Getting married? You have a few things to do before you say ‘I do’

Weddings are one-day events that involve countless details. In the Catholic Church, marriage is a  vocation. In order to support this union, couples must understand that there is a difference between preparing for the day and preparing for a sacramental commitment between a man and a woman, with God at their center.

In order to receive the sacrament of matrimony, certain requirements must be met.

Andrea Crawford, administrative assistant for the Office for Matrimonial Concerns at the Diocese of Charles­ton, said specific paperwork must be turned in to that office one month prior to the wedding:

• A current baptismal certificate. Copies may be obtained from the church where the sacrament took place.

• Documentation that a couple has attended a marriage preparation workshop, which can be either Pre-Cana classes or a Catholic Engaged Encounter retreat.

• A completed course of meetings with a parish priest, who will fill out the required pre-nuptial investigative paperwork and forward it to the marriage office. Crawford said the number of meetings depends on the priest, and suggested couples start counseling six months prior to the wedding.

• Annulment papers if either person has been married before. Contact the Office of Tribunal at (843) 724-8363.

Once everything is delivered to the matrimony office, a representative appointed by the bishop will sign the official paperwork allowing the marriage, Crawford said in a phone interview. She said it is important to turn documents in early to ensure that nothing is missing or incomplete.

Occasionally, couples will rush in a day before the wedding with all the proper documents, only to find out an official representative is not available, Crawford said.

“If I cannot get the papers signed, the priest cannot perform the wedding without the papers,” she emphasized.

Catholics who are married in a civil service must wait one full year before the marriage can be validated by the church.

Father Gregory A. Wilson, rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, said during that time, the couple refrains from receiving holy Communion and the other sacraments, though they do attend Mass, while preparing for the sacrament of matrimony.

Those involved in preparing couples for the sacrament encourage them to take a moment away from dresses and cakes and make sure the actual marriage is a priority.

“The wedding is something that happens on Saturday afternoon; the marriage is a lifetime,” said Jim Rebuck, a Pre-Cana coordinator.


The Pre-Cana Marriage Formation Conference is a full-day workshop held once a month except June and December, Rebuck said in a phone interview with The Miscellany. The name comes from the wedding location in Cana, where Christ performed his first miracle changing water into wine.

Sessions are $50 and alternate between Divine Redeemer Church in Hanahan and St. Peter Church in Beaufort. According to the Web site,, couples must arrive before 9 a.m. to be admitted and stay the entire day to receive their certificate.

Rebuck, who has led Pre-Cana classes with his wife Marty for about 19 years, said they average about 30 couples per session. He uses a lighthearted and entertaining approach to convey serious information on a slew of topics, including each person’s concepts of what marriage entails, communication, sexuality and the actual vows.

He said Father Edward Fitzgerald from Divine Red­eemer likes to speak to couples about the vows they will make. For example, when they pledge to remain faithful in sickness or health, they can’t say, “Oh, I didn’t know you were going to be sick that much!” Rebuck said.

Participants are also encouraged to be as forthcoming as possible with one another, no matter how difficult.

“We tell them to bring out the skeletons that are still breathing,” Rebuck said. “They need to know before the marriage whether there’s something their partner can’t handle.”

Sometimes, a couple will decide they aren’t quite ready for marriage, or they aren’t right for each other, but Rebuck said that is still a success because they avoided making a mistake that could end in divorce.

Tony Amato, who leads Catholic Engaged Encounter with his wife Sallyanne, said they have about four couples a year call off the engagement.

He noted that people who attend a marriage preparation course are much less likely to end up divorced. Amato said a recent survey revealed that for couples who attended Engaged Encounter, only 1 in 10 were divorced, compared to statistics of 1 in 2 couples who did not attend a retreat.

Engaged Encounter

Engaged Encounter retreats run Friday through Sunday and cost $250, which includes lodging, food and supplies. They are offered about seven times a year.

Amato, who spoke to The Miscellany by phone, said they cover the same topics as Pre-Cana classes, but in a more in-depth manner. He and his wife have been married for 29 years, and have led sessions for 26 of them.

“We wouldn’t be doing this so long if we didn’t believe in it,” he said, noting that they went from being the junior couple talking about new marriage to the senior couple.

Getting away for a weekend can be tough, and Amato said sometimes couples arrive in a resentful frame of mind. But by the end of the weekend, they almost always open their hearts and minds to what marriage is about and remember that God is what makes it successful.  

“You see couples change over the weekend. They really get it,” he said. “They get to see what a Christian marriage is about.”

Each topic includes a 20-minute presentation followed by an individual writing exercise, which is then shared and discussed with a person’s fiance.

Amato said society puts a lot of emphasis on preparing for the wedding, but in the end, preparing for married life is what is important.

Kathy Schmugge, Office of Family Life coordinator, also recommended “God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage” or “Marriage for Life” for couples seeking to understand God’s message on marriage.

Optional classes

Joy-filled Marriage and Marriage for Life are both optional classes that contain supplemental information about theology of the body by Pope John Paul II.

Laurie Tollefsen, who helps teach the Joy-filled Marriage course, said the one-day session is offered every other month at St. Joseph Church in Columbia. She said they offer a better understanding of God’s positive message on sexuality.

“It’s about how the dignity of the person is upheld in marriage, and how a couple can grow in strength,” Tollefsen said.

Marriage for Life is a two-day workshop held at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken. Donna Pierce, a course facilitator, said they start every session by going to Mass. She said they cover a wide variety of topics, including theology of the body.

“It’s such a neat ministry to be able to help these couples, especially to help them make God the center of their marriage,” Pierce said.