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placeholder February 4, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
Marriage preparation: Getting ready for a lifetime

The Oakland diocese offers three programs engaged couples can use to complete their marriage preparation. That and more information are available on the diocesan website.

There's so much to do before a wedding. Plans for flowers, dresses, photographers, cake and food make demands on the time of brides and bridegrooms.

The Catholic Church asks just a few days — two weekends, or a series of six or seven nights to prepare for the wedding day, and beyond.

The Sacrament of Marriage, after all, is not about just one day, but a lifetime.

It is up to the pastor of the parish in which the wedding will take place to determine how the couple will prepare for marriage. Some parishes have their own preparation programs.

Of the approximately 1,000 couples who marry each year in the Diocese of Oakland, about half are prepared for marriage through diocesan programs, said Ed Hopfner, who coordinates the marriage and family life ministry.

Hopfner encourages couples to plan to complete their preparation three to six months before their planned wedding date. "The more they can do to prepare well for marriage," he said, "the easier the transition will be."

More information

U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops website
on marriage issues


Diocese of Oakland marriage preparation courses

Preparation in diocesan programs can be completed in one of three ways:

• The most common, Hopfner said, is a two-day commuter weekend course, where the engaged couple attends classes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a Saturday and Sunday.

• For couples who can spend a little more time, and the additional cost of lodging, there is a weekend retreat option, at the San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville.

• The third option is Evenings for the Engaged, which consist of small groups of couples who meet in the home of a trained married couple for six weekly sessions on a weeknight.

All the options cover the same material, and all the couples have had instruction in marriage preparation.

The courses present both the sacramental nature of marriage and the practical aspects, including effective communication and an introduction to natural family planning.

Couples' attitudes toward the classes have been known to shift, Hopfner said. Take the Sacrament of Marriage itself. "They think it's the wedding," he said, but through the class, they discover "It's the beginning."

In some parishes, marriage preparation is conducted close to home.

At Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, for example, Bob and Ethel Reber prepare couples for their vows in the Brentwood church.

Deacon Bill Archer has been running the busy marriage preparation program at St. Michael Parish for about a dozen years. Just about every Saturday there's a wedding in the picturesque Livermore church.

The marriage preparation program is conducting 18 sessions a year; there are four weekend sessions planned this year, as well as the six-session weeknight classes. Deacon Archer discusses the sacramental issues, and works with teams of marriage couples in the parish.

Preparing engaged couples for marriage in the parish lets them "get to meet people they'll be worshipping with for a while, we pray," said Rev. Robert Mendonça, pastor of the Livermore parish.

In his time as a deacon, he recalled meeting a couple in Fremont who had a wall of photos of couples they'd help prepare for marriage. They also had albums of their children, considering themselves "the unofficial grandparents of 5,000 kids."

"The personal touch has a lot going for it," Father Mendonça said.

The parish has just launched an ambitious initiative on marriage. "The centerpiece of a beginning of a renewed ministry to couples," is how Father Mendonça described the adoption of the Covenant of Love program, which is an apostolate of the Alexander House ministry.

The first phase, which is launching soon, will involve a date night for couples in the parish. They will be invited to a night out that might include speakers, a film and time for socializing with other couples. Free baby-sitting will be provided by the Confirmation students.

"Down the road," the pastor said he sees, "couple-to-couple mentoring process," and a complete ministry to married and engaged couples

The parish will also reintroduce the posting the banns (proclamation) of marriage. In a place with a history as long as St. Michael's, where generations of families have connections with one another, it's "another way of saying we're all in this together."

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