The Journey Through Pre-Cana: The Ins and Outs of the Catholic Pre-Marriage Course

Catholic Pre-Marriage CourseThere is really not a comparable course in all of Christendom. The Roman Catholic pre-marriage course “Pre-Cana” is a tremendous program that offers partners substantial preparation for the ebb and flow of married life. In the piece below, we take a look at this offering – including a pre-marriage course online – to truly investigate the ways that it is impactful for couples.


Background on the movement

Referring to the Roman Catholic Catechism, Vatican II documents assert:


“By reason of their state and of their order, (Christian spouses) have their own special gifts in the People of God.” This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace, they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children” (CCC, 1641).


Inasmuch, Pre-Cana is a tool by which the Roman Catholic Church offers engaged couples lessons on spirituality while providing partners with practical skills in communication, problem solving, conflict resolution and the like. Building upon “give and take” communication, Pre-Cana assists couples in establishing clear and realistic goals about issues like work, sexuality, parenthood, and religious expression. Simply put, Pre-Cana offers its participants a transparent vision of what could be encountered by the couple as they begin their life together. Pre-Cana also seeks to mold its participants into mature, Christian adults. With emphasis on building and maintaining commitments to God, Church, society, family, and neighbor, Pre-Cana wants its “graduates” to take seriously the demands of the Great Commandment.


Approaches to Pre-Cana

The Roman Catholic Church is a large body spanning every continent and every culture. Pre-Cana is designed to honor this intrinsic diversity in the Roman Catholic Church that makes it truly catholic, that is, universal.


Approaches to Pre-Cana classes and requirements tend to vary among Catholic dioceses and parishes. Typically, dioceses require that participants complete six month sessions that are taught by a priest, nun, or deacon. It is also commonplace in Pre-Cana to have instruction supplemented by the “rubber meets the road” support of a married Catholic couple.



Many Pre-Cana experiences are held during weekends, allowing couples with hectic work schedules an opportunity to meet and recharge in an outdoor retreat setting. Within the weekend paradigm, the movement offers:


Catholic couples pre-cana

Designed for couples where bride and groom are both Roman Catholic and do not have previous marriages. This offering also allows couples married in a civil union to come into compliance with the doctrine of the Church.


Interfaith-interchurch couples pre-cana

Many times the Roman Catholic Church addresses interfaith marriages. The Interfaith-Interchurch offering allows couples merging the influence of Roman Catholicism and other faith traditions to talk about how this diversity dynamic will unfold within the course of the marriage.


Re-Marriage pre-cana

It should come as no surprise that second and subsequent marriages are now part of the tapestry of Roman Catholic Pre-Cana. For couples where either the bride or the groom –or both- have been previously married and have obtained an annulment from an Ecclesiastical Tribunal, Re-Marriage Pre-Cana allows the new couple to honor the current relationship while honoring the pain that lingers from the earlier relationship. Re-Marriage Pre-Cana also benefits those who seek to remarry within the Catholic tradition after they have experienced the death of a spouse and are widows or widowers.


Online programs

Even before the arrival of Pope Francis, the Church developed online programs to benefit individuals who prefer to receive their instruction on a digital platform. For couples and parishes that are geographically isolated or have limited resources, online programs offer an excellent compromise. Pre-Cana’s online presence is especially beneficial to military couples who seek the benefit of the Church’s teaching but may be deployed far from an environment prepared to offer a “bricks and mortar” version of the course.


Using skype, email, or cellular phone, Pre-Cana’s participants converse with instructors after completing digital learning components and worksheets with their partners. The creators of the online offerings state, “This heuristic process allows them to stay engaged in the subject being discussed and helps them own the knowledge that is being passed on. Their instructors will then complete the couple’s answers with the teachings of the Church in the customized answer key.[1]”


The online course also provides its participants with substantial time savings. While the course specifies a minimum of 20 hours of online engagement, most couples finish the work within 6 weeks. At the completion of the course, a certificate is presented to the “graduates” so that can demonstrate to their diocese that they have successfully completed the requisite requirements.


Subject manner in Pre-Cana

The Roman Catholic Church consistently recognizes uniformity as a hallmark of the “Catholic Way.” Therefore, it is not surprising to learn that the US expression of Catholicism has adopted specific expectations for the teaching of Pre-Cana material. These expectations, while not explicitly codified, are meant to guide instructors down a path that will ensure that the most pressing issues are considered during the allotted time.


The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops considers the following topics as “must have conversations” before couples marry:


  • Spirituality/Faith
  • Conflict Resolution Skills
  • Careers
  • Finances
  • Intimacy/Cohabitation
  • Children
  • Commitment

Further, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops encourages Pre-Cana facilitators to explore the following areas:


  • Ceremony Planning
  • Family of Origin
  • Communication
  • Marriage as a Sacrament
  • Sexuality
  • Natural Family Planning
  • Theology of the Body
  • Couple Prayer
  • Unique Challenges of Military Couples
  • Stepfamilies
  • Children of Divorce

Final thoughts

There is no way to minimize the significance of the Roman Catholic Church’s Pre-Cana movement. The movement celebrates the diversity of couples within the church, while also placing sturdy expectations upon them. The intent of Pre-Cana is not to scare couples into ending the relationship or “getting spiritual,” but rather to foster open, consistent, communication. When communication is an established hallmark of a relationship, the other healthy components tend to fall in line.


Congratulations on your union!