PROVIDENCE — Each year, National Marriage Week, held Feb. 7-14, provides the opportunity to focus on building “a culture of life and love that begins with supporting, promoting and upholding marriage and the family,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Here in the Diocese of Providence, the Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment knows the importance of offering resources for those married for 50 years or more as well as those preparing to walk down the aisle.
For the past 12 years, the Marriage Preparation and Enrichment office has sponsored a special Mass for couples throughout Rhode Island celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries, at which hundreds have gathered each year at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul to renew those special vows they made on their wedding day.
Of the hundreds of couples participating in the event this past September many celebrated more than 50 years of married life together. Sitting in the front row were those celebrating more than 70 years of Holy Matrimony.
Holding hands, Nicola and Santa Mainelli, parishioners of Saint Pius V. Parish, Providence, smiled with their family as they celebrated 75 years as husband and wife. When asked the secret of a long marriage, Nicola pointed upwards. “The secret is the Lord.”
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin shared with those gathered that he hopes that the passage of years has given the couples a certain wisdom and insight especially about the presence of God and the reality of faith in their lives.
“Faith is the solid foundation for which we build our lives…Dear friends, it’s true, in your holy marriage, God has made his dwelling place among you. Trust in the Lord and he will always, always be with you.”
For those who are preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage, 18 parish-based Marriage Preparation programs are held in 10 parishes throughout the year. The Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment serves approximately 400-450 engaged couples per year, who range in age from approximately 28-35, according to Donna Warner, Marriage Preparation coordinator. The office also offers two Spanish-speaking programs per year as well.
This marriage preparation program, presented by a team of trained married couples and a priest or deacon, provides an opportunity for engaged couples to explore fundamental areas of love, marriage and family life essential to a lasting Christian marriage. Life experiences are presented for consideration to give couples a sense of the real process of understanding each other more deeply. Exercises complement the ideas presented and help to stimulate dialogue.
Helpful topics include fostering communication, managing finances, exploring one’s personality and spirituality, as well as a sexuality component which includes a brief overview of Natural Family Planning and a session about planning the wedding liturgy.
A team from each parish invests time and effort to make sure the weekends run smoothly and that the engaged couples feel welcomed, explained Edward J. Trendowski, director of the Office of Faith Formation.
“Marriage preparation courses in general are a great opportunity to invite active Catholics to grow deeper in their relationship with Jesus Christ,” said Trendowski. “The marriage preparation offered by the diocese serves as a gateway evangelization moment for welcoming inactive Catholics back into the life of the Church, demonstrating the importance of living a life rooted in the sacraments.”
Trendowski added that many couples have shared their sincere growth in their own understanding of the teachings of the church on marriage.
“Some people who go through the program share that the content of talks and witness of team couples reinforced their decision to get married in the Church. Others discuss feelings of apprehension regarding some of the more difficult teachings of the Church, particularly regarding openness to life,” said Trendowski. “But quite a few participants share that the courses helped them to grow in their understanding of the teachings of the Church and that they have grown in their desire to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony.”
The Office of Marriage Preparation and Enrichment has also revised the Marriage Preparation classes to focus more deeply on what makes marriage in the Catholic Church different. Trendowski added that this weekend course is meant to complement the marriage preparation being offered in parishes and in the home.
“The Church has consistently said that marriage preparation begins at the earliest moments in one’s life, and the family offers remote preparation for marriage where children learn what it means to make a total gift of self,” he said. “The whole ecclesial community is meant to, in some way, prepare young people for their vocation. The question to ask is, ‘How do I and my parish community support Church teaching on marriage and family life?’”
The date for the next Wedding Anniversary Celebration is Sunday, Sept. 27, for couples celebrating 25 years, 40 years, 50 years and over 50 years. To be part of this special celebration, please register with your pastor or parish secretary. For more information on marriage preparation, visit dioceseofprovidence.org/marriage.