There are plenty of things for which I thank God: good friends, the health of my children, the glorious tenth anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, the fact that the Detroit Tigers will not be trading their star pitcher Justin Verlander. Another is the fact that my wife and I were never made to attend a Catholic marriage preparation course.

If we had been members of a parish where the mind-numbingly dull half-year of expensive weekend retreats had been required, we would have gone through with it, obviously. Offering up suffering is a gift of the Holy Ghost denied even to the glorious angels in heaven.

I say this because it is only as a kind of purgative trial justly demanded of the pious faithful by Mother Church in the exercise of her disciplinary infallibility that it is possible to make sense of the six-month-long exercise in mandatory tedium known in the US as “Pre-Cana” (the mawkish reference to Our Lord’s first miracle is worthy of Hallmark). The spiritually edifying qualities of these rectory chats on subjects such as “Conflict Resolution Skills” and “Finances” are best summed up by secular interpolators at a website called

You may be wondering, what exactly is Pre-Cana? Don’t worry … you won’t be hearing lectures about going to church every week and going to Confession. It’s more like pre-marital counselling, to help prepare you for marriage.

In our case, marriage counselling meant two 20-minute conversations with our pastor. This is as it should be. When it comes to marriage, Shakespeare’s Friar Lawrence is a model shepherd of souls. A good student of St Paul, he knows what marriage is for, which is why his first priority is the avoidance of sin, not the maintenance of community standards. Indeed, I have always found modern-day adaptations of the play implausible, because today’s Romeo and Juliet would have had to spend a considerable portion of their young lives taking quizzes on “Spirituality/Faith” and “Careers” in order to get the go-ahead from their diocese.

The way the post-conciliar Church cordons off the sacraments is a perfect example of how she has become insufferably middle-class. Working-class people and bohemian misfits like me are not community-minded. We loathe the notion of therapy, especially if it involves making small talk with people we don’t know about things that are very dear to our hearts. People with real jobs often work on Saturdays; they haven’t got time or money for couples’ weekend retreats to horse farms with Fr Dialogue.

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