Give us this day our daily love

So much goes into the planning of the perfect wedding. There’s the ceremony, the dress and the party. There’s the flowers and the cake. There’s the photographer, the rehearsal dinner, the transportation and the accommodations. Oh yes, and the budget, family involvement and the pressure of making a multitude of big decisions in a short amount of time. Crossing off all the details on the wedding checklist can be daunting, time-consuming and stress-inducing.

For Catholics, however, planning the perfect wedding day is only one part of the equation. Catholic couples are preparing to enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony — and this preparation takes more than stellar organization and a three-ring binder.

In Familiaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation on the family in the modern world, the Holy Father says that preparing for marriage comes in three phases: remote, proximate and immediate.

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It begins in childhood (remote) when values are instilled, relationships are learned and character is formed. It continues into adolescence (proximate) with continued faith formation and development of character and life skills. And it culminates in the months and weeks before the wedding date (immediate) when “there must also be a deeper knowledge of the mystery of Christ and the Church, of the meaning of grace and of the responsibility of Christian marriage, as well as preparation for taking an active and conscious part in the rites of the marriage liturgy.”

In a general audience catechesis on the family in May 2015, Pope Francis said, “Engagement … is the time when the two are called to perform a real labor of love, an involved and shared work that delves deep. Here they discover one another little by little, i.e. the man ‘learns’ about woman by learning about this woman, his fiancée; and the woman ‘learns’ about man by learning about this man, her fiancé. Let us not underestimate the importance of this learning: it is a beautiful endeavor, and love itself requires it, for it is not simply a matter of carefree happiness or enchanted emotion.”

Here, then, are some ways to keep Christ at the center of marriage prep during the immediate phase of engagement — and to help establish a foundation that will last well beyond the day couples say “I do.”

PART I: Spiritual Preparation

How to keep God front and center

First things first, pray together.

Prayer is the foundation of married life. Research has shown that couples who pray together are happier, more satisfied with family life, tend to have fewer disagreements, have better communication and have more stable marriages overall. As Father Patrick Peyton, a candidate for sainthood who promoted the Rosary within the family, was fond of saying, “the family that prays together, stays together.”

When couples pray together, they have a better chance of being on the same page about what really matters: developing a relationship with God. Such a relationship will only assist engaged men and women in what is, hopefully, the main goal of their marriages and their lives: getting their spouse to heaven.

There is no better time to begin the habit of praying together than when a couple is preparing for the Sacrament of Matrimony. Making prayer a priority in a couple’s relationship can be made infinitely easier by developing a schedule that eventually can become habitual.

Putting it into practice: Tips for constructing a regular prayer regimen

Pray at the same time every day. Such disciplined consistency helps set expectations and can help develop a healthy prayer habit that will set a good foundation for married life.

Pray the same prayer for a set amount of time: Not sure what that should be? The Church has so many rich prayers from which to choose. Take a few minutes at the beginning of the week or the month to pick a prayer, and then focus on it for a set amount of time. Going back to the same prayer day after day can help couples focus on a particular intention and also helps eliminate the pressure of picking a new prayer every day.

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Sit in the same place: It may not seem like it, but space where you pray matters. Set aside a special corner with two chairs and a table with a candle on it. Add a crucifix or an icon of the Holy Family. Designate a space where you and your future spouse can kneel down. Or make a habit of stopping by your local church and praying together for a few minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Designating and creating a special space for prayer gives an unspoken dignity to the action and can help couples enter into prayer more intentionally.

Take advantage of the Church’s sacraments as a couple. Go to Mass together regularly. Go to confession together regularly (once a month is a good goal), especially before your wedding.

Prayer for Engaged Couples
“In the prayer of the Our Father we say: ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Spouses can also learn to pray like this: ‘Lord, give us this day our daily love,’ for the daily love of spouses is bread, the true bread of the soul, what sustains them in going forward. ... This is the prayer for engaged couples and spouses. Teach us to love one another, to will good to the other! The more you trust in him, the more your love will be ‘forever,’ able to be renewed, and it will conquer every difficulty.”

Read a spiritual book together.

Spiritual reading can be a great gift to couples preparing for marriage. Not only will it be an enriching experience that will help prepare hearts and minds for the upcoming sacrament, such quiet time between a couple will become a cherished, focused time amid a swirl of pre-wedding activities. Pick a book and stick with it. Read it aloud together and talk about the points that resonate with each of you. Not only will you both grow spiritually as you explore the subject matter, but your communication skills will be practiced as you engage in further discussion.

Putting it into practice: Check out these inspirational books ideal for couples

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“Three to Get Married” by Fulton J. Sheen (Scepter, $11.95). This classic by such a talented communicator should be required reading for all couples preparing for marriage. Charitably, yet clearly, Sheen gives a thought-provoking explanation of the Church’s teaching on marriage that is both inviting and yet spiritually challenging for all.

“For Better … Forever: A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage” by Greg and Lisa Popcak (OSV, $19.95). This personal and readable book blends the Catholic vision of love and marriage with modern psychology to help couples find “a path to a complete and soulful marital spirituality.”

“The Marriage God Wants for You: Why the Sacrament Makes all the Difference” by Cardinal Donald Wuerl (The Word Among Us, $12.50). In this short and easy-to-read book, Cardinal Wuerl presents the good news about sacramental marriage and how beautiful such a union can be for married couples and for the Church.

“Good News about Sex and Marriage: Answers to Your Honest Questions about Catholic Teaching” by Christopher West (Servant, $13.99). This personable and relevant book answers all the basics and is rooted in Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, with a focus on chastity and family planning.

Take advantage of marriage prep offered by the Church.

As couples prepare for their wedding day, accomplishing the tasks and requirements set forth by parish and diocese may seem like just another hoop to jump through. But this time can have significant value if given the proper attention.

As Pope Francis said in his general audience on engagement in May 2015, “Pre-marriage courses are a special expression of preparation. We see so many couples who perhaps come to the course somewhat reluctantly … but afterwards they are happy and grateful, because they have found there the opportunity — sometimes the only one — to reflect on their experience in nontrivial terms.”

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Francis’ point is key. The marriage preparation mandated by the Church may be the only time a couple preparing for marriage is asked questions and encouraged to communicate with one another about the things that matter. Take advantage of these opportunities, typically found in the “pre-marital inventory” and a diocesan marriage preparation event.

Putting it into practice: How to take advantage of the Church’s resources

Take the pre-marital inventory seriously. This is usually a lengthy survey that asks questions on everything from religion to family life to communication skills. After taking the inventory separately, the answers are compared and couples are invited to discuss where there is agreement and where there isn’t. Such a test can be a valuable tool in helping couples communicate and can help to identify some problem areas that may need to be addressed before marriage. Be thoughtful and honest when answering these questions. Couples aren’t being graded, and the more honest the responses, the better follow-up discussions there will be.

Attend your diocesan wedding preparation class or retreat with an open mind. Depending on where you are getting married, this preparation event can take many forms. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, for example, offers one-day classes. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston offers a full marriage encounter weekend. And the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, asks that couples attend both a Friday evening and Saturday all-day session. No matter what your format, go with an open mind, not just with the goal of fulfilling a requirement. Take the opportunity to learn constructive communication skills, to become informed about natural family planning and to identify ways in which you can better incorporate Christ into your married life.

Three Indispensible Phrases For Couples From Pope Francis
In an address to couples preparing for marriage in 2014, Pope Francis had these important words of wisdom.

Identify role models.

Strong examples of married Christian love are essential for couples preparing for marriage. Asking for the intercession of one or two particular saints throughout the period of engagement and the beginning of married life is one fruitful way that couples can develop a stronger relationship with God. As Pope Benedict said in a homily on All Saints Day in 2006, “The example of the saints encourages us to follow in their same footsteps and to experience the joy of those who trust in God, for the one true cause of sorrow and unhappiness for men and women is to live far from him.”

In addition, it may be helpful for couples to identify other men and women — whether parents, grandparents, family friends or friends from church — whose marriages have the qualities that they value. Who might these couples be, and what about them is admirable? Discuss these couples with your future spouse. Don’t be afraid to talk directly to them, too. Married couples have much wisdom — and maybe even a few valuable battle scars — to share.

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Putting it into practice: Get to know these married models of holiness perfect for engaged couples to emulate

The Blessed Virgin Mary and her most chaste spouse, St. Joseph. This holiest of couples, whose vocations were brought to fulfillment by their son Jesus, are the ultimate role models for couples wishing to live a life of sacrificial love centered on Christ.

Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin. Parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and the first married couple to be canonized together, Louis and Zélie are model examples of what it means to love God and serve him throughout the daily struggles and realities of family life.

Blesseds Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini. The first married couple ever to be beatified together showed strength, resilience and trust in God when they sheltered Jews and other refugees during the rise of the Nazis in early 20th-century Italy.

Blessed Karl of Austria and Servant of God Empress Zita. Blessed Karl, the last emperor of Austria, proposed to Zita in front of the Blessed Sacrament and placed their engagement under the protection of Mary. Their goal was to get the other to heaven, and their example is ideal for any couple seeking holiness.

PART II: Practical Preparation

How to prioritize what really matters when planning a wedding

Put the liturgy first.

The most important part of wedding preparation is preparing for the actual sacrament. By planning a thoughtful, meaningful liturgy — whether within or without the context of Mass — couples should seek above all else to praise and worship God appropriately as they become joined as one in his sight. A beautiful marriage liturgy also can be an opportunity for evangelization. Couples have the opportunity to witness their faith in a public way in front of family and friends who may not often enter a Catholic church. A prayerful, meaningful liturgy can make this a powerful experience for all.

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Putting it into practice: How to plan a beautiful liturgy

Read through the marriage rite. In every way possible, construct a liturgy that fully praises God and reflects the love that he has shown you by uniting you in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Choose your readings and psalm thoughtfully and prayerfully. Read through each option together as a couple. Discuss which particular passages or verses speak to you and why you would like them to be proclaimed on your wedding day.

Promote participation among your guests by choosing music that is familiar, easy to sing and has repetitive themes. You want to encourage them to join you in praising God as much as possible.

Be thoughtful about who you invite to play an active role during the liturgy. If you have priest friends, invite them to concelebrate. Ask your grandparents to bring up the gifts. Include godparents where possible, perhaps as readers or extraordinary ministers of holy Communion, according to parish practice.

Be good stewards of your resources.

Planning a wedding can be a tempting endeavor. It can be all too easy to get swept up into the lure of the multibillion dollar industry, and before you know it, you may be considering spending thousands of dollars on decorations alone! It is natural to want a beautiful wedding, and it’s important to make the day special. But as much as possible, avoid the temptations. Being good stewards of the gifts God has given you can help you and your future spouse have an engagement filled with gratitude and peace. Whether or not you opt for the fancy decor, you will be just as married at the end of the day.

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Putting it into practice: How to spend responsibly

Take advantage of coupons and bargain hunting. When it comes to ordering invitations, decorations or save-the-dates, go online and hunt down promo codes. Plan centerpieces early and shop around for deals. A little searching can go a long way to adding up to savings in the bank.

Attend wedding shows. Such events can be overwhelming, especially for couples who are seeking to avoid the “wedding industry” as much as possible when planning a wedding. But vendors at wedding shows often hand out coupons or offer discounts on their products. Shop around, and get the most for your money.

Make wise decisions on flowers. There may not be a need to have flowers on every pew or on every table. Be prudent. Brides, consider turning your throwing bouquet — sometimes given complimentarily by florists — into a bouquet to present to Mary.

Consider skipping the favors. While many couples feel compelled to provide some type of wedding favor, these can get overlooked or left behind. Instead, consider investing in a prayer card for you and your spouse. The Church is made up of a community of believers, and a prayer card can help keep that connection of community alive by serving as a reminder for those who attend your wedding to continue to pray for you long after the dancing is done.

Consider making your honeymoon a part pilgrimage.

Honeymoons should be a time to relax, focus on your new spouse and enjoy quiet time together after the rush of planning and the wedding day. It’s also a perfect opportunity to spend time together in prayer and thanksgiving, praising God for the gift he has given you in the other. Incorporating the Faith into your vacation can be a great way to start your marriage out on the right foot: with God at the center.

Putting it into practice: Making your honeymoon holy

Go to daily Mass together. Even if you’re honeymooning on a tropical island, daily Mass should be available. If not, take a few minutes in the morning to hold hands and invite God to continue to bless your newly married life.

Visit a shrine or some other place of significance. While vacationing, perhaps there is a chapel, shrine or other holy place nearby that is meaningful to you. Perhaps there is a statue of St. Thérèse or of St. Raphael, the patron of happy meetings and Christian courtship, nearby. Spend a few minutes in their presence, inviting them to intercede for you and your new union.

◗ Take advantage of little moments. Pray the Rosary or morning prayer while watching the sunrise. Offer thanks to God for your spouse while also thanking him for your food before meals. Whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for your newly married life as you prepare for bed.

RE-LAX: Enjoy your time of engagement.

Engagement is a sacred time — and, by its very nature, it’s finite. Make the most of every moment by making memories and having some fun. Most importantly, use the time you have to develop a deeper bond with your future spouse simply by doing activities together.

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Putting it into practice: Here are some ways to enjoy being a fiancé(e)

Exercise. Go to the gym together or just for a regular walk around the neighborhood. Update the other on your days at the office, or pray the Rosary as you walk. Working toward your spiritual goals while working toward your physical goals can be a beautiful combination.

Get out of town. Take a break from wedding planning and spend a weekend hiking in the mountains, shopping or at a sporting event. Clear your head and come back home refreshed and recharged.

Plan your honeymoon. OK, so it’s still technically planning, but it’s planning with the perk of having a vacation be the result. Dream big. You only get one honeymoon, so make it count.

Keep having fun as a couple. Go to the movies, to a winery or out for a special dinner. No matter what, try not to get overwhelmed by all the details because, in the end, the details aren’t what matter. It’s your relationship with God and with one another.

Gretchen R. Crowe is editor of Newsweekly.