A Catechumenate for Marriage Prep

We Want to Evangelize and Often Feel Like We Fail

So many of us have siblings or parents or children with whom we long to share the joy of life in Christ. I do. I’m one of eight children and, for various reasons, though each of us received the Sacraments, only three of us are still devout Catholics.

Perhaps, like I have, you’ve tried without success to invite them into the heart of Jesus, and you’ve learned that it’s best to keep silent and simply pray for them.

This unceasing desire to evangelize our family and our friends is a good one. It comes from Our Lord Himself, from His many Gospel adjurations to search for lost sheep and be leaven in the dough and go to the margins and bring in those who are on the fringes. And, while maybe our own efforts to evangelize our families have met with cold rebuffs, the good news is that your local parish has three excellent opportunities to reach those on the margins because, during the following three points of contact, those on the margins are brought to the parish. Those three points of contact are: Marriage prep, Baptism prep, and at a funeral; a quinceanera might be a fourth point of contact, for Hispanic Catholics.

Marriage Prep Is An Opportunity For Evangelization and Discipleship

Today, I focus on marriage prep, and its very fertile opportunity for evangelization. Let’s start with the current situation. Over the past 40 years, most Catholic marriage preparation programs have not changed much, whether it be attending a mandatory class or participating in a weekend retreat.  However, today’s engaged couples have changed. Significantly. Consider the following:

If the current model is not working, why not adjust the standard Marriage-Prep model, therefore, to meet the needs of today’s engaged couples?

Witness to Love’s Marriage Catechumenate

CatholicSFthumbnailThe good news is that there is a new crop of a Marriage-Prep programs that seek to do just that, and my favorite one is Witness to Love. I first encountered Witness to Love when its founder, Mary-Rose Verret, was invited to speak at my parish, St. Williams. As she spoke about the amazing fruits of Witness to Love, I was so moved that I asked her to consider inviting me to intern. She not only did that–she offered me a job, my dream job as the Parish Outreach Coordinator for Witness to Love! It was what you’d call a win-win situation. 🙂

Allow me to first describe the key dynamic of WTL, then share with you some of the amazing fruits of this ministry.

Mary-Rose, and her husband, Ryan, after working with hundreds of engaged couples, realized that the classroom model for marriage prep was simply not reaching couples. They became convinced that the most effective marriage-prep is one grounded in personal discipleship, one in which engaged couples form personal friendships with veteran married couples who will become a source of strength, wisdom, and encouragement after the wedding. Just as Our Lord drew his disciples into the very depths of His heart through sharing meals and journeying with them, the same thing can happen with engaged couples. Through relational discipleship, engaged couples can be invited into relationship with Jesus Christ and drawn into the very heart of the Church, becoming themselves intentional disciples who can evangelize within their parishes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.

That is what “Marriage Catechumenate” means.

Resized3Let me say that again. The Marriage-Prep-Catechumante model draws upon the conviction that through relational discipleship, engaged couples can be invited into relationship with Jesus Christ and drawn into the very heart of the Church, becoming themselves intentional disciples who can evangelize within their parishes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and families.

Marriage Prep is one of those three excellent opportunities when those on the margins actually come to the parish office! They do the work for us! They are standing at the parish Welcome Desk and ready to be invited into the heart of Christ. Through Witness to Love’s relational discipleship model, parishes don’t miss an opportunity to welcome those marginalized engaged couples into relationship with Jesus Christ and into the life of the parish.

Even more exciting, as these engaged couples are set afire with the Good News, they become instruments of evangelization and new life in the parish. I shared above about the Marriage-Catechumenate dynamic, now let me turn to the grace-filled fruits of WTL.


Many pastors have shared with Mary-Rose that Witness to Love has transformed their parish. Before the parish adopted WTL, they tell us, they were jaded about Marriage-Prep; they felt like a “drive-through Sacrament distributor”.

However, as engaged couples encounter the kerygma for the first time and become zealous, Jesus-loving Catholics, they blossom into young families who are generously open to life. Lots of babies are born into the parish, so Baptisms increase. That means that new Godparents go through Baptism-training classes (another excellent point of contact where those on the margins are brought into the parish, where they can be offered the kerygma).

It, also, means that these newly-married couples invite their friends to Mass, and, if the parish has Adult Faith Formation, as well as Small Groups, those same friends can enter into relationship with Our Lord and His Sacraments, as well. A “catechumenate model” of Marriage-Prep ministry becomes a huge evangelization net, and pastors who were previously jaded are very excited about meeting with engaged couples.

You can view an interview here with a real-life pastor whose parish was transformed by Witness to Love.

Mentor Couples

cnaOne of the most common objections to Witness to Love is that engaged couples CHOOSE their mentor couple, provided that the mentor couple has been married for five years and is in good standing in the parish. What if the chosen mentor couple contracepts? What if they are not properly formed in Church teaching? These are valid concerns.

Again, if the goal is to evangelize every Catholic who does not already know the joy of life in Christ, the same principle that applies to engaged couples, also, applies to those who are already in the pews.  Witness to Love does not invite mentor couples to convey Catholic doctrine on marriage and sexuality; that is the role of the pastor or marriage prep deacon. Rather, mentor and engaged couple, traverse a carefully crafted course of study on the classical virtues, particularly those virtues that are necessary for married life–friendship, forgiveness, humility, fortitude, etc.

Simply in learning about the virtues, mentor and engaged couples are already learning about living Christian marriage well, and many mentor couples have shared with WTL that their marriages were reinvigorated and that their love was deepened and renewed. And, again, if your parish has an Adult Faith Formation program, as well as Small Groups, mentor couples can be invited into those, as well; mentorship offers parishes another point of contact with people in the pews, and is an excellent opportunity for ongoing evangelization.

Engaged Couples

I feel like I’ve already said enough above about the amazing fruits of conversion and joy among engaged couples who participate in Witness to Love. However, if you’d like to hear more, check out the Witness to Love website or comment below, and I’d be happy to provide more examples.

Familyphoto1Catherine Rose is wife to Devin Rose, and works as the Parish Outreach Coordinator for Witness to Love; she is blessed with two children, as well as three who are in the arms of Jesus.

3 thoughts on “A Catechumenate for Marriage Prep”

  1. A marriage catechumenate is all well and good but it won’t solve the problem. The key problems are:
    (1) People get married outside the Church or convalidate marriages, so they miss the program.
    (2) No matter what’s said in the program, if it isn’t regularly reinforced in homilies and parish groups, it’ll be treated as irrelevant or simply be forgotten.

    Problem (2) is really the core cause since if marriage prep was reinforced, people wouldn’t miss the core of the program and people would know it is important. Not only that, the catechumenate would focus on reinforcing what you already know to bring you to the next level rather than spend most of its time on the basics.

  2. The Catholic church needs a program for active Catholics who are married but having problems or have filed for Divorce. We have programs where BOTH parties must seek them out and go… Great for couples who understand their faith and what marriage means but horrible for those where one spouse gets advice counter to Church teaching. Protestants have programs that don’t wait until after the divorce to “help the couple”. Bishops have given up and refuse to follow Canon Law… you must have a civil divorce BEFORE you apply for an annulment.. Great way to honor what Jesus said about divorce…. get one then come see us.

    We are in the age where Catholics are getting divorced later in marriages at the same rate of everyone else. Women file 80% of the divorces. Research shows that it the couple sticks it out 80% say they are happy 5 years later. Today we have Parishes that take pride in having post divorce groups who take great pride in saying any divorce person can receive Communion.. as long as they don’t remarry. Priest are great at saying the same thing but hide the TRUTH in as long as you are in a state of grace… which our Catechism clearly states most filers are not. It is much easier to have Mercy and “pray” for the couple. Jesus needs arms and legs. If He had his way their would be very few divorces. Our Church is sending way to many divorced people to Communion when not in a state of grace. If you truly repent of your divorce, then you want to live in the way God expects you to live. If your former partner is available and willing the Church always expects reconciliation (read Canon Law). Can one go to Confession say they are sorry for a sin when they are glad they did the sin and would do it again tomorrow and be forgiven for that sin? Can one say they are sorry and repent when they refuse to reconcile? Confession for divorce has been twisted into having Feeling sorry or disappointed is repenting. Not sure Jesus sees it that way. We also ignore the fact that each Catholic has the responsibility for correcting and judging those in the church.. see 1 Cor. Paul is crystal clear on this. Rebuking the sinner is a work of Mercy yet it is not done when it could do some good. Most who divorce and are active would take extra steps to heal the marriage if they understood Church teaching. One downside of this year of Mercy is the convenient disregard for what the Pope always says in official writings and when speaking prepared remarks on Mercy – one must turn back to God, return to God, return to the Church.. He says it in a number of ways but the act before Mercy is repenting.. admitting you were wrong and returning to living as God expects.. then Mercy abounds. The Prodigal Son had to come home then the Father… who was watching for him every day (God) ran to him…. not when he was in the city… when he returned to the Father, expected nothing, and admitted he was wrong.

    Great idea on reaching lapsed engaged Catholics. Reaching those in our Churches each week who are divorced and have heard they are just like everyone else and in complete union with the church is critical. Unless the Church is wrong they are in Grave danger. Divorce is Grave Matter all alone, before remarriage, which is adultery. The Catechism teaches of an innocent party for a reason. Unfortunately that is ignored and both parties are treated equally in post divorce groups. That causes further confusion but since anyone who was married in the Church KNOWS man can’t split a marriage and they know they should check further but choose not to, they are culpable for the Mortal Sin. Not knowing is clearly shown to not include Not checking when you know you should. Since the vows say all the church teaches about marriage and each party says them… they pick out the version…. and the Priest says it again in the various Blessings the couple knows.

    Part of the reason Catholic divorce is because they see Catholics divorce… their parents. When we as a Church refuse to teach the full truth and then ignore when sin may be present what else can be expected? When is the last time you heard that to separate you need the Bishops approval. Not the Parish Priest, he knows he does not have that power delegated…..Canon Law says it can’t be. How many Priest or staff remind couples of this? Not many if any. They have “compassion” and think they are being like Christ. He would be loving but He would remind you of your duty to your spouse too. Jesus wouldn’t say “its OK, I understand keep sinning.” We as a Church do that… it is merciful, after all. Tell the kids of divorce how merciful it is. That mercy means they have to deal with the divorce at every family event, first Communion, Confirmation, Birthday, Christmas and Thanksgiving as long as their parents live. It is easier for the Divorce couple. They just say I coming. The kids get to handle the arrangements to keep everyone happy. Just what a new married couple or a couple with a small family need. Mom, why don”t Grandma and Grandpa B come together like Grandma and Grandpa A? The divorce gets softened to be merciful for the grand kids. Then we wonder why divorce is seen as OK in our Church. One reason. The Church acts like it is OK. The Church focus is on the Divorced Couple and making them comfortable rather than making divorce uncomfortable.

    Bringing in newly married Catholic’s back to the Church is great. Once they get their we need to support them in living marriage as God intended. We don’t do that. We talk about it a couple times a year. The Pope says nice things about marriage too. Then we spend hours on accepting the Divorced. Lie to them about their status in the Church. Priests in the Confessional give absolution to a person that lied during the Act of Contrition, a person that has no intent on living as the Church demands – attempting to reconcile. That person thinks they are forgiven. Are they if they refuse to live in concert with Church law? Is that love or mercy? We must fix those in the pews before tackling another fun opportunity we think we can do that will affect people we don’t know.

    To make this easier to swallow substitute adultery for filing for a divorce outside of the situations outlined in Canon law. Gets to the old example of going to Confession with the girlfriend in the car waiting for confession to be over to cheat again. Divorce is confessed as a sin in the Confessional at 5 and bragged about as the best decision they ever made at happy hour that day. Hate to be so aggressive with this but I have lived it. I live it now. So many want to reach out when those in the most spiritual danger are right down the pew.

    Research is clear. Want your kids to stay married? Stay married. Want you kids to go to Church? Go to Church. Protestant Churches have done this for years. They support each other in their Faith and make it their business to get to know each other for more than a handshake of peace. The saddest situation is when a long term couple who are very active and both teaching teens model how wonderful divorce is for Catholics each week. At our Parish we have divorce Catholics running our retreats, teaching our high school classes and serving as extraordinary ministers of communion… couples. If the Church is correct in its Canon Law teaching and in the Catechism, the person who filed is more than likely in a dangerous state. The other parishioners see their actions and how they are treated. They never will read Canon Law or check the Catechism.. why should they if the DRE or Pastor don’t care about those teachings or don’t know them? It must be OK. The Bishops put that in their but they are busy now… they can’t do it… too many divorces. I have heard that one. Only problem is their were more divorces when that law was approved than today. Actual number, not percentage. Few marriages today divorces down slightly = higher percentage but not more Catholic divorces. I have gone on too long. I just hate to see focus on the new flavor of the month take people who could really make a difference if effort was put where we know problems are. It is much more difficult to tell a friend they need to reconcile than to approach a young couple who is scared to death they will do something wrong and not be able to get married in the Catholic Church like Mom and Dad paying for the wedding expect. One thing I do know works is to make marriage prep last during the first year of marriage…. where they see a couple during the first year for support. Of course if they then find out that couple divorced later and they don’t see the Church reach out to them trying to help them with their marriage is appears as a cheap ploy to get them in the pews and make people feel good. No one really cares about the newly divorced couple’s Catholic Faith. No one is reminding them of what it means to be Catholic. Why not? Why aren’t they being held to the standards explained to them in marriage prep?

    When people see active Catholics ignoring active Catholics not acting in concert with the Church they quickly learn picking and choosing what is important is between you and God. The Church isn’t that important as long as you FEEL God understand YOU. And the Faith suffers. 80% of Catholics use birth control. Those using NFP ignore the Serious Reason clause or think having a beach house, a BMW or other cool stuff is a serious reason. The newly married couple? Oh they never have those words taught as the most important part of the NFP decision. We have much work to do. It is easier to venture into the unknown instead of dealing with known people and known situation. Unfortunately 20 years from now just like holding hands at the Our Father has become a Catholic thing, the rubrics be damned, we will see our church shift to be as the culture is today. I know they are of the same sex but they love each other… they can come to Communion… don’t say anything.

  3. I love this idea, Catherine! It is absolutely true that marriage preparation draws people right to the Welcome Desk. It grabs couples as they consider the gravity of one of their biggest adult decisions. It also plants seeds in their souls for when children come. I do agree a great way to grab the fringes is to get to those who become godparents, and for parents, who all feel motivated to obtain a Catholic Baptism for their children. Catching people right there is a wonderful plan. It would have been nice to have “mentor” couples right when we began marriage to continue what we learned in prep. We have found through our homeschool monthly meetings that we all help each other’s families try to move forward into holiness, as well. That situation emphasizes relationships, support, and comraderie – which sounds like your WTL. (But while that might be a “fringe group” in our American society, it is probably a group very interested in a Catholic life overall, and less on the church fringes.)

    This subject is quite thought provoking. Thank you for this article- I am sharing it with friends!

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