July 14, 2017

Catholic therapist uses ‘template of the Mass’ in book designed to help engaged and married couples

By Natalie Hoefer

Cover of the book, The Liturgy of Marriage: Building Your Relationship with the Rite StuffMarriage and family therapist Dr. Timothy Heck wanted to write a book to help engaged and married couples. He knew plenty of such books existed, so why write one more?

“I was motivated by the few books available for couples that present marriage in a way that is consistent with the Catholic faith and also draws heavily on solid research in our field,” says Heck, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.

The former Protestant pastor was also motivated by “my conversion to the Church in 2003 and a desire to illustrate to people how beautiful our faith really is and, perhaps, dispel some of the common myths about the Mass.”

So this spring he published The Liturgy of Marriage: Building Your Relationship with the Rite Stuff (Cradle Press, 2017). Its 15 chapters are divided into three parts: The Introductory Rite, The Liturgy of the Word and The Liturgy of the Eucharist.

The book also carries a “nihil obstat” and “imprimatur,” confirming that it does not contradict Church teaching and morals, and as such is approved for publication.

The idea for the format came when “it struck me that liturgy is a prayer, and what better way to describe marriage—a prayer to the Lord,” says Heck.

Each chapter looks at a portion of the Mass and how it and the Scripture behind it play out in the sacrament of marriage.

“What I have tried to do is take the sequential elements of our Catholic Mass, and use it as a template for exploring how to bring our faith out of the doors of the Church and into the front door of the home,” he says in the preface of the book.

The preface continues to explain that the elements of the Mass are used “to consider how to turn our family relationships into ones that are more satisfying, less conflicted, and much more in keeping with the holy design for marriage and family given to us by our Lord.”

Each chapter also calls upon Heck’s own experience as a husband, as well as his 25 years of experience in marriage and family counseling.

Based on that experience, Heck notes that couples often seek counseling too late for reconciliation.

“Too often, couples will wrestle with their issues and problems for years—six, according to the research—before seeking help,” he says.

“By that time, the condition may be severely distressed, and one or both may have lost much of their motivation to work on their relationship.”

The book provides a tool for communication to help couples share and grow “before such a breakdown occurs,” says Heck.

“My hope would be that you and your fiancé[e] or spouse would take the time to read through this book together, pausing frequently to discuss what you have read and share the ideas and thoughts it stimulates in each of you about your relationship,” he writes in the preface of the book.

Such communication is also encouraged through the questions and exercises at the end of each chapter.

The chapter topics, questions and exercises make the book useful for other audiences as well, Heck says, including individuals, small groups and as a resource for retreats.

While being framed around the Mass and supported by studies, the book is not formulaic or clinical. Heck shares from the liturgy of his own life, making the book a relatable read.

“I’ve had a few people who know me well tell me, after reading the book, they could hear my voice,” he admits. “That makes me smile, because that’s precisely how I wrote it.”

In addition to the Mass, clinical studies and his own experience as a therapist, Heck relies on higher sources for offering marital advice, such as information from the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and magisterium teachings like Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” and St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

An added bonus to working on marriage through the lens of the Mass is the inherent catechesis the book provides.

For instance, at one point in the book, Heck recalls a time during his Protestant days when he was assigned to preach at a service.

“We had just celebrated the Lord’s Supper, at least our commemorative version of it …,” he writes. “I had a strong compulsion to kneel. … [But] to what or in which direction would I kneel?” Did he face the communion table, he wondered, or a stained-glass window, or the musicians?

“No such confusion exists for us Catholics. We know exactly to whom we should bow and kneel—… the crucified Jesus who is now re-presented to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. … Oh that we would all realize fully, or as fully as possible for us, what we are experiencing in this Eucharistic celebration.”

In writing this book, Heck also hopes that engaged and married couples fully experience a covenantal, fully-giving-of-self type of marriage “as given to us by our Lord.”

“I write this book to give those who are entering marriage and those who are married a better understanding of how faith and the science of interpersonal psychology blend to bring us into the dream of a holy marriage that will please both God and us.”

(To order a copy of The Liturgy of Marriage: Building Your Relationship with the Rite Stuff, go to www.LiturgyofMarriage.com, e-mail info@liturgyofmarriage.com, or call 317-502-7171.)

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