Couples wishing to marry in a Catholic church are expected to initiate the process by contacting the parish 6 to 12 months in advance. The preparation process typically needs about 4 months presuming the couple is free* to marry. The preparation process includes:
- Premarital Investigation. The “MA Form” is filled out by the priest with the couple. The form collates background information, Sacramental records, and freedom to marry for both the bride and groom. On the form the priest also records and witnesses the couples answers to specific questions regarding a couple’s stated intentions towards marriage.
- FOCCUS stands for Facilitate Open Caring Communication Understanding and Study which is an online tool used to evaluate how well the couple is communicating on the various aspects of marriage. The priest doing the preparations must register the couple before they can take the test online.
- Pre-Cana, Engagement Encounter, and Nova are one or two day programs intended to help a couple understand what they are getting into. These are taught by volunteer married couples who talk about the basics of marriage and offer illustrations through their own life experiences. The topics covered in these seminars tend to reflect those of the FOCCUS. NOVA is for couples where one or both fiancé has been previously married. Pre-Cana and Engagement Encounter are intended for first time marriages. The Engagement Encounter is more of a retreat format and good for couples who can afford to get away for a weekend. Pre-Cana is either a one or two day program depending on which parish offers it. It is the couple’s responsibility to schedule the program to their liking. Upon completion of the respective program, the couple receives a certificate that is to be turned into the priest so that it can be included in the couple’s marriage file.
[*Note on freedom to marry: Consistent with all Christian teaching the Catholic Church holds that if a couple is married Sacramentally they are married for life. People who are divorced are still considered married by the church and are not free to marry. The exception is if a previous marriage has been evaluated by the Church (a.k.a. ‘annulment process) and declared ‘null’ (not a Sacramental marriage from the beginning) by the nature of some defect. Preparation for a marriage cannot move forward until any and all prior marriages of one or both fiancés have been evaluated and determined to not impede their marriage.]