Timeline for Marriage in the Church
Get Ready for a Life-Long Journey of Love
Your engagement is cause for celebration with your friends, loved ones, and also for the Catholic Church! Preparing for marriage is a genuine gift of love and life-affirming experience. It also is a process that takes prayerful preparation and time commitment.
While the excitement of planning your wedding may be forefront in mind, taking important steps during the marriage preparation process should not be overlooked. With God’s divine grace and guidance from those that have walked the journey before you, you and your future spouse will be on the path to fully experiencing the deep love and joy that comes from this sacred union.
This section offers practical tips and a timeline of important events you may experience during the marriage preparation process. In the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, this process typically is a total of 12 months with once-a-month meetings with a representative at your parish until your sacramental and practical preparation are complete. Note: Your parish may have a slightly different order or a more compressed timeline, such as eight to nine months, if marriage preparation activities occur on the same date.
One Year or More in Advance
Discernment comes first!
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: Discern. Prayerful discernment is active listening to hear God’s voice. This becomes especially important when it comes to fulfilling our vocation to married life, the special sacramental union between the engaged couple and God. Discernment is more about prayerful discovery and less about individual reflection. By intentionally trusting more in God’s plan and wisdom, we may receive the knowledge and understanding to freely take obedient action to his will. Visit our Marriage Discernment page to find out more.
DO: Make an appointment with a priest, deacon or lay marriage minister to find out more about the marriage preparation process with your parish and how to register. Seeking a 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 with a Church at this time, please consider finding a parish near you and registering as a couple. This is preferred to using the parish membership of a parent or family member.
DON’T: Before you make financial commitments for your wedding day celebration (i.e. reception venue, caterer, photographer, etc.), first confirm with your parish the location, date, and time for your ceremony or Mass at the church. This is often overlooked, which may be very heartbreaking and cause unnecessary stress and headaches that can be avoided by checking with your parish first.
DON’T: Engaged couples should avoid moving in together. There are spiritual and practical reasons for resisting the temptation to live together before marriage. On the spiritual side, the Catholic faith considers the Sacrament of Marriage to be sacred, created by God, and we should receive his blessing during the wedding ceremony or Mass before entirely giving ourselves to each other. Social scientists also have studied cohabitation extensively and have found that living together before marriage puts couples at a higher risk for divorce. Even if you are currently living together, it is possible to reclaim temperance in your relationship and establish the foundation for a good and holy marriage.
DON’T: Considering your civil marriage to be a prelude for marriage in the Catholic Church may not be the case. In the public realm, many consider a civil union as an effort to formalize a relationship, but this is not true according to the Catholic faith. Couples should be aware that marriages performed outside the Catholic Church, including civil ceremonies, are not considered valid by the Church. Catholics who are solely married civilly cannot receive the Sacraments, including the Sacrament of Marriage and the Eucharist, until they enter legitimately into a Catholic marriage according to Canon Law on Marriage. If you are in this situation, there may be an opportunity to enter into a convalidation process. Contact your pastor or marriage preparation minister with questions.
12 Months Before
DO: Schedule an introductory meeting with a priest, deacon or designated marriage preparation lay minister to get to know each another. Often clergy will discuss concepts of Theology of Marriage at this meeting, and you also have a chance to ask questions about marriage in the Catholic Church. Some parishes conduct a questionnaire about prenuptials and convalidations or may wait until the second meeting or after a preliminary group presentation on Catholic marriage.
11 Months Before
DO: Attend your second meeting. Typically, you will have your Prenuptial Questionnaire/Interview (PNI) at this time, which is a straightforward set of questions to assist the Church in establishing your faith readiness to marry, intentions, and other important considerations at the beginning of this process.
Occasionally, if an engaged person has been previously married, the Church will investigate if the union is still valid according to the Canon Law on Marriage. If you have been previously married, there is an investigation 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 the frequently-asked questions in the Metropolitan Tribunal web page.
10 Months Before
DO: Take a confidential pre-marriage assessment, such as Prepare-Enrich, FOCCUS or PNI. These are comprehensive, user-friendly, and affordable tools utilized by couples, facilitators, and pastors to identify the engaged couple’s strengths in relationship and areas of growth. By responding to these series of questions that have been studied and validated over the years by experts, you will have a better understanding of your similarities and differences in your family histories, problem-solving and communication skills, beliefs, affectivity, sexuality, finances, and other valuable elements for a successful marriage.
Please contact your parish to learn more about its specific pre-marriage assessment or contact our office for more information and guidance.
8 Months Before
DO: Participate in a primary marriage preparation program that includes the Theology of Marriage of the Catholic Church and other elements that are usually addressed by a member of the clergy or lay pastoral marriage minister. Your options on the practical components follow:
- You may be assigned a married couple from your faith community that acts as a Sponsor Couple for you. They will walk with you on this part of the marriage preparation journey with programs, such as For Better and Forever by Fr. Rob Ruhnke, Transformed in Love or Witness to Love. Typically you meet at the sponsor couple’s home or online for five or more weekly sessions. This option is the most robust and flexible, because it is personalized and allows you to conveniently arrange your marriage preparation activities around your schedules.
- Your parish may offer a series of classes or parish-based retreat for engaged couples. You will benefit from the fellowship and shared knowledge through group interaction with those going through the same experience.
- In some rare circumstances, you may have the option to register for an online-only marriage preparation program administered by a certified Catholic organization, such as Agape, online pre-Cana.
- After receiving the marriage preparation at your parish, you and your fiancé(e) may be referred to one or more Archdiocesan programs or retreats found in our Marriage Preparation Programs page.
6 to 3 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 (NFP) method, which helps couples understand the great gift of sex, intimacy, fertility, and children.
This step is integral to your marriage preparation, and it is part of the marriage requirements within the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston offers an informative seminar, God’s Plan for a Joyful Marriage and NFP Seminars that teach at least four well-known methods: Couple to Couple League, Standard-Sympto-Thermal, Billings, and the Creighton Model Fertility Care. Each seminar offers natural methods of family planning that are as effective and safer than artificial methods. They also foster spousal unity, do not have side effects, and follow Church teaching. You may register here or contact your parish for available teachers in your area.
DON’T: Avoid embarking on a culture of contraceptives. The Catholic Church recognizes that contraception is an active rejection of God’s primordial gift of sex, where love and life-giving aspects of 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.
2 Months Before Your Wedding
DO: Attend a wedding liturgy planning meeting. As your wedding day approaches, you will need to talk about your wedding liturgy. To get started, plan a meeting with your marriage preparation minister or liturgy coordinator at your parish. Together, you will select the appropriate rite and will discuss the details of your Mass or wedding ceremony.
DON’T: Avoid feeling overstressed. Keep in mind that your marriage is about the love you have for each other. Remember that Jesus has been walking with you during this time. Love Jesus with all your strength and love your fiancé as you love yourself, and all the remaining elements will fall into place.
1 Week Before
DO: Prepare for the rehearsal. The rehearsal is traditionally held the evening before the wedding; however, if your parish has a scheduling conflict, it might be another day of the week. Usually, at the wedding rehearsal, the presiding clergy or wedding coordinator explains each part of the wedding ceremony or Mass, and those involved get to practice their roles. At this time, present the final paperwork to your clergy or marriage preparation coordinator, such as the civil marriage license. If you are Catholic, the rehearsal also is an opportune 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 the awesomeness of what you are about to experience. On your special day, you and your spouse form something brand new that did not exist before—the marriage bond between each other and a sacramental union with God. From this day forward and the rest of your life, you will be husband and wife, no longer in just a committed relationship. The human and divine bond you have formed with each other, and with Jesus, will sustain your new family as it prospers and grows. It will be your job and privilege to continue its revelation, enjoyment, and protection under his care. Congratulations!
After the Celebration
DO: Consider both the new human and divine reality of your marriage. In the beginning and throughout each season of your married life, the marriage bond needs nurturing on both fronts to thrive, develop, and grow.
To care for the human aspect of your union, you will have to be proactive and seek out educational books, classes, events, and other opportunities to help you learn and grow in your relationship skills. What you learned in marriage preparation is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning about those important areas that will keep your relationship healthy and strong.
On the divine or spiritual side, developing your prayer life and spirituality as a couple is crucial. You know the old saying, “Families that pray together stay together?” That starts with you as a married couple!
DO: Nurture a 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 Scripture and the celebration of the Eucharist, so Mass attendance is necessary for nurturing your marriage. At Mass, Jesus himself feeds us, restores us, and makes genuine mercy and forgiveness possible.
DO: Continue building community in your life. Many parishes make pastoral care for married couples a priority. Initially, there are recommended post-wedding meetings at the three-month, six-month, and one-year marks. Some couple sponsors and newlyweds stay in touch for years, so be sure to let them know if you move.
Stay connected to the Family Life Ministry through your parish or our office to learn about upcoming opportunities to attend retreats or special events for married couples and families. We recommend that you attend a Marriage Encounter Weekend or join a marriage ministry at your parish before your fifth anniversary. You also can do an online relationship assessment once a year.
DO: Plug into adult faith-formation classes and spiritual-growth opportunities at your parish. As a couple, you have the primary and awesome responsibility to pass on your Catholic faith tradition and teachings to your children. The questions children inevitably ask are a lot easier to navigate when you have traveled those roads before and sought answers yourself. There are many excellent and trustworthy resources available to help adults grow in the knowledge of their faith and spirituality, such as the EWTN app or Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire online program. Also, many parishes now subscribe to an online program called FORMED, a “buffet” style Catholic faith-formation platform where you pick what you want to learn from a large variety of resources. See your parish for membership details.
DON’T: Avoid disconnecting from your faith community. Your parish wants to stay connected with you and invites you to become an active part of the community. Don’t be surprised if you get a phone call or e-mail from your priest, deacon or lay minister. This communication is only possible if you keep a current phone number, address, and e-mail on file at your Church.
DO: Remember the importance of interaction with other Catholic couples. Friendships with other faith-filled Catholic couples will help bless, nurture, and protect your own marriage relationship. Find other couples to interact with and minister with them on and off the Church campus. Never hesitate to ask for help if you find yourself in trouble or need a helping hand.
For questions, please contact us at 713-741-8710 or firstname.lastname@example.org