Pre-Cana "nonsense"?

Pre-Cana "nonsense"? June 17, 2011

Allison Salerno has some observations about marriage preparation in general, and one couple in particular:

A 78-year-old widower I know,  married to his first wife for 55 years, tomorrow will wed a never-married, lifelong Catholic in her sixties. They planned to marry in the Catholic Church. Instead, they are hoofing it across the street to his Lutheran church.

What prompted this change of plans? The priest’s insistence this older couple attend PreCana classes, classes designed for folks in their 20s and offering information ranging from Natural Family Planning to how to manage a household budget.

This makes me sad. It makes me angry. It’s an example of a Christian – in this case a member of the clergy – placing a greater priority on rules than on the Resurrection. This at a time when the Church is making great noise politically about the need to protect traditional marriage.

I don’t fault the Church as an institution for this couple’s rejection. I know at least a handful of wonderful priests who would have found a way to make sure the couple understood the awesome commitment they are making in this sacrament, without forcing them to fulfill a requirement designed for an entirely different demographic.

Check out the rest. She raises some provocative questions about marriage preparation for Catholics.

But my question is: what’s the big deal?  Really.  In my diocese, pre-Cana can take up a weekend, or just a Saturday afternoon.  Did this couple, even in their advanced age, not think it was worthwhile to spend a few hours thinking deeply about the relationship they would be starting at this moment in their lives?  When my wife and I attended pre-Cana a quarter century ago, it was focused on things like communication and time management — universal challenges facing every couple.  Couldn’t they have benefited from that?  Was a day or two really an unreasonable demand?

Looked at another way: did they consider, maybe, the wisdom they might be able to impart to other, younger couples who would also be taking part in pre-Cana? Could they not see this requirement as less of a problem, and more of an opportunity?

I’m a bit baffled about why they would consider having to attend pre-Cana a deal-breaker.

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31 responses to “Pre-Cana "nonsense"?”

  1. I’m joyfully engaged to be married at age 60; my fiance is 63. And although we cannot be married in the Roman Catholic church — my previous marital skirmishes received church annulments, his have not — we will, nevertheless, be meeting with an Episcopal priest for pre-Cana conversations.

    I do this willingly because even though we’re old enough to have examined and worked through lots of issues as adults alone and during our engagement, we both welcome any and all opportunities for greater awareness.

    BTW, the wedding (11/5) will have a heavy duty social media and online component! Just walking the talk of church communications as a ministry!

    Peace be with you.

  2. Greg and everyone else.

    My diocese has a program called “Cana II” for second marriages — either widow/widower situations or even divorcee’ whose marriages have been annulled. That’s the way to go. There are a lot of things that second marriages have to worry about that first ones do not!

  3. Whatever it’s called, I’m with you, Deacon Greg. But some people are so special that it’s an insult to ask them to follow the rules that apply to mere mortals.

    Also I hope Allison Salerno had the sense of responsibility to inform the pastor what a disaster the pre-Cana program was that forced her out of the parish.

  4. Frankly, Deacon Greg, I am surprised at your take (Pre-Cana “nonsense”?) on this story by Allison Salerno.

    I was married around the same time as you. (I don’t want to betray my age, but I think that my husband and I were almost old enough to be your parents.) My parish priest, whom I knew quite well, made no requirement of Pre-Cana, but we went to a day-long program (more out of my curiosity). We were definitely not the part of the same demographic as the other participants but we learned some interesting things about our hopes and dreams for life together. Today, in the diocese where I currently reside, there is a heavy component devoted to NFP. (Is this relevant for a 78 man, having been married for 55 years, and a woman in her 60’s?)

    Allison Salerno’s wise comment is very pastoral: “But to work, marriage preparation must respond to the couples’ spiritual and practical needs.” There was need for some pastoral discretion in this case.

  5. HMS # 4

    “Today, in the diocese where I currently reside, there is a heavy component devoted to NFP”

    Some time back, I examined what our local parishes provide. In a typical “Pre-Cana” weekend, there are six presentation crammed into a six-hour day. One — entitled “Intimacy” — takes about 45 minutes: Twenty minutes or so for the presentation and twenty minutes or so for the couple to work through their workbook questions with each other one-on-one.

    That is where NFP resides. Best I can tell, NFP gets introduced and promoted but for no more than five minutes of the twenty minute presentation. When I asked about that, the deacon in charge said that there is so MUCH more to “Marriage Intimacy” than just sexual activity and there is so much more to “Married Sexual Activity” than just NFP.

    You know, somehow I agree with that!

  6. Well, it really isn’t that big of a deal; if I wanted a sacramental marriage I would put up with it. But it doesn’t actually affect me; we’ve been married for 39 years. We didn’t have pre-cana; we met with our priest for 6 times on Saturday afternoons for “instructions”, because my husband was not Catholic at that time. Father read to us out of the catechism and asked if we had any questions
    The Pre-Cana II sounds like a good idea, Dcn. Norb is right, there are a lot of other issues that come up with second marriages.

  7. Let’s see, he is 78 and she is in her sixties. He was married for 55 years, ending with the death of his spouse. Was the priest worried that if they didn’t attend the pre-Cana class that they wouldn’t understand how to use NFP properly? :o)

    In this case I think the priest could have been flexible and other situations similar. He managed to push 2 Catholics to the Lutheran church. Lutheran’s gain, Catholic’s loss.

  8. Having been in a similar situation (once married, widowed, long-time pre-Cana presenter and sometime sacramental theologian marrying someone who had never been wed), I might suggest that in such cases just telling someone to just grin and bear it, is sending a very wrong message about sacramental marriage. While offering up a weekend is an opportunity for redemptive suffering, something in which I believe, what it is not is pastoral sacramental preparation. The spiritual needs of someone in a second marriage of this sort are very different from the 20-somethings (yes, there is always some overlap). Saying “offer it up” is tantamount to saying either “we don’t care to prepare you for the sacrament” or “you don’t need to know anything more than you already know.” Patently, the first is not a message we want to send, and the second is not true.

    My parish did not send us to pre-Cana, but offered us the preparation we deserved and needed to receive the sacrament fruitfully, and the continuing support to live out our vocation.

    I would not have gone to the Lutheran church, I would have gone to the bishop!

  9. I think requiring them to go to Pre-Cana is utter nonsense. Most dioceses have the Cana II that Deacon Norb mentioned or better yet, the Pre-Cana conversations with a priest would be appropriate.

    My husband and I (his second marriage) and I (my first) did not have to go through traditional Pre-Cana as part of our wedding prep due to our ages and situation. There are options.

    It pains me when people are painted as negative because of something like this. And Deacon Greg, with all due respect, I was a little surprised at what sounded like your haughty tone… perhaps I misread this because that is not the Greg that I know.

    And when you do something like that, intended or not, you know that people start lining up on either side of the thing. What words would help us find peace, kindness, compassion and possible unity first?

  10. I agree with Allison. What about couples who find themselves unmarried, but expecting a baby? Do the Pre-Cana classes scare them away, so they don’t receive the sacramental graces of marriage in the Church? How many of these people don’t get married in the Church, then don’t baptize their child b/c they’re afraid if they didn’t get married in the Church, they can’t get their child baptized?

    I have 4 kids, and 4 Godchildren. I’ve had to attend 8!! different baptism classes -1 for each of these kids. I still go, and don’t complain (except anonymously in cyberspace!). I had my last child 4 years ago, I had a 13 y/o getting confirmed the same year, so wasn’t it obvious I took the faith formation of my kids seriously?

    I “get” why people have to take the pre Cana/pre baptism classes, but if we really believe in the grace the sacrament imparts, I wish we were baptizing kids the week after they are born, and getting more folks married in the church.

  11. married 20 years, widowed, then remarried. Our diocese had the “second chance” pre-cana, and we were “older” than the rest of the class and were probably not the “target demographic.”

    We did it anyway. About half the materials for the two day weekend event were useful. There was a long (2-3 hour)NFP session not applicable to my personal situation but I thought it was carefully and lovingly presented by a wonderful couple. It caused me to recommend NFP to some much younger parishioners later.

    The course was at least directed to those who had been married before. It wasn’t tailored to our exact circumstances. The circumstances of the “second chance” class were so wildly different–annullments, non-regular marriages, mixed marriages, vicious divorces, child custody issues with former spouses–that it was not realistic to tailor the class to all the unique circumstances. There might have been another “death did us part” couple in our class but I don’t think so.

    As they say in AA: Take what you need, leave the rest.

    I’m not sure that we have the full story to understand why this couple needed to leave the Church over this.

    “It’s an example of a Christian – in this case a member of the clergy – placing a greater priority on rules than on the Resurrection.”

    It is such an example, but this happens so often that we can’t let it bother us in most situations.

    And may the couple live many long years!

  12. As a Pastoral Associate, this is one of the reasons that I do marriage prep on an individual basis.

    I’m currently working with on an individual basis with a 68 year old faithful practicing Roman Catholic widower (who was married to 40 years to his first, deceased wife) who wants to marry a 65 year old woman who is unbaptized and has now gone through 3 annulments… and two 18 year olds who have 2 kids together. I know not every parish has the luxury of individual marriage prep, but come on! Aren’t we called to serve the ‘People of God’ ??

  13. All I’ve ever heard of Pre-Cana was that it was NFP and other topics highly compressed in a single weekend and forced down prospective couples’ throats with a cake decorator…and like cramming for an exam, how much could be actually retained?

    The Missus and I did a “sponsor couple” preparation, where we met with a lovely couple for six two-hour sessions over four months. Worked great. Why would dioceses frown on such a thing?

  14. Michele:
    “a 65 year old woman who is unbaptized and has now gone through 3 annulments…”

    How can this happen? Aren’t annulments for a marriage between two baptized persons? And three annulments by this person who is not a Catholic?

    Can you explain?

  15. Because so many parishes and priest have done a really bad job at pre cana conferences, many here seem to think it does not and should not matter. In a way, this is also true of other sacraments. Has anyone looked at the percentage that no longer believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist? I also have to laugh with some talking about their other failed marriages and now no need to hear anything that somehow might point to why those marriages failed. Could it be that they were leading secular lives away from God and His Church? Could it be they were using birth control, a mortal sin? Could their very attitude about Church requirements also reflect the fact that they view anything the Church says as suspect?

    Having spent a lot of personal time and effort working in our Dominican Parish, we now have a very robust PreCana requirement that includes multiple weeks, tests, and seperate 3 week program in NFP. We have a team of about 50 who deliver this program and our recomendation goes to the Priest who is involved. We have multiple priests in our parish. He meets and lays out the findings and the issues to both the man and woman. In some cases, they have to make some strong changes to be married in our Church. We certainly would not consider marriage to those living together as an example or those who do not attend mass. This is a Sacrament and no one should marry two people who are obviously in grave sin. Last time I looked, that would in fact be ground for annulment and recieving the sacrament while in grave sin is in fact a very major sin in and of itself. Has any of this changed? I am surprised at how flippantly Deacon takes this situation. He should be heaping praise on the parish rather than attacking it for trying to do their job. Marriage is a sacred event which is why even thinking about having it as anything other than between one man and one woman is a travesty and serious sin on all involved.

  16. The bride is in her 60s and was never married. After having lived more than sixty years as an “I,” she is now half of a “we.” Perhaps she would have been interested in pre-Cana instruction focusing on the sharing and compromising aspects of married life.

  17. Naturgesetz: Allison did inform her pastor about the disaster the pre-Cana program became. And if you go to the link Deacon Greg gave us, you’ll notice she and her husband left that parish on account of the priest’s reaction to their concerns.

  18. HMS — For a Catholic marriage, both parties (not just the Catholic) must be free to marry. The presumption is that a prior marriage is valid (even if it wasn’t sacramental). Therefore, if either party has had three marriages end in divorce, it becomes necessary to establish that none of those marriages is valid.

  19. The priest should have given private marriage prep for this couple. However, while I can understand this couple’s distress over the pre-Cana requirement, I cannot see how life long Catholics could so easily walk over to a Lutheran Church. Could they not have sought out another priest or called the diocese to address the issue? Seems to me they walked away all too easily.

  20. Deacon Greg:

    I cannot comment on anyone’s pre-Cana experience other than my own, but mine was AWFUL. Last year, my now-wife and I (in our early 40s, lifelong Catholics, Catholic schools, never married before) went to pre-Cana with an open heart and open mind. Sadly, we experienced the following at our pre-Cana program:

    • A presentation on financial matters that featured an ad hominem attack on whole life insurance followed by a request to give the presenter our contact information so we could talk about term life insurance and reaching our “Financial Freedom” number.
    • A facilitator who told us that he had “figured out the Trinity.”
    • An explanation on how to work through marital communication problems based on an exegesis of the Hall and Oates version of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”
    • A facilitator who shared his theory that dogs don’t go to Heaven based on his reading of studies showing that at the moment of death humans loose the slightest amount of weight (as measured by hyper sensitive scales) when dogs do not. His theory was that the weight loss in humans was the soul leaving the body—no weight loss in dogs at the moment of death means they do not have souls. I have no explanation why the facilitator was talking about his theory.
    • A priest who, as part of his presentation to the group, stood between an engaged couple draping his arms over their shoulders and then pivoting left and right while saying that Christ was a married couple’s “yoke.” (The visual, not the theology, was disturbing.)

    The “Yoke” couple (who were in their late 40s) scored one for the team when the priest was making a clumsy point about sex. (His point, more or less, was all men are sex-starved). Father X, who himself had been married before becoming a priest, was trying to set the issue up by saying to the woman, “At the end of a long week, what is the one thing that he won’t leave you alone about…the one thing that makes him happy to do…the one thing he keeps bugging you about?” Without missing a beat, the woman replied, “Golf.”

    There were more examples of how the day went from an opportunity to learn more about our relationship, in light of the Church’s teaching, to just “getting our ticket punched.” Truth be told, the materials for the sessions were pretty good, and had the presenters (priest included) just stuck to the materials, we’d have had a fighting shot at walking home with some practical and spiritual nuggets of advice and understanding.

    Never fear, God’s love provides: we were married by a priest friend of ours (who lives in another state), and prepared for marriage by our pastor. Both of these men insured that we entered the Sacrament of Marriage well prepared.

  21. Yes, we are all aware of the great state of catechesis in the United States, how each and every Catholic has had such a great religious education. NOT.

    It does not matter if you are The Most Knowledgeable Person on the sacrament of marriage, a few hours of pre-marriage prep is entirely proper.

    As a lawyer of many, many years, I am still required to take several hours of continuing legal education each year. As a catechist at my parish, I am still expected to attend periodic classes and conferences by which to increase and improve my knowledge and understanding of the faith.

    One of the reasons we have the scandal of so many annulments in this country is such a careless attitude toward pre-marriage preparation.

  22. I have to say, the Pre-Cana program (and the Pre-Jordan program we attended for my daughter less than a year later) was a joke. If I wasn’t already a faithful Catholic, I would have felt no need to become one, nor would I have felt the need to submit my marriage to Jesus Christ, as niether was proposed to be all that important. In fact, you would’ve thought that we worship a God named “Communication.”

  23. Bender, I can’t agree more – we can always grow in our understanding of the sacraments, but I’m willing to bet that your continuing legal education is in fact “continuing” and not simply repeating what you learned the first few weeks of law school. A presentation that begins with trying to get the audience to list the seven sacraments of the Church (without much luck) supports your point: the general state of catechesis is poor. It also supports mine, a catechetical presentation that starts there is not going to deepen my understanding of the sacrament. If we take the sacrament of marriage seriously, we will seriously prepare people for it, even people who already know a lot about it by virtue of previous experience or previous education. And serious preparation for these people is not the same as what an uncatechized couple of 20 year olds needs.

  24. At the parish in which my wife and I were married coming on 2 years the prep course was not pre-Cana, but I believe “Evenings for the Engaged”. 6 weeks of, basically, secular topics seeing if you and your finance had the forsight to actually talk to each other prior to making the choice. one week was about spirituality, but was not specifically Catholic. We missed the “Sex Week”, and glad we did, knowing hat the Church taught already.

    What struck us both was that the entire thing was common sense. I see many here posting that their pre-Cana was practical (how to balance the books), but ours was more—attitudes about money that we had to talk about. How do you feel about debt? Credit cards? These kinds of things.

    The best was thatr one topic had us supposed to discuss the number of children we wanted. Two problems: 1) As Cahtolics, weren’t we suposed to be open to life? and 2) How, in the course of a relationship headed towards marriage, could a couple not talk about this? Sheesh… We talked about things so much the facilitaor thought we cheated on some test called the FOCUS test because our answers were all the “right” ones except when I didn’t understand the weird double negatives.

    Basically I wish we met with Father 3-6 times.

  25. Actually, given that the elderly are the group that have had the biggest increases in divorce, living together, casual sex, use of drugs for casual sex purposes, and STD’s in the last few years, I’d be certain sure to get elderly couples into marriage preparation.

  26. This is ridiculous. At 78 and 60something they hardly need the speech about NFP, Abraham and Sarah notwithstanding. Pre Cana is a waste of time. Catholics get divorced at the same rate as unchurched people and we have the nasty twist of the annulment factories.

  27. Pre-Cana is exactly as Dcn. Kandra says – communication. The root of this word is communio and reminds us of the communion of human persons as a reflection of the divine communion of persons.
    The sad thing is that people see pre-cana as a form of right and wrong ways to have sex. Marriage is much much more than just sex, although perhaps sex is what is on most people’s mind.
    That blogger is ridiculous to judge the priest as a legalist. Instead, she should ask herself why she like the couple is so hung up on sex that they think pre-cana is not useful to an older couple.

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