Headed to the chapel? Stop here first

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Whether you call it pre-Cana or marriage prep, there are certain diocesan requirements that engaged couples must meet before they can be married in a Catholic church. In the Arlington Diocese, these requirements are satisfied through successful completion of marriage preparation courses.

According to Tom O'Neill, Office for Family Life assistant director and marriage preparation coordinator, there are three ways for couples to satisfy the diocesan marriage preparation requirement: national programs Catholic Engaged Encounter and Three to Get Married and the diocesan Conference for the Engaged (CFE).

According to the diocesan Pastoral Manual for the Sacrament of Matrimony, the CFE program helps "at preparing the couples as well as possible for a married life which is rooted in Christ. Problems unique to our age and society require that such preparation emphasize the centrality of Christ in marriage, the life dimension of the marital relationship, and the ongoing heart-to-heart."

O'Neill said that the engaged couple should set up a meeting with their parish priest as soon as possible. Marriage preparation needs to start six months before the intended wedding date.

There are two CFE formats that couples can attend. One is offered on a Saturday and runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is presented at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna. This option is given 16 times a year and is presented by a priest, a lead couple, a support couple and a therapist. O'Neill said CFE is popular, with around 1,200 couples a year attending.

There is a second format at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Woodbridge that's offered on Thursday evenings from 7 to 9:30 pm, three weeks in a row. The diocese conducts four of these a year. Presenters include a deacon and his wife, plus a support couple.

O'Neill related a story his wife, Crystal, told about a woman in her office who attended a diocesan CFE conference. The woman said she was not always the best Catholic, having had a child out of wedlock in her college years. A few years ago she was engaged, and she and her fiancé attended a CFE.

"(The) priest impressed her a great deal and made a general call for confession," said O'Neill.

She hadn't been to confession in years, but went and told the priest that she had some reservations about marrying the man. He had a drinking problem, among other issues.

The priest told her that these were serious problems and that she should reconsider marriage. She did and decided against marrying the man.

"She's now engaged to be married (to another man,)" said O'Neill, "and very grateful to the CFE and the priest that day for recommending that she seriously reconsider things before moving forward."

O'Neill shared some quotes from attendees of recent conferences.

A Protestant attending with his Catholic fiancé said, "Loved today's priest. He was witty and enthusiastic about his faith, and it was honestly as if I was hanging out with a friend."

Another wrote, "This day's talk was incredible. It was so refreshing to hear young couples and especially a Catholic priest speak frankly and compassionately about contraception, NFP (and) cohabitation. The number one takeaway from today's talks is hope for the church. I will remember that."

O'Neill, who has been the marriage preparation coordinator since 2008, said he enjoys managing the diocesan program. When he joined the diocesan staff he wanted to be involved in pro-life and family life ministries. He's found both.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015