christians (or Catholics) can define marriage as a Christian (or Catholic) thing, and leave it at that for our people? The Church survived Roman decadence for three centuries while the sacramental process was being assembled. Some liturgical historians would cast doubt that the Church had any ritual structure at all for marriage as a sacrament until centuries later.

If homosexual persons want to imitate the values and permanence marriage affords opposite-sex couples, can’t we take it as an improvement over promiscuity, and attend more intently to our own business of marrying and supporting sacramental couples? The Catholic Right reveals a degree of pettiness for tossing homosexual marriage in with four issues of “murder.” (What happened to torture, Republican apologists?)

Perhaps the institutional Church has seen marriage as too much of a legal matter. We’ve seen some bishops take important steps in reexamining reconciliation (here and here) moving away from a juridical paradigm, and into that of being a “school” or being “medicine.”

It would seem that bishops might take care to help the laity recast marriage as something more than 111 sections in canon law–more than any other single sacrament. So when Nate asks, “Contract or sacrament?” I’m asking whom he’s asking. I have to say I don’t see much support from the bishops on up for the sacrament. They seem content with the same lackluster approach we poften give the other six: set up hoops, watch the lay people jump, celebrate with photo-ops, and wash out hands of the whole thing.

In my more radical, more angry days, I thought the solution was to take marriage prep entirely out of the hands of the clergy. It seemed to make almost as little sense for engaged couples to train under celibate clerics as it might forreligious to train under lay people to be Franciscans, Jesuits, etc.. As spiritual directors and liturgical preachers, priests have a role.  Other than that, I didn’t see the need.

Archbishop Gomez’s “school” for mercy approach to reconciliation might be considered for marriage preparation. Lay people could and probably should school engaged people for the sacrament. Without much support from the institution, we’ve managed to double the average length of a Christian marriage over the past century or two.

Imagine what we could do if we put our efforts into strengthening marriage from the inside out rather than battle imagined demons.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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6 Responses to Support for Marriage

  1. RP Burke says:

    Strengthening marriage from the inside? Let me tell you our very positive, first-hand experience with Marriage Encounter, which is run by married couples and priests who actually participate in the program with minor modifications. And there’s a similar marriage prep program, Engaged Encounter. Really good, both within the boundaries of our marriage and among the community of the “encountered,” who form a support group. (Heaven knows we need support!!)

  2. David says:

    My wife and I did marriage encounter a number of years ago. Now that I think back to it I have slightly bad memories of it. It just seemed there was an assumption that everyone thinks and expresses themselves in the same way. I felt forced to try and conform to how they were telling me I should feel and express myself. I remember them playing this recording of Man Of Lamacha, (The Impossible Dream), and maybe something else, trying to get us to “feel” a certain way. I really hated that part. We made a serious and honest effort with the dialoging and kept it up for probably 6 months. The whole thing made me feel so heavy and stressed. I was SO relieved when we made the decision to stop. I’m not saying it was bad but it sure didn’t fit with the way I think and express myself.

  3. Todd says:

    My wife’s and my experiences with EE and ME were very positive. Yes, there were a few hokey things (imo) associated with it, but the sense of community and support among Encountered couples in our area was very strong. We referred five other couples and were somewhat involved in the meetings before we moved away.

    I can’t say we’ve followed up here in KC, but if you approach it like a 12-Step group: take what you need and leave the rest–I’r urge anyone to try the weekend experience.

  4. I’m happy to bewilder, Todd. Thanks for reading and posting on this topic…

    I don’t think the U.S. government should have anything to do with the regulation of a Christian sacrament. If they want to recognize the legitimate marriage, fine. But the legitimacy of marriage, in my opinion, doesn’t come from a secular government’s approval of it.

    So I think I probably slightly disagree with the quote I gave from Pius, in the sense that he locates a lot of the problems within the family in bad legislation. I think the problem originates first within people, then within laws.

  5. So I guess I’m talking about the difference between cause and effect and correlation. Bad legislation about marriage correlates with marriages falling apart. I don’t think it causes it.

  6. Tony says:

    Counterfeit marriage cheapens real marriage (much like counterfeit money cheapens real money).

    The fact that we’ve cheapened it ourselves (through promiscuity, easy divorce, shacking up, etc.) is a whole ‘nother issue.

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