Congratulations on your engagement! My name is Father Byrd, and I have been given your names as a couple who is interested in going through the wedding prep program here at Our Lady of the Mountains. We need to find a time we can meet together, to go through the various things necessary for this preparation. We will only need to meet three or four times prior to the ceremony (stretched out over the course of the months leading up to the wedding), and I typically like to meet with my couples during the day, around or before lunch time here at the parish. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays are my best days generally. I can also meet occasionally with couples on Saturdays if need be, though here my times are less flexible. I am going to propose some times for us to meet, and you can let me know if any of these times will work out.
In the meanwhile, there is paperwork!
It is always a privilege to work with couples who are preparing to enter into the Covenant of Holy Matrimony, but not all this work is of a spiritual nature. I remember reading once that the oldest extant examples of writing in the United States are part of the parochial archives of Saint Augustine, Florida. We Catholics are a literate group, and we are good at keeping records! And so, I dash off this letter just to let you know that we will need the following records for both the bride and the groom (and I can attach most of these forms with this letter).
- The Premarital Interrogatories (or Bride and Groom Questionnaires), which we should complete together at our first meeting.
- We will need an official Baptismal Certificate (recently issued) and ideally sent directly to me from the parish where you were baptized. All Catholic Baptismal Certificates should be filled out on the back to the best of the parish’s knowledge (regarding any other sacraments, for example first holy communion, confirmation, and any previous marriages if necessary). Photocopies of a Baptismal Certificate issued years ago will not work.
- We will also need affidavits ascertaining an individual’s freedom to marry (there should be two, ideally filled out by one’s parents, or by close loved ones who have known you for a long time). These should be notarized, and may be sent directly to me here at the parish.
Also, we should have for the files the following:
- Each couple should go through a Pre-Cana program (or another suitable Catholic alternative), and the couple should be issued some form or letter documenting its completion.
- We recommend first and foremost the Pre-Cana Program through the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It gives a solid presentation of the Catholic Faith and the important teachings that you will need to start your lives together. A good alternative is Three to Get Married. We encourage you to go to one of these. If neither fits your schedule, Chattanooga or Savannah may have Pre-Cana options, but we cannot vouch for their efficacy. We do not endorse Engaged Encounter, as we have been advised of problems with its presentation of Catholic teaching on marriage.
- For couples living in different states or countries where coming together for Pre-Cana preparation isn’t an option, our parish has a subscription to the online Catholic website, FORMED, which has a good marriage preparation program called Beloved. This program is meant to work with discussions that should be taking place within a parish setting, but for military personnel serving overseas, the videos on Beloved will serve as your marriage preparation class. If you choose this option, please discuss the Beloved program when you meet with our pastor. To access this program, go to https://olmjasper.formed.org and set up an account by using our Parish Access Code JMNX2J. Once you establish your account, you can navigate directly to the Beloved page by clicking on this link.
- Please note that you will obviously also need a Marriage License issued by the state. No priest can marry you without one, and in procuring one, you should follow the laws of the state or country where the marriage is to take place.
Other paperwork that may be necessary is the following:
- Recall that Catholics marrying non-Catholics are required to get dispensed, and the Catholic party should be committed to their Catholic Faith, and desire to raise their children as Catholics. We should fill out this form at our first meeting, and the parish will need to send it off to the Archdiocese for the dispensation once all the paperwork is completed.
- If either one or the other party has been married before and procured a divorce (be they married in either a civil or religious ceremony), and if they have not already received Declarations of Annulment from the Catholic Church for the previous marriage or marriages (even those contracted outside of the Catholic Church), then we should not proceed with wedding plans until this process is completed. If an annulment has not been declared on every previous marriage, then one is not free to wed in the Catholic Church.
In the process of gathering together and completing all of this material, I would also ask you to keep in mind two other things:
- Remember that artificial birth control is not an option for Catholics. Unless you are marrying late in life, you should not forget to do your research and sign up for a Natural Family Planning course, which can take less than a hand full of days scattered over just as many months. Despite what you may have heard, NFP works, and divorce statistics for couples who practice NFP is about 3% (which is considerably lower than the national average of 50%).
- If a couple is living together prior to marriage (or cohabitating), this significantly increases the statistical probability of divorce above the already high national average. Cohabitating couples are therefore provided some extra literature, and are strongly encouraged to challenge themselves to live chastely as they prepare for Holy Matrimony.