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Marriage Preparation

build a foundation to withstand each season of life


Congratulations on your upcoming marriage in the Catholic Church. Whether you are newly engaged or have had a previous civil wedding and are now seeking to have a Catholic wedding, the Life and Family Evangelization Office is here to offer support and guidance for the big day and for a lifetime together as husband and wife.


Si son una pareja bilingüe y prefiere la preparación matrimonial en español, por favor visiten nuestra página en español.



He bent down on one knee. She said yes. You’ve announced it to your family and friends. Now what? You may already be overwhelmed with wedding planning details or completely in the dark about how to get started, but the Catholic Church is here to help!

Civilly Wedded

Were you baptized Catholic or at some point became Catholic and then had a wedding together in a non-Catholic ceremony? Would you like to have a Catholic wedding?

Couples may find themselves in this situation for a variety of reasons. It may be that a Catholic had a non-Catholic wedding ceremony and did not realize that the Church requires those who have been baptized Catholic or who at some point became Catholic prior to a wedding to have a Catholic wedding ceremony.

Alternately, it might be because one, or both parties, was not free to marry due to a previous marriage that had not been declared null by the Church. No matter the situation, now is a great time to explore how the Catholic Church views your marital status and what options may be available to you.


Marriage Preparation Process in the Diocese of Rockford

Step 1

Contact your parish

Contact your parish within the first few weeks of your engagement. Or if you are civilly wedded together, contact your parish as soon as you both decide you want to celebrate a sacramental marriage in the Church.

When you call your local parish office, you will likely speak with the parish secretary. Let that person know you would like to get married in the church. They will have some questions to ask you, and this will get the process started.

Please do not book a venue for your wedding reception until you have spoken with your parish. Follow their instructions on when it is best to move forward with that portion of your wedding day.

Step 2

Register for and Complete Diocesan Marriage Preparation

The ideal time to register with the Life and Family Evangelization Office for diocesan marriage preparation is within the 6 to 12 months prior to your wedding day. This will give you the widest range of course dates to choose from. Couples registering within 6 months prior to their wedding date will need to prioritize the completion of courses. All couples preparing for marriage in the Diocese of Rockford are required to complete this diocesan preparation. Diocesan preparation consists of two courses: Pre-Cana course and Natural Family Planning course. After completion of each course, you will receive a completion certificate for each course. Please ensure that both the diocese and the parish have copies of these two certificates.

Step 3

Complete parish preparation.

The priest, deacon, or staff member preparing you for marriage will be able to give you specific details about what parish preparation will look like. This will be based on parish guidelines and the most formative steps to meet your specific circumstances.

Parish preparation will include completing necessary paperwork and can include multiple meetings with the priest or deacon, meetings with a mentor couple, completing a pre-marital inventory, and/or further formation.

Step 4

Plan the ceremony

The parish will guide you in selecting Scripture readings, music, lectors, and other details of the marriage ceremony. Finalizing these decisions will probably involve meeting with your priest, deacon, parish liturgist and/or music director. This is a great opportunity to go over any guidelines your parish has regarding flowers, candles, aisle runners, photography, etc. Make sure to get your wedding rehearsal scheduled as well!

Diocesan Marriage Preparation Details

Requires completion of two courses: Pre-Cana and Natural Family Planning (NFP)

Both courses are available online and in-person. Couples can take any combination of the online and in-person courses.


Choose one pre-Cana course.

These pre-Cana options combine relational insights from contemporary research with Catholic teaching on marriage. Couples will gain insights from the Church teachings on the sacramentality of marriage and receive practical tips. Our goal is to help couples give the gift of themselves to each other and unpack the grace  received during the sacrament of Marriage so that couples can build a strong and lasting marriage.

Couples gain access to this video-based formation program along with two workbooks that are mailed from the diocesan office. Each of the ten sessions take couples about one hour to complete, including viewing the video and completing discussion and activities.

This retreat is an opportunity to take a pause from the hecticness of wedding planning and focus on each other and on God. Couples enjoy all meals and overnight accommodations from Friday evening through Saturday evening at a retreat center in either Rockford or Batavia. The weekends are offered every month, but alternate each month between Spanish and English. The retreat includes presentations, prayer, discussion, and quiet time.

The Transformed in Love Retreat is offered on the following dates:

  • August 2-3, 2024, Bishop Lane Retreat Center, Rockford
  • October 4-5, 2024, Bishop Lane Retreat Center, Rockford

(Only available for couples who are married outside of the Catholic church for 2 or more years)

Led by trained peer couples and a priest, the WWME experience is typically a weekend-long residential retreat held at a retreat center or hotel for couples who are already married in the Catholic Church or who have been civilly wedded. Couples learn new tools that will enrich their marriages and have the opportunity to form lasting communities if so desired. See for more information.

Upcoming dates for Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekends:

  • August 3-4; Saint Mary Parish Center, Oregon, IL
  • September 6-8; Comfort Inn & Suites, Geneva, IL
  • October 12-13; Joseph & Mary Retreat House, Mundelein, IL


Choose one NFP course.

These NFP options present the true gift of being open to God, to each other, and to new life. Couples learn the scientific, natural, and moral approach to family planning that helps them achieve or postpone pregnancy by understanding and tracking their joint fertility. NFP fosters self-knowledge, respect, and appreciation for the gift of fertility. NFP supports God’s design for married love by fostering free, total, faithful, and fruitful communion between husband and wife. The NFP courses also address themes present in Pope St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, including who we are and how God created us. Couples learn that our bodies express who we are spiritually. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and our bodies reflect this. God’s love is a total gift of self and life-giving. Thus, husbands and wives are called to love each other in the same self-giving and life-giving way through their sexuality. The NFP course is required even for couples who are beyond childbearing age (or unable to bear children) because this self-giving is not limited by age or fertility and because all couples are called to join the Church in passing on the beauty of these teachings to the younger generations and to those that they encounter.

Couples gain access to this video-based formation program. The eight sessions take couples about five hours to complete, including viewing the video and completing discussion and activities.

This four-hour presentation will be offered at parishes throughout the Diocese of Rockford. It will offer the opportunity to interact with Theology of the Body experts and couples who have practiced and instructed others in NFP methods.

Gift of Self: NFP Seminar is offered on the following dates:

  • September 21, 2024, SS. Peter & Paul Parish, Cary

The best and most effective way to learn NFP is to receive instruction with a qualified instructor who has been trained and certified to teach a particular method. These individuals have received extensive education and training to become experts in this field, providing you with the best opportunity to become educated in and comfortable with a method. The full course takes three to six months, during which the instructor assists couples in identifying, tracking, and determining fertility.

Frequently Asked Questions

You may switch to in-person preparation if you have not yet created an account with SmartLoving. Unfortunately, if an account has been created, we cannot switch your course. Although the courses share similar topics, the material is not similarly organized.

We strive to be as cost effective as possible. After reviewing multiple course options (some of which cost nearly double of what we charge), we are able to keep the cost to the current registration fee. Should you have financial difficulties that prevent you from being able to afford the complete cost of diocesan preparation, please reach out to us.

On average, the online pre-Cana video courses take about 10 hours to complete; the NFP video courses take about 5 hours to complete. The in-person pre-Cana retreat will run from Friday evening through Saturday evening, with overnight accommodation at the retreat house, unless otherwise stated. The in-person NFP seminar is scheduled to run for 4 hours. If a couple chooses to do a full course of NFP for the NFP certificate, that full course takes between three to six months to complete. For couples who are already civilly wedded and choose the Worldwide Marriage Encounter weekend to fulfill their pre-Cana certificate, the WWME weekends are two-night retreats.

Couples will need two diocesan preparation completion certificates: one for the diocesan pre-Cana course and one for the diocesan NFP course. These certificates are issued at the completion of each course. Couples are asked to ensure that both the parish and the diocese receive copies of the completion certificates. 

You will need to obtain a marriage license from the County Clerk Office in the county where your wedding will be taking place. To explore the current procedures and contact information for each County Clerk Office in the state of Illinois, visit the Illinois Association of County Clerks and Recorders website.  Specifically here →

Still have questions?

Contact the LiFE Office by email [email protected] or phone 815.399.4300 Our office hours are Monday-Friday 8:30am-4:30pm.