Marriage Preparation

Congratulations! The Diocese of Des Moines is pleased you have chosen to celebrate the Order of Matrimony. What a wonderful time in your life! Marriage is a lasting commitment that you make to each other freely. The gift of your whole self to another person calls for fidelity, a life-long commitment and enables you to have and nurture children in an atmosphere of love. This is what the Church means when it calls marriage a covenant and a sacrament. A married couple becomes a sign of how much God loves us, a sacrament of this total love.

Planning a wedding can be fun, exciting, and even a bit overwhelming. The Diocese of Des Moines offers Wedding Planning Guidelines, a handbook that can help couples in their choices for worship space decorations, worship aids, parts of the wedding Mass or service, and some thoughts on traditional practices and music. Each parish also has marriage preparation guidelines and processes—contact your parish for more details.

Wedding Guidelines & Workshops

To best prepare for a successful marriage, a wedding date is to be set no sooner than six months from the initial contact with the priest/deacon/pastoral minister preparing the couple.

Couples should begin their marriage preparation at their home parish by contacting the pastor. Couples are required to participate in a sacramental preparation process prior to their marriage/validation. In our diocese, this process involves attending a sacramental marriage preparation retreat hosted by either the diocese or the parish and also meeting with a sponsor couple who will guide a couple through the FOCCUS inventory.

View the Diocesan Marriage Preparation Policies



Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 marriage preparation workshops are being held both online and in person. 

Current sacramental marriage preparation retreats: 

      • July 9th, at St. Franics of Assisi Parish in West Des Moines. 
      • August 20th, at the Catholic Pastoral Center, 601 Grand Ave, Des Moines, IA 50309.
      • September 17th, at St. Patrick's Parish, Council Bluffs, IA. 

The cost of this course is $80 per couple, and all Saturday courses run from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. Scholarships are available to couples, and can be requested by contacting John Gaffney at 515-237-5026. Please register for classes on the diocesan calendar.



Beyond our marriage preparation workshop, couples should complete the FOCCUS inventory and review with a sponsor couple, or in the absense of a sponsor couple with another member of the parish marriage preparation team.  

In order to make marriage preparation as valuable as possible, the diocese makes an effort to address each couple's particular circumstances. With this in mind, additional training and resources are available for sponsor couples who work with couples where one or both:

  • Pregnant or bringing a child(ren) into the marriage
  • Entering a second or subsequent marriage(includes widow or widower)
  • Seeking validation in the Catholic Church when there has been a previous marriage
  • Referred by priest/deacon/pastoral minister


When an engaged couple is civilly married but not sacramentally married, marriage preparation can be adjusted to better suit their needs. It should be made clear that the couple is not seeking a blessing of the covenant that already exists, but is entering a new, sacramental covenant that has not yet taken place. To better minister to these couples, the engaged couple should enter one of the following programs:

  • Work with a sponsor couple who is able to address the unique circumstance of a validating couple. The primary emphasis needs to be on the sacramentality of marriage.
  • When a couple has been in a civil union less than TWO years, FOCCUS is required. When the civil union has been longer than two years, REFOCCUS is recommended.
  • If the sponsor couple becomes aware that there are factors present in the relationship that may require further assistance, the priest/ deacon/ pastoral minister will be informed. He/she will then refer the couple to Marriage Ministry.


Within marriage there is a moral responsibility to regulate procreation. Because of it's inherit respect for our bodies and sexuality, only natural means of regulating births are morally licit. Our resources can help couples learn about natural family planning, which is an effective and moral way to participate in God's plan for sexual intimacy.