20 May 2015

What Pre-Cana Was Like [And What I Wish It Was Like]

The idea I often get is that people respond one of two ways when it comes to Pre-Cana. Either a couple finds it just another thing to check off their list before the Church allows them to marry or a couple returns from their meeting/s gushing about all the great things they learned (TOB, anyone?). That is, of course, if one knows what Pre-Cana is in the first place. For those of you who don't know, Pre-Cana is a wedding preparation program which the Church requires a couple complete in order to marry. The aim of the program is to cover topics like conflict resolution, finance management and sexuality. I think the more important idea, though, is that couples know what they are getting into, namely, knowing what marriage is (you can't exactly retroactively claim you didn't know what the deal was when you sat down and received an explanation of the Sacrament).

All this said, I was pretty excited for Pre-Cana when I learned we would have to complete a session. Some part of me was excited for the potential opportunity to debate, look at Church documents...basically have a quick seminar on marriage. I did some research online of what the meeting would entail and what others' experiences were, but oddly I couldn't really find the latter (which is part of the reason I'm writing this post). Personally, I'd only known one other couple (the woman, M, of which was my Confirmation sponsor) who went through the Pre-Cana process. A couple weeks before our session, I talked with M about her experience. One of the words she used was "interesting."

Uh oh.

So I guess there are three ways people respond: "Eh," "I dig it," or "Interesting."

Only one of my most favorite paintings ever.

My take? A mix of all three. Let's get into it.

Conveniently, we could do all of our work in one day and there was Mass arranged afterward. C and I arrived at the parish school and sat in the cafeteria while couples steadily streamed in. One thing that I noticed was we were almost certainly the youngest couple there, which I found interesting. Monsignor started us all off with a prayer and then our sizable group (maybe twenty couples) moved into a classroom. There were to be four (somewhat interactive) lecture sections led by couples from this parish.

The first session was on communication. Most of it was common sense: be a good listener, work on compromising, respect each other. To be honest, I don't remember much of it anymore (yay, blogging procrastination). If you've read Verily/Thought Catalog "15 Things to Talk About Before Getting Married" articles, you've probably got a good idea of 90% of it.

Our second session was of more interest to me: conflict resolution. Specifically, couples went through a sheet together marking what type of conflict we saw growing up in our own families and what ways we deal with conflict in our own relationship. For example, I saw avoidance (eg. walking away, silent treatment) in my family and definitely do that in my relationship with C. On the other hand, he saw "triangling" (getting a third party to take your side) in his family, but neither of us bring that into our relationship. It was interesting to actually mark these things down and say, "Oh wow, I understand this now," or "Your family is weird. Let's not ever do that." Of course, C managed to make it humorous too when we saw "overwhelming with logic" was an item. "I do this," C admitted, "but I don't really think being logical is a bad thing, so..." (He totally does this; don't come unprepared to a verbal spar with him.)

A lunch break followed, during which we caught up with the priest who is celebrating our Nuptial Mass. He and C went to seminary (good thing C didn't finish that out, right?) together, so they've been friends for a good while now. At lunch we talked with the couple who was presenting for the next session on intimacy. The man gave the couples papers and asked us to write down what intimacy means to us. In my usual over-analytic nature, I sat staring at the paper thinking, "You want an exact definition? To me... so a subjective definition? Do you want examples? Are we reading these out loud? Are we trading them with our partner's? Are we seeing them all hung up and trying to find our partner's? Oops, I haven't written anything yet."

In the third session, we submitted our papers, which were read aloud but kept anonymous. That didn't stop me, though, from knowing which one belonged to C. Hello, definition (especially easy to pick out from all of the example-filled definitions). We were also prompted to write love letters to our future spouse to be read at a later date. Effusive as I can be, five minutes is not enough for a love letter, so I wrote a few nice things down and said I'd come back to it. C's love letter said, "I'll write you a letter later. IOU." (because of course we traded at the end of the day). The rest of the session continued and, while some of it was a little too saccharine for my comfort in a public setting, none of it was 8th grade health class awkward. No ridiculous diagram or strange conversation stories to relay here, thankfully. The couple curtailed the most chance for that by handing each couple a small NFP (natural family planning) booklet to read at their leisure.

Finally, the fourth session was on spirituality. I had been looking forward to this session the most because spirituality is one of the unusual aspects of Sacramental Marriage when compared to civil marriage. I can read articles and books, ask other people, view relationships in television or movies...but there isn't a guarantee that they're going to tell me how spirituality plays its part in marriage. This session was different from the ones before: while the previous three had been interactive and like a bit of a chat, this fourth session had the couple reading from pages they had printed out. "Okay," I thought, "they're just shy and not in love with public speaking. I dig that." But the format of the presentation quickly became less important than the content. This couple described their struggles individually and as a family as their son battled cancer. It was the shortest presentation, but it had the hardest impact, as the couple told the story of how they met, to how their son's cancer kept coming back, to the day their son died. Their presentation reminded us of the commitment, perseverance and hard work that are required in marriage. There's no walking away, not even when your worst fears become reality. This is a life-long commitment and you're going to need a lot of help and grace from God (or at least I will).

All the sessions completed, we went over to the rectory's chapel for Mass and afterwards received certificates saying we completed Pre-Cana. Phew!

So what did I like?
  • I liked when the sessions were interactive and got me to really think about what our relationship is like. The conflict resolution sheet was the best bit of paperwork I did all day.

  • I liked when the instructing couples gave us real life examples. A topic like marriage needs practical, not just theoretical, study.

  • I liked getting to see and talk with our celebrant, who is an awesome priest and friend. Father, C and I have similar senses of humor, too, which made lunch enjoyable. 
This is me when my academic spirit is crushed.

What would I change?

  • I would have liked to have less couples with more in depth discussion and more of a chance to learn from a variety of resources. The way this session was set up, though, makes me think that's just a different style for a different time and place.

  • I would have liked to do more interactive things with C, working individually and together, to really work through everything as one unit. That's what we'll be doing for the rest of our lives, right?

  • I would have liked more practical spiritual, especially Catholic, advice/ideas. As a convert, there are so many things I don't know about what it's like to have a Catholic family living a Catholic life keeping a Catholic home with Catholic practices. I may have to turn to some book and blogosphere resources for this.

  • I would have liked more discussion on NFP. They at least provided us with a small booklet of information, but maybe mentions of why NFP instead of birth control, or why not birth control in the first place, how it is not the "rhythm method," the nature of marriage and how sexual intimacy is tied up into it... If I didn't know the Church had good reasons against birth control and was just given a booklet and was already of a contraceptive mindset, I wouldn't have been encouraged to look beyond contraception based on that day.
All in all, not too bad. The student in me was a little disappointed, but we got the work done and are set to marry. For any disappointments, I can still do independent reading and research and talk with other Catholic couples I know. We're now at two days to go. [TWO!! How did that even happen?] I'm pleased we're prepared on this front.


  1. My "interesting" Pre-Cana experience had many mixed emotions in it. There was a lot that I would have changed. It sounds like your experience was more positive than mine. We had two day-long sessions, but I'm not actually sure if ours included any more content than yours did. I'm not a big fan of the whole "let's break out into pairs and then read all the answers aloud" method, so I'm pretty sure I'd be freaking out at that part of the session. But that conflict resolution bit sounded really helpful. I would have appreciated that.

    Did you have to pay for your class? We had to pay $90 (in 2012; I checked and it's $100 now) for each session, and we also had to drive a ways out to find a session that worked in our schedule. My mother was totally scandalized by the matter. "This isn't helping the plummeting marriage rate!" She's probably got a point.

    1. We did have to pay. I think it was $100. C and I were a bit questionable about it because we were like, "Isn't this almost like simony?" I don't know. Ours wasn't too far away. I wouldn't have wanted to been the people to organize it trying to find the best day and time. Then I'm sure there were people who would have done it who couldn't make it work out, as well.

      "This isn't helping the plummeting marriage rate!" I'd say that might be accurate about my particular session. I mean, if I didn't know a lot of what I know about marriage already, I wouldn't have felt incredibly challenged or motivated by our session. I just would have liked it to be more detailed and practical. I don't know if that's the student in me or if that is something that ought to change across the board.