Wedding Talk

Six things people find surprising about the Catholic Church's mandatory pre-wedding marriage course

Under Catholic Church law, couples are required to undergo a marriage preparation course ahead of their big day. Here we take a look at what's involved

While much of the talk when it comes to weddings seems to be about alternative venues, outdoor and Humanist, in Ireland the majority of 'I do's are said in the church.

According to the most recent CSO results, religious weddings accounted for 63% of all marriages in Ireland in 2017, of which there were 21,262 opposite-sex marriages in total. Over half of these - 52.8% - were Roman Catholic ceremonies.

To marry in a Catholic Church in Ireland, under church law couples must undertake a pre-marriage course. This is mandatory in most dioceses, but is carried out at the discretion of the priest who will be marrying the couple.

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Accord, which was set up in 1962 by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, runs the pre-marriage course that is generally most widely approved by Catholic priests. It has 55 centres all over Ireland. A typical pre-marriage course with Accord runs for nine hours, and can cost anywhere between €120 and €200, depending on the centre.

There are other privately run pre-marriage courses in Ireland, including Avalon RC and Together which are accepted by some, but not all, priests.

Avalon offers an online pre-marriage course, which costs €99. The certificate for this online course is the same that couples receive for the 'regular' pre-marriage course, however some priests do not accept an online course.

Before you book any marriage course - online or off - you are advised to ask your priest about his specifications first.

Here are six things that tend to surprise couples about their pre-wedding marriage course

1. That they might not actually be required to attend one

While it may be under church law that couples must complete a pre-marriage course, some priests don't insist on it.

According to Accord: "The priest responsible for the wedding has an obligation under church law to ensure that each couple are adequately prepared for their wedding and married life. He can therefore elect to give the marriage preparation guidance to the couple himself but generally speaking the priest will give the couple information regarding formal courses which are run by people like ourselves in Accord. It is therefore best to check with your priest in the first instance as to the type of preparation he feels you could undertake."

2. The waiting list

Depending on where you are in Ireland, marriage courses book up fast. There is no set time before your wedding that you've to do a course, however couples are advised to book at least six months in advance to get a suitable date.

In Dublin for instance, the next available date for a pre-marriage course with Accord is the 15th June. Newbridge in Kildare is another popular centre, with the next available date as 18th May. Together currently run two courses per month in Tallaght, Dublin for which bookings are available in April (and are allocated on a 'first come first served' basis after payment has been mailed). There are currently four available places for cuples in Fermanagh, with bookings for the summer months across Ulster filling up fast.

3. The differences in cost

Accord charges anywhere from €120 to €200 for their pre-marriage course, depending on the centre.

Couples in Longford and Westmeath will pay €170, while those in Tipperary, Portlaoise, Carlow and Kilkenny are charged €150. Roscommon and Sligo based couples can expect to pay €180 and those who avail of the centre in Tuam will be charged €175. Dubliners can expect to pay the most for their course, at €200, while Donegal couples the least at €120.

In the north, Enniskillen brides and grooms will fork out £120 for a course, and in Newry they'll pay £5 more.

Related: Revealed: Latest figures show number of couples choosing humanist and spiritualist wedding ceremonies is increasing

Alternative courses charge anywhere from €100 to €260. For their online pre-marriage course, Avalon charges €99, while Dublin-based Together charge €100 for their day-long course in Tallaght. The Redemptorists in Esker, Galway, charge €260 for their pre-marriage course, which was approved by the Bishop of Clonfert, in 2014.

4. The time it takes

For Accord, it's nine hours in total, usually run over two days (three hours on a Friday evening and six on a Saturday morning) or three evenings midweek. If you do an online course you can expect to spend at least four hours reading and answering a 'quiz' on the reading material before getting your certificate.

Together runs a one-day course, which it splits into four sections, running from 9am until 5pm in the evening on Saturdays and Sundays. 

5. The content

There are generally around 20 couples present at any pre-marriage course however there are usually no (or at least very few) 'group exercises'. Topics discussed on the day include family planning (in accordance with the church's teachings) and conflict resolution. Initially couples are given a booklet and asked to answer the questions individually. What couples most find surprising is that there is little to no 'public speaking' involved for them, anything personal is kept between the couple themselves.

6. The fact that it can often be very useful

The most surprising aspect for many couples is that a pre-marriage course can actually be very useful and interesting. Most couples argue, however the majority won't feel the need to bring a third party - in this case a trained therapist - in to solve their issues. A pre-marriage course can iron out a few minor problems in a relationship (such as how much housework you are both expecting each other to do) and can bring up some issues that may not have been completely hashed out.

Some questions that couples often don't ask each other for one reason or another come up, such as; what their agreed level of confidentiality should be, if there are patterns of behaviour that cause concern within the relationship, or if there are any issues that need resolving before tying the knot. Basics problems can also be covered such as knowing each other's general and family health history, making sure there is quality couple-time in the married relationship and knowing where each other's important documents are kept.

Related: 'Our pre-marriage course was more like a Mr & Mrs quiz'