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Preparing Well for Marriage
By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.


Q: My boyfriend and I had wanted to get married this month, but when I contacted our parish last February, they told me that there is a six-month waiting period. Why so long?

A: When an engaged couple contacts a possible place for their wedding reception (usually well more than six months in advance), the staff members assume that the couple has made the proper wedding preparations. Thus, the conversation is about day, time, menu, total price, deposit and so forth.

When an engaged couple contacts a Catholic parish to set a wedding date, the parish staff will probably want to have a meeting or two to be sure that the Catholic Church agrees that this man and this woman are indeed free to marry each other. The six-month preparation time is a general practice in many U.S. dioceses; it can be modified for special circumstances.

These months are not an obstacle course designed to frustrate engaged couples. This time is part of how the Church prepares future spouses for the most important non-emergency decision that either of them will ever make.

If people can spend years preparing to make a living, shouldn’t they be willing to accept some outside help in preparing for marriage?

It would be irresponsible for the Church not to provide the best possible marriage preparation it can. “Perfect” wedding ceremonies celebrate yet cannot sustain a lifelong commitment.

After a couple has met with the priest or deacon once or twice, they will probably be able to reserve a date. There are options for the next phase of marriage preparation: a weekend Engaged Encounter, a one-day pre-Cana program, a series of meetings with a married couple from the parish, use of the FOCCUS (Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study) questionnaire or some other possibility.

At least twice during Engaged Encounter weekends where I was a team member, couples decided that they were not yet ready to marry each other. It’s better to face obstacles early than to pretend the other person will certainly change “once we get married.”

I encourage you and your future husband to give this commitment the faith-filled preparation that it deserves. Best wishes for a long and happy marriage!

Q: When is the feast of the Sacred Heart? What about the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary? In surfing the Internet, I keep finding different dates.

A: The Church’s worldwide calendar places the feast of the Sacred Heart on the Friday after the feast of Corpus Christi (two Sundays after Pentecost or eight days after Corpus Christi in places where it is celebrated on Thursday). The feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is always the next day.

Because these two feasts are linked to the date of Easter, which is variable each year by almost a month (because it is based on the lunar calendar), these feasts are not on the same day each year, according to the solar calendar. They are, however, in the same spot on the Church’s liturgical calendar.

Q: The weekday readings and prayers for Mass are now indicated as “Ordinary Time.” I don’t recall that term being used before. What does it mean?

A: The Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar starts with the Advent/ Christmas season, then a few weeks of Ordinary Time, then the Lent/Easter season, followed again by Ordinary Time until the First Sunday of Advent, when a new liturgical year begins.

The 1969 “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar” say that the Sundays in Ordinary Time “are devoted to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects” (#43).

Before the 1969 revision of the Roman Missal, most of these Sundays were known as the “Third Sunday after Pentecost,” etc. These Sundays became “Sundays in Ordinary Time” and actually start after the Baptism of the Lord until Ash Wednesday and then resume after Corpus Christi.

Although one of my friends refers to Ordinary Time as “boring time,” I think this season is a valuable reminder that our lives include mostly ordinary events. But isn’t that where we cooperate—or don’t—with God’s grace? “Peak” moments are wonderful, but no one can live in them forever.

In fact, peak moments require many ordinary moments. Couples do not reach a 50th wedding anniversary, for example, simply because of intense, key moments in their marriage. Their daily choices eventually create new “peak” moments in their lives. The same dynamic holds true for all married or single disciples of Jesus Christ. In the Church’s Ordinary Time, we journey closer to or away from Jesus.

Q: My wife feels that to be able to forgive me genuinely for the sin of adultery, she needs a miracle. To her, the miracle would be forgiveness and being able to forget permanently the image she has of my “dance with the devil,” as she describes it.

I have confessed this sin, received absolution and done that penance. I am truly remorseful, more than can be expressed in words. I am committed to lifelong reconciliation with her and I have vowed never to commit this sin again.

Is it realistic for my wife to be able to forgive and forget what I have done? She is really struggling with this concept, thinking that if this sin “rears its ugly head” in the future, she will be tempted to follow the devil and sin herself. She is concerned that someday she may weaken as she continues to remember my sin and then follow the sin of anger into other sins.

She struggles with this human side, wanting to make me suffer consequences for my actions. She feels my reconciliation with God is not enough when she is not feeling very spiritual.

A: Yes, forgiveness is possible. Despite the popular wisdom, however, that does not require forgetting.

Your wife cannot unknow what she knows (in this case your adultery). Even though people blithely speak of “forgive and forget,” forgiveness does not require forgetting. Instead it requires, in this case, that your wife put one fact (your adultery) in the context of many facts (your love before that incident, your genuine sorrow and your changed behavior since you admitted this sin).

It is not realistic to expect that your wife can forget your adultery. It is, however, realistic to expect that she may be able to put this in the larger context of a relationship that both of you want to continue and to grow. Both of you may need professional counseling or the help of a faith-based program such as Retrouvaille ( or 1-800-470-2230) to do that. This weekend program helps couples deal with various kinds of brokenness in marriage.

The spouse who did not commit adultery certainly cannot prove that adultery is wrong by going out and committing the same sin. Each person needs to accept responsibility for his/her actions, plus their frequently unintended and long-term consequences.

With God’s grace, your good will and consistently good decisions by you and your wife, this marriage can survive and be life-giving for both of you as you grow in mutual forgiveness.

May the Lord bless your continuing faith journey as a married couple.

Q: From watching televised papal Masses, I notice that the pope wears something resembling a large necktie with a few crosses within some kind of circle. What is this garment called and what does it signify?

A: This is a pallium. Since the ninth century, this woolen band has been the symbol of a residential archbishop’s authority. The two lambs that supply the wool are blessed each year by the pope on the feast of St. Agnes (January 21). New or transferred archbishops now receive the pallium in Rome from the pope on the first feast of Sts. Peter and Paul (June 29) after their appointment.

The wool band has three gold pins that are inserted. The pallium is worn at special Masses within an archbishop’s ecclesiastical province.

When John Paul I was elected pope in August 1978, he chose not to be crowned with a papal tiara but rather to be invested with the pallium. Since Rome is the seat of an archdiocese, the pope carries out the responsibilities of an archbishop in relation to nearby dioceses. John Paul II made the same choice and, on October 22, 1978, was invested with the pallium for his installation as pope.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.


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