Timeline for Marriage in Church
Get Ready for a Life-Long Journey of Love
Your engagement is cause for grand celebration within your family, and your Catholic Church family rejoices with you too! Preparing for Marriage is genuinely a love-giving and life-giving experience. It is also a process that, if done right, takes some time.
As fellow Christians and Catholics, we want to share with you the beauty of Catholic Marriage and also help with the practical matters that will help build your relationship. While your focus at this moment may be your wedding day, we invite you to have in mind the countless ones that will follow. We want the best for you! With God’s help, al life-long successful marriage is possible, and it all starts here.
This section is about the marriage preparation timeline and also about avoiding common mistakes some couples make on their way to their wedding. The months leading up to your Marriage will run much more smoothly if you keep the following information in mind.
The following timeline represents meeting with someone in your parish once a month until your Sacramental and Practical preparation is complete. Your community may have a slightly different order or a more compressed schedule – 8-9 months- if they schedule activities more than once a month or are taking care of various aspects at the same time.
One Year or More in Advance
This goes first! Discernment
Do. Discern. Discernment is the active listening and faithful living to hear God’s love and direction so that we can fulfill our individual calling and shared mission. This is especially important as it is related to your vocation to married life, the specific union between the two of you, and the most relevant elements in this process for you. Discernment is more about discovery and less about reflection. It is about intentionally trusting more in God’s Plan and Wisdom to discover that -amazingly- our freedom and knowledge expand in that process.
Discernment takes place in daily life, in nature, while interacting with people and with some books. So daily prayer, silent retreats, spiritual companionship, and Bible studies are some of the resources available to you. Check at your parish and register in a few of them!
Do. Make an appointment with a priest, deacon, or lay marriage minister at your parish church to discuss your wish to marry. Seeking Catholic Marriage means you want to begin your married life with Jesus at the center and implies a desire for an ongoing practice of your faith within a community. If you are not registered at any parish yet, please consider having a personal record for you and your future spouse, independent from your parents’ or grandparents’ registrations.
Don’t book or place deposits on your reception hall or wedding photographer or florist or caterer before confirming your church reservation. This is very important! Couples sometimes think of the Church last and are heartbroken to find the most critical aspect of their wedding- the Church - is not available! Avoid problems by contacting your parish church first.
Don’t move in together. There are spiritual and practical reasons for resisting the temptation to live together before Marriage. On the spiritual side, Catholicism considers Marriage is sacred, created by God, and we believe in receiving His blessing before entirely giving ourselves to each other. Social scientists have also studied cohabitation extensively and have found that living together before marriage puts couples at higher risk for divorce. Even if you are living together now, it is possible to reclaim temperance in your relationship and establish the foundation for a good and holy marriage!
Don’t consider your civil marriage as a prelude for Church Marriage. While some consider a civil union an effort to formalize a relationship, this is a reality only in the public realm, not in the spiritual life. Catholics should be aware that marriage ceremonies outside the Church, including civil marriage ceremonies, are not valid for the Church. Catholics who are solely married civilly cannot receive the Sacraments, including Communion, until they enter into a Catholic Marriage. If you are in this situation, we have Good News for you! Please speak with your pastor about the marriage preparation process for couples who are civilly married, commonly known as “Convalidation.” Also, click here for more information.
About one Year Before Your Wedding
12 Months Before
Do. Have your first meeting will be with a priest, deacon, or designated lay marriage preparation minister. At this meeting, the clergy want to get to know you. Often clergy introduce a bit of the Theology of Marriage at this meeting and may ask why you want to marry in the Catholic Church. Some churches conduct the PRENUPTIAL QUESTIONNAIRE or INTERVIEW at this time, though sometimes, the questionnaire is completed at a second meeting or after a preliminary group presentation on Catholic Marriage.
11 Months Before
Do. Have your second meeting. Typically, you will have your Prenuptial Questionnaire/ Interview (PNI) at this time. The prenup questionnaire or interview is a straightforward set of questions that helps the Church establish your faith readiness to marry, your intention, and your freedom to do so, among other things.
Occasionally, if any of you have been married before, the Church also has to investigate if that union is still valid by Church standards. If this is your situation, we have Good News for you too! The investigation is a process commonly known as an annulment. A civil divorce is necessary but not sufficient for a person to be considered free to marry in the Catholic Church. For more information on annulments, please see FAQ in the Metropolitan Tribunal web page.
10 Months Before
Do. Take a Pre-Marriage Assessment. Pre-marriage assessments such as Prepare-Enrich, FOCCUS, or PMI are comprehensive, user-friendly, confidential, and affordable tools utilized by couples, facilitators, and pastors to identify couples’ strengths and areas of growth. Through responding to a series of questions, studied and validated across the years, you will have a better understanding of your communication, family history, problem-solving skills, beliefs, affectivity, sexuality, finances, and other valuable elements for a successful marriage.
The assessments are ideal tools for discussing topics you hadn’t given much thought to before. Being aware feels great and will allow you to see your fiancé’s point of view. The follow up facilitated sessions are also confidential will help you to develop additional couple skills for a life-long relationship.
At our Archdiocese, we have near 100 facilitators certified in the administration of these assessments and the follow-up sessions, based on your specific results. They are experts in utilizing the resource and guiding the reflections. They are also aware of the current situation in your community and work in close collaboration with your pastor and other Family Life Minister at your parish. Please ask your pastor about his preferred pre-marriage assessment, contact us for more information.
Use this link for finding the closest Prepare-Enrich facilitator to you.
No peeking! While these instruments are not something you can “fail,” it is possible to render them useless for marriage preparation. Couples who talk to each other and consult each other over the questions while taking them, make the results useless. So, hold your curiosity and do not speak to each other about the specifics until both have finished it. Once you both complete it, you are encouraged to start talking about it!
8 Months Before
Do. Participate in a Primary Marriage Preparation Program. They include the Theology of Marriage and practical components. Here are some possible options you might see at your parish church.
The Theology of Marriage is usually addressed by a member of the clergy or lay pastoral marriage minister in an interview or meeting. Your options on the practical components are as follows,
- Your parish might assign a marriage of the community to act as a Sponsor Couple for you. They will walk with you through this part of the preparation using a program such as For Better and Forever by Fr. Rob Ruhnke. These are five or more weekly sessions. This option is the most robust and flexible because it is personalized and also allows you to do your marriage preparation around you and your sponsor’s couple schedule. Meetings are at the sponsor couple’s home or online.
- Your parish may have a series of classes they offer or a parish-based retreat for engaged couples. These initiatives are also useful as you will benefit from the shared knowledge generated by the group interaction and will meet other couples living the same process you are living right now.
- Under exceptional circumstances, you may register for a fully online marriage preparation program administered by a certified Catholic organization to do so. Please consult with your pastor if he agrees with this preparation format. If so, send us an email to discuss this option.
- After receiving the preparation at your parish you and your fiancé may be referred to one or more archdiocesan programs or retreats such as
a. Engaged Encounter
b. New Life, if either you or your fiancé have been married before.
Six to Three Months Before
Do. Embrace the Openness to Life in your Marriage. Part of a well-rounded understanding of Christian Marriage includes the correct knowledge and usage of a Natural Family Planning method. NFP helps couples understand the great gift of sex, intimacy, fertility, and children.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has the specific seminar God’s Plan for a Joyful Marriage and NFP teachers in at least four well-known methods. These methods include Couple to Couple League, Standard-Sympto-Thermal, Billings, and Creighton Model Fertility Care. All of them are natural, as effective as artificial methods; they foster spousal unity, do not have side effects, and they are morally right. Please contact your parish for the available teachers in your area.
Don’t embark on the culture of contraceptives. We Catholics recognize that contraception is an active rejection of God’s primordial gift of sex, where a love-giving and life-giving aspects of the intercourse should not be separated. On the other hand, an increasing number of medical professionals warn us about the harmful effects of the hormones in the “pill” in otherwise healthy women, leading to hormonal imbalances, cancer, permanent infertility, and other diseases.
Two Months Before Your Wedding
Wedding liturgy planning meeting. As your wedding day approaches, you will need to talk about your wedding liturgy. Meet with your usual contact person or with the liturgy coordinator at your parish.
- Rite. If both of you are Catholic, you will have the Marriage Rite as part of a Nuptial Mass. But if you are a mixed-religion couple, you may opt not to have a mass because non-Catholics’ do not receive Holy Communion. In these cases, a deacon may officiate the Rite of Marriage without a Mass. In either case, you will need to discern the Scripture readings you would like for your ceremony.
- Reconciliation. For us, Catholics, the wedding liturgy planning meeting is also an excellent time to make an appointment with a priest to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The sacredness of Marriage invites us to do everything in our power to be in a state of Grace before approaching the altar to exchange consent and vows and confer upon each other the Sacrament of Marriage.
- Check the Details. You should also discuss music selection, readers, and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. The wedding coordinator will give you the guidelines for wedding photography, videography, and the florist, among other things.
Don’t stress out. Keep in mind that your Marriage is about the love you have to each other. Remember that Jesus has been walking with you all this time. Love Him with all your strength, love your fiancé as you love your self, and all the remaining elements will fall into the right place.
One Week Before
The rehearsal. The rehearsal is usually the evening before the wedding; however, if your parish has many events, it might be another day the week before the wedding. Usually, at the wedding rehearsal, the presiding clergy or wedding coordinator does a walkthrough of everything that will happen at the wedding. You must present the final paperwork to your clergy or wedding coordinator at the wedding rehearsal, such as the civil marriage license. If you are Catholic, the rehearsal is also a good time to make an appointment with a priest to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, if you have not done so already.
Your Wedding Day
Do. Realize Awesomeness. Literally. Today you and your spouse create something brand new that never existed before, the marriage bond between you. From this day forward and for the rest of your life, you will be husband or wife, no longer just a girl or boyfriend, no longer just an “engaged” couple. There is a new reality in town, and that is you two, married! The human and Divine bond you formed with each other, and with Jesus will sustain your new family as it grows. It will be your job and privilege to continue its revelation, enjoyment, and protection, under His care. Congratulations!
As a new human and divine reality, your marriage bond needs nurturing on both fronts to thrive and develop.
To care for the human aspect of your union, you will have to be pro-active and seek out books, classes, events, and other opportunities that help you grow in your relationship skills. What you learned in marriage preparation is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning about those things that will keep your relationship healthy.
On the divine - or spiritual side, developing your prayer life and spirituality as a couple is crucial. You know the old saying… “the family that prays together stays together?” That starts with you as a married couple!
Do. Christ-Centric Life. If you are both Christian, it goes without saying your couple’s spirituality should be Christ-centered. As Catholics, we have profound encounters with Jesus through the Scripture, and at the celebration of the Eucharist, so mass attendance is necessary for the nurturing of your Marriage. There, Jesus himself feeds us, restores us, and makes genuine forgiveness possible.
Do. Continue your Community Life. Many parishes are including in their plans, pastoral care of Marriage as a priority. If you worked with a Sponsor Couple during your marriage preparation, they will keep in contact with you. Initially, there are recommended meetings at three months, at six months, and one year marks. Some sponsors and newlyweds stay in touch for years! Please make sure you let your Sponsor Couple and your parish know if you move out of the area.
Stay connected to your parish and the archdiocesan Family Life Office for opportunities for retreats or special events for married couples. We recommend you to make a Marriage Encounter Weekend sometime before your 5th anniversary. You can also do an annual Catholic Couple Checkup- an online relationship assessment once a year.
Do. Plug into adult faith formation classes at your parish. As a couple, you have the primary and awesome responsibility to pass on your Christian and Catholic teaching and value system to your children. The questions children inevitably ask are a lot easier to navigate when you have yourselves traveled those questioning seas and found some answers. There are many excellent and trustworthy resources available to help adults grow in the knowledge of their faith. Many parishes now subscribe to the program FORMED, a “buffet” style faith formation platform where you pick what you want to learn.
Don’t disconnect from your community. Many parishes are investigating ways to stay connected with you. Don’t be surprised if you get a phone call or email from your priest, deacon or lay minister. This communication is only possible if you provided a current phone number, address, and email address on file at your Church.
Remember! the interaction with other Catholic couples will nurture and protect your marriage, in the same way as all the houses share the benefits of being inside a village. Find other couples to interact positively, participate, and do ministry with them, beyond the usual social needs. And never, never, hesitate to ask for help if you find yourself in trouble.
May Our Lord bless you and keep you,
May He let His face shine upon you and immerse you in Grace.
May He look upon you and grant you His peace! (cf. Num 6: 24-26)
Yours in Christ, the Family Life team.