For many recently engaged couples, as soon as the happy news is shared with family and friends, the wedding planning begins. Before they know what hit them, the couple’s focus is fixated on a lengthy to-do list involving reception halls, bands, bridesmaids and groomsmen, guest lists, flowers and much more.
The Catholic Church, in her infinite wisdom, turns the focus away from the wedding day to the marriage. The United States Council of Catholic Bishops explains, “because Christian marriage is a sacrament, the Catholic Church wants couples to be well-prepared.”
Catholic churches require engaged couples to meet with a priest between six and nine months in advance of the wedding. At that time, the couple registers for a marriage preparation program, sometimes called Pre-Cana in reference to the wedding where Jesus performed his first public miracle.
Online prep for one couple at a time
The COVID-19 pandemic had the effect of moving most in-person activities on-line, including marriage prep. When churches could no longer hold Pre-Cana lectures and workshops for engaged couples, many parishes turned to Catholic Marriage Prep, an online marriage preparation program founded by Christian and Christine Meert.
Since 2004, the Meerts, who also served for 16 years as directors of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Colorado Springs, have been offering their online program for engaged couples with the goal of “building Christ-centered marriages and families.” Over 70,000 couples have taken the course, which is available in English, Spanish, French and bilingual (English/Spanish and English/French).
Conducted entirely over the internet, the Catholic Marriage Prep course first pairs the engaged couple with a certified mentor couple of similar background. Usually completed in four to six weeks, the 7-session course begins with exploring Genesis, as the instructors “help the couples discover God’s plan for man and woman and for marriage,” Christian told Aleteia.
The engaged couples have access to the course via a learning management platform. They discuss and write their responses together. Because the questions and answers are written — there’s no webcam involved — the participants feel comfortable enough to be open in their discussions and responses.
The course gives the couple the opportunity to discuss their own family histories, something they probably would be less likely to do in a face-to-face meeting with an instructor, Christian explained. The act of writing itself, he said, helps couples give the questions serious thought.
No lectures or judging
The first step for any couple is to contact a parish. Many are not churchgoers, and may be intimidated to meet with the pastor. They’re usually put at ease once the pastor explains the process and the benefits of the marriage preparation, and tells them about their options which may include CatholicMarriagePrep.com .
“Couples come from everywhere and with different levels of religious education, we don’t lecture or judge, we’re just accompanying the couple on a journey to marriage in the Catholic Church, our first and most important goal is to build trust with them,” said Christian.
The program offers a foundation for something many couples don’t even know they need — a Christ-centered marriage.
“Everyone wants to be happy. What they don’t always know is that in order to be happy they need God in their lives,” said Christian.
A couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Jordan and Lindsay, credited the course with helping them see the need to ground their marriage in their faith.
“I really like how the class made you think about not only the scriptures and what God would want in your marriage, but how you can keep him the center of your relationship. This class helped us bond and talk about subjects that sometimes get put on the back burner,” said Lindsay.
In seven sessions, the program covers Genesis, marriage as a sacrament, formation of conscience, contraception and abstinence before marriage, the Rite of Matrimony, forgiveness, how “Our Bodies Are a Temple,” and life-skill tools. Pope St. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is woven throughout the program, starting with the first session on Genesis.
“Pope John Paul II pointed out that God blessed man and woman first and then told them to be fruitful and multiply. We want to show them God the Father, and make them think,” explained Christian.
“We want them to understand that God is love,” no matter where they have come from or what experiences they may have had, he said.
A mission that brought them to the United States
In 1999, Christian and Christine Meert, their three youngest children, along with members of the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes moved to the United States at the invitation of Archbishop Charles Chaput, then-Archbishop of Denver, Colorado. It was the fulfillment of a long-held dream to establish a community in North America. Archbishop Chaput asked them to devote themselves to supporting families, a mission they readily accepted.
“We hadn’t started out well as a couple, living together before marriage, having an abortion,” Christine wrote. “We wanted to help others do better than us and to be strong in their love for each other and Christ. Our past brought with it a lot of pain, and we felt called to help others avoid that pain, or to heal from it.”
The inspiration for their marriage prep program came after Christine interviewed the theologian Georgette Blaquière on the subject of marriage.
“Georgette was in the process of writing her book: Oser Vivre l’Amour (Dare Live Love). St. John Paul II had asked for her input in his writing of Mulieris Dignitatem (On the dignity and vocation of women). We had the honor of spending some time with her to prepare the broadcast and it completely changed our view of marriage, and our lives! It took us to the very foundations of this awesome covenant of love and enlightened it from the inside out, from the roots to the treetop,” she wrote.
“She introduced us to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body upon which we based the whole program,” Christine explained.
Once in Denver, the couple launched their marriage prep class in the basement of their Community House. Four years later, they took the successful program online, and moved to Colorado Springs, where they served the diocese as directors of the office of marriage and family life until January 2022.
Registering for CatholicMarriagePrep.com
The United States Council of Catholic Bishops includes Catholic Marriage Prep in their list of recommended online marriage preparation programs.
Before registering, couples are advised to consult their pastor to be sure that the program will fulfill the parish’s requirements. Visit CatholicMarriagePrep.com to register.
Other online preparations
In addition to marriage prep Christian and Christian Meert offer online programs to prepare for quinceañeras and baptisms.
“From the start, we had decided that we would follow the Lord’s lead and that we would not launch any program without a request from the Church,” he explained.
Catholic Marriage Prep also offers a program for baptized Catholic couples who were married outside of the Catholic Church, but would like to be validly married in the Church. Visit the website for an invitation to the March 16 webinar: “Online Solutions for Marriage Convalidations.”