Priest's View: 'What I Wish Couples Knew When They Request a Catholic Wedding'

see Priest's View: 'What I Wish Couples Knew When They Request a Catholic Wedding' - Intermountain Catholic

“What I Wish Couples Knew When They Request a Catholic Wedding”–as it turns out, there can be some quite important things that they don’t know.


With all due respect and honor to this priest’s orders…

Talking about how the couple plans to observe Christmas and Thanksgiving…

…and not one word about NFP or the birth control question.

I’m just sitting here shaking my head.

If I were a priest counseling a couple wanting to get married, I might say something like “you know, it’s always possible you could end up having a child every year or two — do you have a plan to deal with that?”, then see how the conversation goes from there.

Before we got married, the church in Poland (where we married) required engaged couples to go to confession twice, once after you’ve had the interview, once shortly before the wedding, with the priest signing off on a slip that you’ve been to confession. (Why don’t we do that here? Or do we?)

In one of the confessions, I mentioned — not confessing it as a sin, just mentioning it — that we planned to use NFP for a time after the wedding. He said “that’s not common” and tried to talk me out of it. Because I knew more than the priest did, of course I didn’t listen. I said something noncommittal, received absolution, and then left. (Yes, he was here in the United States. We did our marriage prep separately out of necessity.)

Please listen to what the priest tells you in confession.


How did they preserve the anonymity of the confessional? Just curious.

Well he’s right - the common thing would be to use ABC.

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Well, after all, these Catholic engaged couples will go to pre-cana counseling, right?
He probably doesn’t want to scare them away :joy:

I don’t think anonymity is a requirement. I’ve been to quite a number of confessions, at several different parishes, where there was no barrier between the priest and me at all.

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Oh me too. But that’s a choice. If one has chosen to confess behind a screen, or to a different priest, I’m not sure how the priest would ‘certify’ it. It’s not as if he can require that you confess to a particular priest.

I’m just curious how they handled that part of it.

It was just a blank slip, in Polish — both times, I had to explain to the priest what it was, and IIRC I made an X to indicate where they were supposed to sign. It was two different priests. Both times I confessed behind the screen (which is my preference, though I’m not rigid about it) and just handed the slip around the wall.

No, he meant that the common thing was for couples to be open to life, and to have that first child a year or so after the wedding. I confessed at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Washington DC), where my experience has been that the priests run pretty conservative. I always found that Catholic life in greater DC (especially Arlington!) was like that, generally speaking. At the pre-Cana conference (again, Arlington diocese), they spent a lot of time talking about NFP. That’s the way it should be everywhere.

I just confessed to two different priests, neither of whom I knew, for the sake of convenience. The diocese in Poland didn’t care who you confessed to, just so long as you went to confession somewhere and had the priest to sign the little slip they gave to both of us at the pre-marital interview.

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Still I think most couples start by using ABC - not that I’m condoning it, but having a couple willing to use any form of NFP is probably very rare. And I don’t thing it’s entirely unreasonable for a newlywed couple to start with NFP. They’re going through a big life change, and I think it’s reasonable to not want to add a baby to that. Also, presumably NFP takes time to learn, and starting when you have zero kids and can afford a misstep is better than trying to learn at five kids and not being able to afford a misstep.

Afaik it’s OK if a person says that they saw Mr. A going to confession. The seal of the confessional applies to one’s sins and anything the priest or penitent says in confession, not necessarily the fact of going to confession.

Maybe one of the priests can help with this question.

If you’re not ready for at least the possibility of having a child nine months after the wedding, you shouldn’t be getting married in the first place.

Using NFP is fine — but it can fail. You always have to be prepared, in mind and in resources, for that. Nobody has to get married, and nobody has to get married within any specific time frame. The most “needful” reason to get married at a specific time is actually a secular one — to ensure such civil benefits as insurance, tax advantages, marital status prior to military deployment, or, God forbid, inheritance (for instance, if a spouse doesn’t have long to live and wants to make sure their affianced inherits their property via joint tenancy and so on).

Using ABC is not fine. The end never justifies the means. If it is at that point — “we can’t afford a child yet”, “I wouldn’t be able to finish my education if that happened”, or what have you — then it’s not a good time to be getting married.

I had never thought of this — a priest signing his name to a slip certifying that a penitent has been to confession being tantamount to breaking the seal of the confessional. One solution might be that many Europeans sign their names in such a way that you can’t even read it, and can’t tell who signed it unless you already know that person and know what their signature looks like. I’m not European (descent, yes, birth and citizenship, no) and sometimes I sign my own name in a barely-legible manner when I’m signing a credit card slip or similar. Guess I picked that up over there.

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Maybe I wasn’t too clear. If I tell someone that I saw you going to confession, that doesn’t mean that I broke the sacramental seal. What would break the sacramental seal (and get me excommunicated) is if I overheard your confession and told someone your sins. That’s where automatic excommunication applies.

IOW, the sacramental seal applies to the content of the penitent’s confession.

I think some of this was covered in the “Ask a Priest Anything About Confession” thread. Maybe one of the priests can help?

I’m not saying it is fine, but i think that saying that most couples don’t even bother with NFP is an uncontroversial statement

That’s sort of my point. It’s better to start learning it at the beginning of the marriage, where any failures can be accounted for, then to pay immediately start having a bunch of kids and only starting the learning process at kid 5, when you can’t afford any failure.

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No, it’s always been my understanding that a priest cannot tell a third party that so-and-so has even been to confession. Seen that way, the “confession affidavit” used in Polish dioceses does, indeed, present a problem.

I will welcome correction of my understanding, if indeed it has been wrong all these years.

It is indeed uncontroversial. You are just stating a fact.

Agreed. Any faithful Catholic contemplating marriage, however, needs to go into marriage with their eyes wide open, and realize that fertility could be much more abundant than they’re counting on — in which case total or near-total abstinence might have to be the way to avoid having tons of children — or, sadly, it may not be abundant at all, God forbid, there may be no children.

I refer here to young couples who are anticipating having a family. If I should ever marry — if my (“ex-”)wife should die or if there should ever be a declaration of nullity — it would be crazy for me to marry anyone who is of childbearing age. I will be 60 on my next birthday :grimacing:, my means are very modest, I am going with the assumption that my earning years are pretty much over, and even if I were as rich as Croesus, I would be in my 80s when those children were entering adulthood. You can’t buy back lost youth. (The closest you can get is a candy-apple-red Mustang convertible with a five-speed manual transmission.)


Hmm… You might be right about that. I edited my post.

Yes, I wasn’t saying it wasn’t—well, except for the priest, obviously. I just wondered how they dealt with the mechanics if someone chose confession in a traditional confessional, or a priest in a different parish. I think @HomeschoolDad explained pretty clearly.

Happy Birthday in advance (in case I forget).

True. Ordinarily I wouldn’t say anything about whether or not a person had been to confession because of the chilling effect, ias well as the risk of scandal. However, there are “confession slips” like are being referred to here which verify that a person has been to confession (I’ve heard about them but never seen one). There’s nothing wrong with a priest filling one of these in.

Openness to children is a necessary part of Catholic marriage so the question about plans for children does come up even if only indirectly. However, when it comes to matters like NFP the reality is that most couples who approach a priest about marriage tend not to be churched and so asking about their sex life is simply too much too soon. I’m not saying that it’s not important but just that there’s a need to build a relationship of trust first and foremost - to put it another way, we want them to have a Catholic marriage and asking deeply personal questions is more likely than not going to scare them off. Even if a couple admit to using contraception, that’s not a reason to refuse to marry them provided they’re open to having children.

Yes, even as much of a hardnose as I am about it, I do concede that a couple’s plans to use contraception should not forbid them a Catholic wedding. The only wrinkle there, is that it is a sacrilege to receive a sacrament in mortal sin, and if someone’s got their mind made up that they’re going to commit a sin, it is as though they’ve already committed it. But that part, I will leave between them and their priest. Father John Hardon did speculate, I believe, that couples who begin their marriage by using contraception continuously, may never truly consummate their marriages until and unless they quit using it, so that’s something else to consider. (Sorry, I don’t have a source for this, interested readers might Google it.)

And contraception isn’t 100% effective either. I know we all know this, but when ABC fails — and it does — couples either celebrate an “oops baby” and learn to live with it, or, God forbid, they do something else. The days of “oh, no, I’m pregnant again, saints preserve us, we can’t feed the ones we have as it is, how in the world will we feed another one?” are no longer much of a reality for comfortable, affluent Westerners.

(Full disclosure: both of my parents were “oops babies”, the youngest of their families, separated from their siblings by several years, later-in-life pregnancies, and I’m glad it happened, otherwise I wouldn’t be here! Neither family was Catholic and neither used ABC. Both were fairly large families.)

I notice no one seems to be bringing up the question about couples planning for when one of them becomes ill and is unable to have sex for a protracted time, or couples planning for what happens when expected conception doesn’t occur. These are by no means uncommon situations. But no, the assumption is that everybody just carries on like bunnies and if a kid somehow doesn’t appear then something bad must be going on.


I’m very glad that the pastor who handled my wedding, and priests in general, seem to have a better sense of boundaries than lay people on this forum seem to have when they play “armchair priest”. The nosiness of some of the stuff discussed on this thread as well as the assumptions made are very off-putting.