After my sister-in-law got engaged this summer, she asked me for some of my ideas on how to spiritually prepare for marriage. There is a plethora of checklists, magazines, websites, and advice columns devoted to general wedding planning and preparations, but not enough action-oriented go-to resources for spiritual preparation. Spiritual growth throughout a couple’s engagement is certainly the most impactful preparation for marriage. The flowers you pick out for the bouquets will wilt, but the spiritual bouquets–made up of prayers, living the sacramental life, etc.–will produce a sacred harvest long past your wedding day.
No matter how spirituality devoted you currently are, consider these practical suggestions below as excellent ways to launch you into marriage–a union between you, your spouse, and God–with intentionality and strong faith. Even if your fiancé or spouse doesn’t want to hop on board after your loving encouragement, you can do many of these practices yourself, and they still have great merit for your relationship!
Lastly, even if you’ve been married for a few or even many years, consider using this list–which is not exhaustive and to which you can hopefully add your own ideas–as an opportunity to add some spiritual practices to your marriage now to give it a good, spiritual uplift.
*Here is the checklist version of the list described in detail below!*
Frequent the sacraments. Matrimony itself is a sacrament, but all of the sacraments working together serve to bind us closer to God and to one another as members of His
Body. Consider these aspects of the sacramental life to nurture your relationship with God and each other:
- Confession: Make sure you have gone to Confession before your wedding day. Better still, go once a month throughout the course of your engagement.
- Holy Communion: Go to Sunday Mass without fail, preferably together. Better yet, make it to Mass during the week when you are able.
- Matrimony: Attend someone else’s nuptial Mass prior to your own to witness the sacrament taking place. It’s a great form of spiritually preparation for you, and also nice for the couple for whom you are praying, as they profess their vows before God.
Pray. Prayer provides the spiritual foundation for your marriage, and serves as a binding agent as you grow in love and service toward one another. Consider these actions to prayerfully prepare for your marriage:
- Rosaries and novenas: I recommend a 54-Day Rosary Novena, a powerhouse of grace leading up to your wedding day. Here is another great novena for a happy and faithful marriage. You can also pray a novena to a saint that is special to you as a couple.
- Eucharistic Adoration: Set aside a little time each week to spend time before our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration. Fr. Richard Foley, S.J. writes, “So immense are its spiritual benefits that Pope St. Pius X hailed perpetual adoration as the devotion which surpasses all others.” Tap into this source of grace for the benefit of your relationships (both with Our Lord and with your fiancé and future spouse)!
- Saintly intercession: Ask for the intercession of saints who are patrons and patronesses of marriage and family, of engaged couples, of children, or any saint who is special to one or both of you. Some great saints to ask the intercession of when praying for your marriage include: Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin, St. Joseph, St. Monica, Sts. Anne and Joachim, St. Priscilla, etc.
- Fasting: Fast from something that brings you pleasure one day a week (preferably Friday), offering your fasting as a prayer for the strengthening of your marriage.
- Spiritual bouquet: Offer a series of prayers for your [future] spouse, and present them to him or her in the form of a spiritual bouquet on your wedding day. You could also keep a prayer journal for them and offer that as a gift.
Study. Learning more about the Sacrament of Matrimony, and how to live it out well, was so crucial to the beginning of my marital relationship with my husband, and continues to be a necessary component to us becoming better spouses.
- Head and Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family: This book is specifically catered to engaged and married couples, and it is broken into easy, readable and actionable segments to help transform your relationship, as you learn how to better fulfill your roles as the spiritual head or spiritual heart of your family.
- Other marriage preparation and enrichment books: I love this list of books, filled with recommendations for strengthening your marriage. A great mix of theological and practical titles.
- DVD and audio study: The Beloved DVD series is now one of my favorite resources for marriage prep and enrichment. It’s got a great quality of content and a high production value, and the length of each episode makes for a nice addition to a stay-in date night. Lighthouse Catholic Media also has a number of engaging CD and MP3 talks on marriage topics.
Seek counsel. Don’t ever expect to do this marriage thing alone. Seeking outside counsel regularly can give your marriage such an important head-start, or can bring renewal to an already existing marriage:
- Diocesan/parish marriage prep: Make sure to take advantage of the marriage preparation programs already in place within your parish and diocese. These programs offer an array of advice on how to live marriage well, often including education in Natural Family Planning.
- Mentor couple: Either through your parish or elsewhere, find at least one married couple whom you admire and know is striving to live out their marriage the way God intended it to be. Have coffee or dinner with them, more often than once if possible, and learn what they have to say about having a marriage built on love, sacrifice, and fidelity.
- Counseling: If you need advice in a more in-depth way, do not be afraid to seek that help now. Contact your parish, diocese, or an organization like the Pastoral Solutions Institute (which offers tele-counseling services) so as to not neglect the intense spiritual or further psychological nurturing your relationship may need prior to (or in the midst of) your marriage.
Deepen your personal relationship with Jesus. A former professor and friend of mine, Dr. Edward Sri, says that marriage can really only be as strong as your personal relationships with Jesus. Here are some ways (that haven’t already been described in other sections) that you can strengthen your personal relationship with Christ and be more prepared to be the face of Christ to your spouse in marriage:
- Retreats: Go on a silent or structured retreat, either together, separately…or both!
- Bible study: Read Scripture together every day. Even better, join a Bible study at your parish or go through a structured Bible study program (like the ones from the Augustine Institute’s FORMED subscription or from Ascension Press, for example) together.
- Serve together: Participate in ministry work together, learning how to serve others together, as a precursor to hopefully continuing to serve others throughout your marriage. Join a ministry at your parish, serve at a soup kitchen or other help center, go on a pilgrimage or mission trip.
- Grow in virtue and work to get rid of sin and vice: Pinpoint some of the sins and vices you want to help rid yourself of, those nasty habits that keep you from drawing closer to God (and will consequently hinder a deepening relationship with your [future] spouse). Also be diligent about growing in virtue, as those virtues will become seeds for growth in holiness in your marriage. Saintly Solutions to Life’s Common Problems is a good book to help you grow in virtue and out of vice. To avoid being too generalized about this one, pick one virtue you want to grow in and one vice you want to grow out of and try and make noticeable improvement before your wedding day.
- Marian consecration: Our Blessed Mother always leads us closer to her Son, and she will always lead you and your loved one closer into relationship with Christ if you only ask her. Consider doing a Marian consecration during your engagement (or marriage) as a way to strengthen your devotion to Our Lady and Our Lord. This is a simple, beautiful companion for your journey toward consecration.
Discuss your marital mission. Know what you both want spiritually out of marriage, and discuss it. Write it down. Make it a priority to have a mission for your marriage, rather than wander aimlessly through your married years, expecting improvement without having a plan to get there.
- Dr. Greg Popcak has a helpful “marital imperative” tutorial in his book The Exceptional Seven Percent and I also have a family mission tutorial that couples can do in my book, Head & Heart. Both of these resources will help you identify your unique gifts, ideals, and virtues as a couple, as well as your spiritual goals and dreams. The whole activity of making an “imperative” or discussing a “mission” brings more congruence and intimacy to your relationship.
- Spiritual love list: Take time to notice the spiritual qualities or virtues that you already admire in your fiancé or spouse and write them down in the form of a list, presenting it to them on your wedding day or another special day. This also helps reinforce the idea that the two of you are on a joint mission toward heaven and you notice the ways in which your future spouse is helping to get you there.
Start your marriage off right with a truly Catholic wedding. Infuse your whole wedding day (but especially the nuptial ceremony or Mass) with Catholicity! This helps set the tone for the sacramental marriage to follow, showing your beloved and everyone else witnessing that you understand the spiritual aspect of marriage – that marriage is ultimately a union between you, your spouse, and God. These are some ideas for weaving your faith into your wedding day:
- Pray with your bridal party/groomsmen during prep time and/or pray with your spouse on opposing sides of a door or screen before the ceremony
- Have the groom wash the bride’s feet during the reception
- Take up a collection for the needy or a charity you both love (you can have a donation jar at the reception in lieu of a money jar for dances or in exchange for seeing the bride and groom kiss as they are eating)
- Collect prayer intentions from witnesses and let them know you will be praying for them and for their intentions
- Catechize in your wedding program (explain elements of the Mass or Catholic customs; we had a page in our little program devoted to explaining the Divine Mercy, since we were married on the eve of the Feast of the Divine Mercy)
- Celebrate a nuptial Mass as part of the ceremony, so you and your spouse can receive the Eucharist together on your wedding day
- Exchange wedding bands that are engraved with a Bible verse or other element of spiritual significance
- Pray together over the reading and prayer choices before selecting which ones you’ll have read/said at the ceremony
- Have a religious item on your reception tables or as a favor/thank you gift; give your bridesmaids and groomsman religious-oriented “thank you” gifts
- Put a rosary or a saint medal in your bouquet
- Present a bouquet of flowers before a statue of the Blessed Mother during the ceremony
And, finally, here again is the Spiritual Preparation for Marriage Checklist!