First Session Guidelines

At the beginning of this first session with the couple, it is recommended that the positive aspects of the marriage preparation guidelines as an expression of concern of the Christian community be emphasized. The process is meant to be a positive aid to the couple in the development of a stable, enriching marriage.

The initial session begins the immediate stage of marriage preparation. During the initial session, it is recommended that the pastor, deacon or pastoral minister complete seven steps.

  1. Establish a rapport with the couple in order to support and counsel them in their preparation for marriage.
  2. Give the couple an opportunity to discuss their relationship and their hopes for their marriage.
  3. Review and explain the concerns of the community as expressed in the Wisconsin Pastoral Guidelines for Marriage Preparation.* A copy of the Couple’s Guide may be given to the couple at this time.
  4. Explore their motives for marriage and any special circumstances that may affect their marriage, for example: age, cultural background, pregnancy, military service, physical or mental disability, levels of faith development and religious issues. If any impediment or special circumstance arises, see the appropriate section of these guidelines.
  5. Explain the canonical and liturgical procedures that will be required. It is recommended that the bride and groom complete the required canonical forms during this initial session in order to surface any canonical impediment that would prevent setting a wedding date. Instruct the couple in regard to Church and civil documents that will be required: baptismal certificates, affidavits for freedom to marry, and in the event of a second marriage, a civil decree of divorce and an ecclesiastical decree of invalidity. If registration in a parish has not been discussed prior to the meeting, the pastor or pastoral minister should explain the requirements of parish registration in keeping with the guidelines in Section IV.
  6. If no canonical impediment surfaces in the discussion during the first session, the wedding date may be set. If the couple has begun their preparation well in advance of their wedding date, there should be sufficient time to resolve any difficulties that arise during the course of preparation. In the event that a sufficient cause for delaying the marriage arises during this time, see the section of “Delay of Marriage” in these guidelines.
  7. Arrange for the couple to begin their instructional and sacramental preparation (e.g. marriage retreat, FOCCUS, Natural Family Planning).

*Canon 1115 of the Code of Canon Law states: “Marriages are to be celebrated in a parish where either of the contracting parties has a domicile, quasi-domicile, or month long residence or, if it concerns transients, in the parish where they actually reside. With the permission of the proper ordinary or proper pastor, marriages can be celebrated elsewhere.” In most instances, one member of the engaged couple has a residence where the couple will reside following the wedding, and, therefore, the couple meets the requirement of canon law.

Beyond the requirements of canon law, there are pastoral considerations. Increasingly and regretfully, parish leaders raise the concern of investing their time and energy in preparing an engaged couple who are not or will not be members of their parishes. While this pastoral guideline addresses the issue of jurisdiction and procedure, parish leaders are also urged to look to the pastoral needs of couples preparing for marriage, regardless of the parish in which they will reside.

This guideline indirectly addresses the need to support and assist newly married couples. The most successful programs of support for newly married couples are those which are part of the parish’s continuing ministry to marriage and include programs that begin with preparation for marriage and continue beyond the wedding. Due to the mobility of couples, however, such follow-up is often difficult. In addition, for various reasons newly married couples often fail to register in their local parish until the need of baptism of the first child arises. The intent of this guideline is to urge parishes to create a welcoming atmosphere for engaged couples, to encourage them to register in the parish and to provide ongoing support for newly married couples.

While couples are encouraged to become involved in the parish where they will reside, their marriage can be celebrated elsewhere. Distance and travel restrictions for the engaged couple’s families and friends may indicate such a need. Support and encouragement from the couple’s family and friends are more important than arbitrarily involving the couple’s future parish community in the wedding liturgy.

When the marriage is not celebrated in the community of future residence, the pastor, deacon or pastoral minister where the celebration takes place is responsible for either contacting the future community directly or for instructing the engaged couple to contact the parish in which they will be living. Contact can be as simple as mailing a letter, advising the new pastor of the engaged couple’s future wedding in their parish.