What We Discussed — and Learned
There are many different subjects covered throughout the weekend, including (but not limited to) finances, having children, arguing, communication, sacrificing (or “life giving”), and, yes, sexual intimacy. I was pleasantly surprised that they were very open and accepting of the fact that many of us probably were living together and/or already “intimate” with each other. They didn’t make us feel that “Catholic guilt” for not following the church’s beliefs. Rather, they gave us the opportunity to discuss some issues related to living together.
With the various topics, they did tie in God and “church stuff” every now and then, but it was mainly focused on real life as a married couple. It really did help to get us thinking and talking to each other about some things we hadn’t discussed yet, like when we want to start having children, as well as some personal thoughts and feelings about ourselves that we hadn’t shared. It also helped to hear some of the experiences of the married couples.
One particularly helpful activity we did was on Saturday night, towards the end of the retreat. They had all of us couples sit in a big circle, and we had the chance to bring up some topics or questions that hadn’t been discussed during the other talks, and we could answer each other. This was one of the few times we conversed with the other couples. The most helpful topics that came up: What to do about joining bank accounts, and whether or not to have a full mass for the ceremony. It was nice to hear what other engaged couples were planning to do.
The weekend ended with a final mass on Sunday. After the mass was over, they did provide the option of going to confession, but it wasn't required. In fact, I think only four people did it (and there were about 22 couples at our retreat). A Deacon — who, coincidently, is from my church — was among the married couples who spoke to us all weekend, and he offered to personally bless each bride-to-be's engagement ring on the way out. That was a nice touch — and also a welcome distraction from going to confession!
The Final Test
You may have heard about the FOCCUS test. This is completely separate from the Engaged Encounter Weekend or Pre-Cana. We had to schedule this with our priest and go to the church to take it. You'll sit separately from your fiancé and answer a bunch of statements with “Agree,” “Disagree,” or “Uncertain.”
We found that many of the statements were things we had already discussed at our Engaged Encounter Weekend. There were about 150 statements, but it only took about 45 minutes or so to complete. You can view some sample questions here.
About a month after taking the test, your scores are delivered to your priest. The priest will then contact you to schedule another meeting to come in and discuss the results. Don't worry — I've been told that you can't "fail" the test!
When we met with the priest to go over our FOCCUS results, he had a print-out with scores on how we performed in various categories. The scores were based partly on whether we answered similarly (i.e. both marked "agree"), and partly on what the preferred answer would be (i.e. answering "disagree" to the question asking would you 'keep the peace' at any cost). I'm happy to report that we did very well on the test. I think the Engaged Encounter Weekend definitely helped prepare us; and it doesn't hurt that we've been together for almost four years and have already discussed many of the situations that were on the test. At the meeting, our priest simply discussed the few areas where we scored a bit lower and gave us some suggestions. He did not make us discuss anything right then and there with him, though, which was a pleasant surprise — he just recommended that we discuss it together on our own.
The Last Steps
After we went over the FOCCUS, we completed some additional wedding paperwork. Part of it required my fiancé and me to individually answer some questions with the priest, so while I answered, my fiancé had to leave the room, and then we switched. The priest asked "yes" and "no" questions regarding your intent to marry and whether you understand what you're getting yourself into. Then, we discussed the actual ceremony a bit more, including what we needed to select for the mass (i.e. readings, prayer of the faithful, etc.)
Lastly, you'll each need to present two witnesses who can testify and sign a document stating that you have never previously been married. Apparently, this is a new policy in the Catholic church. Your witnesses need to be people who have known you for a long time (parents are your best bet). You do not need to be present for this, and your witnesses can pop by the church at any time before the wedding. It'll only take them about five minutes. You also need to request an updated baptismal certificate with notations from the church you were baptized in, and this needs to be done within six months of the wedding.
Overall, I felt that the Pre-Cana experience has been helpful, and my fiancé and I have truly gotten something out of it. After the weekend, I actualy felt closer to him and more prepared to marry him. I do, however, think that parts of it have been a bit redundant, and that the whole thing could be condensed and shortened. My advice is to choose what works best for you and your fiancé. Remember, you have options. Good luck, and happy wedding planning!