There may be a decrease in marriage rates and the number of couples who feel that they need to be married in the Church – but experts in Catholic marriage preparation say they are seeing an uptick in the number of couples who are civilly married who now want to enter into sacramental marriage.
Brian Fraga of Our Sunday Visitor is reporting on new efforts in the Church to welcome and prepare couples who want to enter into sacramental marriage after being civilly married.
Mary-Rose and Ryan Verret, who founded Witness to Love, a Catholic marriage preparation and renewal ministry, is launching a new initiative that is geared especially to the civilly married.
Since the launch of their program seven years ago, Mary-Rose has found that working with the civilly married has been the “highlight” of her ministry.
“They’ve changed our marriage. They’ve inspired us,” she said. “The civilly married couples, we do nothing for them, but they are the hidden gems in the Church.”
The Verrets are now working with some of these couples and several diocesan marriage preparation leaders to “tweak” their program to appeal more to couples who want to prepare for sacramental marriage. At the present time, this program is being piloted in 16 parishes across the country.
“There are many reasons why more Catholic couples are getting married first outside the Church,” Fraga reports. “Young Catholics, especially those who don’t attend Mass regularly, in general do not feel the same pressure they once did to get married in the Church. Others may simply not understand the graces available to them in a sacramental marriage. Many are opting for outdoor wedding ceremonies on a beach or garden, or they decide to exchange wedding vows at the same facility where they celebrate the reception.”
Fraga cites statistics from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University which report 144,000 Catholic sacramental marriages in the United States in 2017, a figure that is down nearly 50 percent from the 261,626 sacramental marriages in 2000.
Although national marriage statistics have remained mostly stable since 2000, fewer Catholics are getting married and those who do are less likely to marry in a Church.
But when children come along and reach the age to receive the sacraments, many couples rethink their past decision and feel as though they need to be married in the Church.
This has resulted in an estimated 20 percent of couples who are preparing for sacramental marriage today who are civilly married. Of that number, nearly all come to the decision on their own and approach the Church to have their union convalidated.
“If that large a number just happens to come forward, what number would come forward if we actually invited them?” Verret asks.
Although not all dioceses and parishes require these couples to attend standard marriage preparation programs, Verret believes those who choose to follow a program will be better served if the language better relates to couples who are already married with children.
A year ago, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, asked Verret to be part of a new diocesan initiative to reach out to all civilly married couples who were able to have their marriages blessed in the Church. Soon other diocese were doing the same and this revision is now a top priority.
It is her hope that the new initiative, which is being supported by the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, will be better able to welcome the civilly married and help them to understand the beauty and the blessing of sacramental marriage.
© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace® http://www.womenofgrace.com