Married in a Catholic church? What was Pre-Cana like?
July 23, 2009 5:58 AM   Subscribe

I'm wondering if others can share their experience with the Pre-Cana classes/process before getting marred in a Catholic church. I've looked online and found very vague descriptions and I'd really like to know what we're going to be involved in. Especially interested in the FOCCUS test they have you take (I haven't been able to find sample questions and I really want to know what sort of things they ask to see if you are 'compatible'. Please share as much as you can or are comfortable with.
posted by mittenbex to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's been about 8 years since I did Pre-Cana, I'll do my best. :-)

The test has a lot of questions about practical things, like sharing household responsibilities, money, children. Don't worry about the "right" answer re: church doctrine. Your priest will go over any areas of potential concern if you and your fiance have any glaring differences, but he's not going to tell you not to get married.

We had one Pre-Cana day, vs ongoing classes. There was some writing letters to the spouse, silly games (a la The Newlywed Game), married folks talking about things like keeping romance alive, children, sex, etc. It wasn't a bad day, although we did have a lot of eye-rolling between us. It ended with a big dinner with all the couples, both in the class and leading it.

I think, overall, it's just a good way to make sure you've had some of the conversations that every soon-to-be-married couple should have.

Best Wishes!
posted by ferociouskitty at 6:03 AM on July 23, 2009

Wow, I just did this - and by just, I mean a few months ago.

I'm agnostic, and my now-wife is. Her family is VERY Catholic. We lived together before we got married - that's the background.

We went in the first day to talk to the priest, and he gave us the test in two different rooms. There was a large, general section, as sub-sections for people that had been married before (nope), were living together (yep), or were of different faiths (yep). The questions were basically a statement, followed by if you agreed or disagreed. Some examples that I remember off the top of my head:

I would be comfortable naked in front of my spouse.
I believe God is important in our relationship.
I don't think that we should share banking accounts.

It ranges from the mundane to the rather racy (racy for the Catholic church, I thought). It's really harmless, in the end. You get a print out a few months later, showing you what you and your future spouse said to each question, and whether you matched up. And although they'll tell you there are no wrong answers, they actually do mark off a few questions where the Catholic church has an "important" answer. For example, even though my wife and I marked that we didn't believe that God was an important part of our relationship, it was still marked as "something to watch" because the church said that it should be.

Although my wife and I were highly compatible (mainly because we'd already had discussions about 99% of things on that damned test), if we hadn't, they aren't going to say "WHOA HOLD ON STOP THIS IN THE NAME OF THE CHURCH!" They'll just tell you to talk about things. This can either be with the priest that's overseeing this, or with a sponsor couple.

You won't find a copy online - it's copyrighted, and held close to the chest. If you MeMail me, I think I managed to get out our set of questions for just such an occasion.

Also, we did a Pre-Cana weekend - it sucked. Utterly useless if you've discussed anything at all with your significant other. We were locked in for 2 days and sat through skits and dialogue sessions. The way ours was set up was in 60 minute chucks: 20 of skits, 20 of writing in our notebooks, and 20 of sharing that writing with our significant others. My wife and I would write with some length, then go to our "response room" and talk about other random things after glancing at our sheets and realizing we'd basically said the same thing. Like ferociouskitty said, there was a lot of eye-rolling. Especially at the sex part. I didn't need to hear a meek 45 year old man talk about charting his wife's "monthly bleed."

My wife and I tended to find the whole process pretty useless. I know why it's there - especially in Catholicism, the belief is that once you get married, that's it. So you'd better be prepared, and get everything on the table to begin with. My wife and I aren't quite on that page, but honestly, these are conversations you should have, and this is just a way to force you to have them.

Honestly, my wife and I could have written this question in November. We were downright panicky at the idea that this test was going to derail us, we weren't going to be able to be married in the Catholic Church, and her parents would disown her. It was fine. We went in not knowing the questions, and we basically matched up anyways.

Also, this is a little rambly, but for a final tip - watch the double negatives on the FOCCUS test. Those damned things led to me mismatched answers than anything else.

Best Wishes, Good Luck!
posted by SNWidget at 6:28 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

been about 7 years since my test and wholly recommend it for everyone even non-Catholics. Basically it was a bunch of questions with possible answers of "Yes", "No", or "Maybe". The vast majority of questions were very practical in terms of children, budgeting, goals, sex and interpersonal relationships. There were also quite a few differently worded questions along the vein of "My future actions sometimes scares me/My future spouses' drinking or drug use scares me/etc."

Very little catechism was in the test (but then again perhaps I was oblivious to it since we were both raised catholic.

Our Pre-Cana day was a 1 and half day thing and it was muchliked what ferociouskitty described. The talks were oddly cold because non-pro public speakers were reading their speeches to us so while they were clearly emotional moments for them it seemed distant and robotic to us. The best part of this stuff was that it gave you some structure to discuss topics with your future spouse...that and the eye rolling/quietly mocking material was good. :)

Mazel tov.
posted by mmascolino at 6:31 AM on July 23, 2009

err - at the very beginning - my now-wife is CATHOLIC. I'm Agnostic. Just if there's any confusion...
posted by SNWidget at 6:31 AM on July 23, 2009

I actually took that test last week, as my fiancee was raised Catholic and I've agreed to be married in her family's church. Their approach appears to be different from ferociouskitty's experience in that they pair an engaged couple with a married couple in the church rather than having an organized class. We haven't begun that part of it yet so I can't speak to its effectiveness.

As for the test, I would not worry about it. As it was explained to us, the point is more to find differences in expectation than to get anything "right." The three options for each question were something like "Agree, Disagree, Undecided." There were a handful of faith-based questions, but the majority had to do with emotional and sexual expectations and attitudes, statements on how children may be raised, and how you may react to situations that may occur in a relationship. There were a few token questions that were kind of amusing, but they seemed to be more weed-out questions to see if someone may be getting married for the wrong reasons. There were also sections that are only filled out if you are getting remarried, if you're cohabitating, and if one of the engaged are not Catholic. I filled out the second two, neither of which was especially intrusive.
posted by mikeh at 6:34 AM on July 23, 2009

I recently went through this entire process as I just got married in June.

I'll preface this by saying that overall, I think the Pre-Cana process was overwhelmingly positive for my wife and I. The focus, at least in my church/diocese, is more about preventing divorce than anything else- meaning, it is less about "Jesus said this.." and more about communication, financial responsibility, and love within the marriage.

The FOCCUS test is around 150 questions (plus another 25 or so if you are both living with each other). For each question there is an agree/disagree/do not know. The goal is to have as few "do not know" answers as possible, since this means the two of you have already had discussions on that topic. It kind of broke down into five recurring themes: communication, finances, children, spirituality, and sexuality. Ranging from the overt red flag warning type questions "Why my spouse gets angry, he/she hits me" to more basic point of conversation type questions "My spouse and I will have a joint banking account when we get married."

What they are looking for is points of conversation.. from our answers, it was obvious that my wife and I had clear ideas on community, sexuality, spirituality, and children but had some room to discuss financial responsibility. From the time we had taken the test (in November) to the time we reviewed the answers with our priest (in February), we moved ahead and bought a house. So the answers were a snapshot of where we stood in November, but it was clear that we had many discusses about finances in those three months and were in a much different place then.

As far as Pre-Cana, we had done a one day event at a local Church. It was led by 2 older couples (each married 30 years) who talked about communication, communication, communication, and sexuality. Very honest, engaging conversation about their experiences being married and again, raising points for my wife and I to discuss and have conversations about.

The most important thing that this whole process stressed was communication and methods of achieving better communication. They presented us with a list of topics that every couple should talk about and made sure we were talking. I think my wife and I already had good communication but this certainly brought up a few things that we hadn't discussed openly. All told, our relationship is better for this process.

It is an excellent form of pre-marriage couples therapy, I think and I hope your process is as good as mine was. Please contact me directly if you have any questions.
posted by tommccabe at 6:41 AM on July 23, 2009

I did mine nine years ago. The test was easy and had little to do with religion. My husband and I actually had a near perfect match on everything. One question that tripped us up was "I am uncomfortable with how much my partner drinks". My husband marked that as he agreed which confused the heck out of me since I don't drink at all. "You mean you want me to start drinking"? I asked him? Nope, he just misunderstood the question. Our church had difficulty with finding leaders for the pre-cana so the priest had four hour-long sessions with us. I think we told him the baby would be born before the wedding at the last session (he didn't know we were pregnant). Having a guy that has never lived with anyone or had to share finances or make normal financial decisions (like buying a house or car or retirement planning) is NOT very useful. I just played along. I was raised Catholic but am atheist (yeah, I lied to the priest and said I believed in god - it's not like I am going to burn in hell for that) and my SO was an un-observant Protestant and took it much more seriously than me. The Priest harped on our different religions ALOT - he was quite opposed to our marriage, tried to tell us that six months notice was not enough to get married in his church and refused to read the banns for us because it was a "mixed marriage" even though I am the product of a mixed marriage (my parents are still together). The test was actually the best part of it, I wish we had been given a copy of our answers. It would be fun to re-take the test to see what has changed. I really have nothing but positive things to say about the test and have encouraged non-Catholic to try to get tested before marriage because so much communication comes from it.
posted by saucysault at 7:36 AM on July 23, 2009

I also had a fairly positive experience with it (if for nothing else than just laughing with my wife about how much of a dork out priest was--sounds snarky, yes). Personally I think way too many people get married without knowing each other very well, and pre-cana's designed to help with this as well as to let the Church make a pitch to you as to why its ideas of marriage are important.

The "test" questions may be very useful for you, depending on what the two of you have already talked about. Some people, for example, never talk about money and then get married and realize their spouse is in debt or has wild spending habits. Getting this out in the open beforehand helps. There are also questions about having children and disciplining children that the two of you should talk over. Some of them are there to provide red flags to the priest (there's one that's something like "I worry about my fiance's drug use") so that if one partner has unspoken reservations, maybe they'll open up on the test and the priest can hopefully help you through it.

There will be a lot of stuff (not talking about just the test here, the counseling, too) about how the Church believes things should be. Depending on your outlook, it may be useful, may be repellent, but likely somewhere in between.

They will pitch Natural Family Planning to you, and may require you to take classes on it. At worst it's a waste of time but won't kill you. Plenty of people are scared off but end up using it eventually to prevent or make babies.

Ditto what others have said about the weekend. To us it felt we were being treated as middle-schoolers, and we didn't like being treated like that when we were that age. However, I have a friend who did a weekend and felt it really brought them together, so your mileage may vary. Again, it won't kill you and is unlikely to harm your relationship if it's a good one.

Congratulations and best of luck to the both of you.
posted by davextreme at 7:46 AM on July 23, 2009

I've been married almost 15 years, but what I remember the most were that there were several questions asking if I was pregnant spread throughout the test. Agree, Disagree or undecided: I am getting married because of pregnancy. Pregnancy is a reason for the wedding. I am being pressured to get married because of pregnancy. Pregnancy is a part of my life right now.
Like maybe I'd remember to lie the first five times, then, d'oh! the cat's out of the bag!

Also, they gave us the option of meeting with a married couple for a few hours a week for several weeks, going on a whole weekend retreat (the "Cadillac" of retreats), or a quickie one day seminar. We chose the one day to get it all over with.

Regarding the Natural Family Planning, it's useful to learn so that you can figure out ovulation for trying to get pregnant. (I wouldn't rely on it at all to prevent pregnancy, but I've never gotten pregnant without figuring out when I was ovulating. The first three times I got pregnant were the first three times I bothered to figure out that I was ovulating.)
posted by artychoke at 8:08 AM on July 23, 2009

One follow up to my post- to give you an idea of what my overall process was like (time & organization wise), we met with our priest 4 times over the course of the year before we got married. Each time was an hour. #1 was an introduction of sorts and overview of the process, #2 was the FOCCUS test, #3 was the FOCCUS review, and #4 we talked about spirituality in the relationship and the actual details of our ceremony. Our Pre-Cana itself was one day, about 7-8 hours but in my area they also do it over two afternoons or two evenings.
posted by tommccabe at 8:09 AM on July 23, 2009

It's been about 7 years since we did this. Both of us are agnostic, but I was raised Catholic and, similarly to a previous poster, it was important to my parents that we be married in a Catholic church. We did most of it in one day, part of which was taking the FOCCUS. Then we met with a married couple a few times to discuss our answers. We didn't meet with the priest that married us until the day before the wedding, but this was likely because this particular parish was enormous.

I remember being really nervous about the whole test/class/discuss answers concept. We also lived together and I was worried that it was going to be an issue. I can't speak for all parishes, but ours didn't bat an eye. The PreCana retreat day was, as others have pointed out, not all that helpful. Paricularly the part about natural family planning. That bit was explained by a couple that had been together about 6 years and had 4 children. It kind of drove the point home that this was not something to embrace if you really weren't ready for kids (we weren't, we were in grad school at the time).

The FOCCUS test was actually much more helpful that I thought it would be. It had some weird questions that were sort of hard to answer because they 'assumed things' (my partner's drug use bothers me), and the double negatives got us a few times. Otherwise it was a useful exercise to a) know we had discussed all potential problem areas and b) it really drove home the point that different people read questions differently and come to the table with different points of view. There were a number of times that we had different answers because he read something a different way than I did. The discussion with the married couple was weird. Not horrible, just sort of awkward because we were discussing personal aspects of our relationship with virtual strangers. Even with this part, the FOCCUS was a good thing to do.

Good luck to you all, and congratulations!
posted by Carhart at 9:43 AM on July 23, 2009

OMG, I did this and I don't remember a test. It was about 12 years ago though.

I think the quality of the weekend depends on the priest and the people who run the groups. We had a great priest, and that made it a postive experience. I can see how people would feel like they are being treated like middle-schoolers though, if the priest was very conservative or narrow-minded.

One thing someone said then, that has always stayed with me was, "Be prepared to fight about money. Every couple eventually fights about money." At the time that scared the crap out of me. And it turned out to be true, but if forced me to look at my money issues and it turned out to not be that big of a problem.

Good luck, and have a great marriage. Mine is good and it makes life worth living.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:27 AM on July 23, 2009

Warning: long.

My fiancé and I did this last January.

First, the FOCCUS questionnaire: our priest emphasized that this was not a "test," but everyone (including my fiancé and I) still call it a test. I think this is just because of the format: the questionnaire looks like an old-school, fill-in-the-bubbles-with-a-#2-pencil standardized test. It really is just a questionnaire. There are 150 - 175 questions (there are additional questions for couples who live together prior to marriage, and some questions for couples who were married before and/or have children from a previous marriage). The questions are all either answered with "yes" or "no," or with the familiar spectrum: strongly disagree / disagree / neutral / agree / strongly agree. When you finish, your priest/deacon will run the forms through a scanner. The questions that you and your partner disagree about are flagged. Your priest will probably serve as a mediator while you discuss those issues with your partner. The questions cover a wide range of topics, from money management to educational goals to personal habits (i.e., I feel my partner watches too much television). There are some faith-oriented questions, as well, but they are more about compatibility than judgement.

The FOCCUS is not used to "disqualify" you from marriage. It's meant to facilitate a discussion between you and your partner so that you can identify areas in your lives that might lead to conflict, and plan ahead about how to resolve those conflicts. If you've already talked to your partner about a lot of these issues, the FOCCUS will probably just confirm what you knew already; at best, it may reveal some issues that you hadn't known about before -- and it's a good thing to get issues out in the open before you commit to a relationship for (hopefully!) the rest of your life.

We chose to participate in an Engaged Encounter weekend instead of Pre-Cana classes because we wanted to get the counseling requirement out of the way in one weekend. That is not quite how it worked, but we found E.E. to be a really positive experience. We were Totally Freaked Out the first evening, when we wandered in to a Catholic school gym in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere on a freezing January night and saw 42 other couples, who were, to our eyes, high-school-aged farm kids. (We are both almost 30.) The men and women were segregated into different "dorms," where we spent two nights in shared housing, summer-camp-style. (That part, I grant you, was pretty miserable.) As the weekend progressed, though, we connected with a few couples with whom we could identify -- some grad school students, a few young professionals.

The days were long -- a full 10 hours on Saturday, and then most of the day on Sunday. We did not have to do any cheesy dialogues or role-playing. The format for us was that we'd get a sheet of open-ended, essay-style questions. (Here's an example from my notebook: "In what areas I wish that we could be more open in discussing intimacy in our relationship?") We then had about 20 minutes to answer the questions on the paper -- we went to separate and semi-private areas to do our writing. At the end of the time, my fiancé and I met up, read each other's answer, and talked about how we felt. No one else ever read our notebooks -- we still have them, and I think we'll probably keep them to read again later in our lives. We were not forced to answer questions that we didn't want to deal with. There was absolutely no interrogation or judgement.

After the writing workshop thing, we'd get together with the other couples and listen to our facilitators, a priest who specialized in marital counseling and two "sponsor couples," one who had been married for two years and one couple who'd just celebrated their 40th anniversary. These facilitators talked really frankly about their experiences with the topics at hand. It was pretty illuminating, actually, and really valuable for us, especially since we came from backgrounds similar to those of the younger couple and could sympathize with a lot of their experiences.

At the end of the weekend, we wrote "vows of betrothal" to each other -- a statement of what we would each do to support each other in our marriage -- and sorry if this is chessy, but this ended up being a really meaningful act for us, and pretty beautiful. The priest came over and prayed with us for our marriage, which was also a profoundly moving experience. I will say that I am the more spiritually-inclined (whatever that means) of the two of us, but even my rather cynical partner was really deeply affected by this, in a good way.

Overall, this was a really, really positive experience. I think couples who are comfortable writing and talking to each other probably respond better to this, as do couples who go in with an open mind (as opposed to "we're not going to get anything out of this, let's just get it over with"). We found the whole experience brought us closer together as a couple, and we got a chance to say some pretty cool things to each other that we probably would otherwise have kept to ourselves.

Worst part: The shared sleeping quarters sucked, but it was only for two days.

The food, by the way, was super -- catered by a group of ladies from the local parish who have a restaurant (and I'm sure this varies by location, but I've heard from friends in other cities that they tend to get pretty good meals at E.E.).
posted by Spinneret at 10:58 AM on July 23, 2009

Whoops, quick follow-up: as people upthread have mentioned, there is a Natural Family Planning (NFP) component to the Engaged Encounter, and I am pretty sure they'll try to work it in no matter what form your Pre-Cana counseling takes. It is something that you and your partner will either sit through, nod and smile, and thereafter totally ignore, or it's something you'll really want (or need) to know. That depends on your personal beliefs and priorities as a couple. artychoke is right, though: if you plan to try for kids and foresee possible fertility issues, the NFP talk might be really helpfu
posted by Spinneret at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2009

posted by Spinneret at 11:17 AM on July 23, 2009

I do not remember natural family planning as part of my pre-cana, maybe they skip it if you tell them you are already pregnant!
posted by saucysault at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2009

I (who was raised Baptist) did Pre-Cana several months ago with my Catholic husband and it was great. We had four two-hour sessions. Our class was arranged by the Archdiocese of our big city for all of the couples who either don't have a parish or whose parish doesn't offer pre-marital programs. It was a BIG group - close to 60 couples, so there was no small group time. Basically, there would be an hour lecture and then we would answer questions in a booklet and then discuss them with our spouse. My husband and I had talked about most of the issues that they brought up, but it was nice to have a "safe space" to discuss everything again. We also found a really nice spiritual common ground for our relationship - which I didn't think was important, but I now find very special.

The FOCCUS is no big deal and kind of hilarious. The questions are pretty standard: We have discussed who will handle the money, we have discussed how we will raise our children, etc. Every once in a while they throw in a curve ball like "I am afraid of my spouse's homosexual tendencies." My husband and I scored answered 99% the same for all of the questions - this despite the fact that my husband's first language isn't English and he was tripped up by some of the double negatives.
posted by jrichards at 7:02 AM on July 24, 2009

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