Articles

The right preparation for Christian marriage

The Year of the Family "Amoris laetitia" will conclude on 26 June 2022. A few days before, the Catechumenal Itineraries dedicated to married life were published. A document that aims to update, renew and above all to make real the insertion of Christian families in the way of the Church, with the current circumstances.

José Miguel Granados-September 12, 2022-Reading time: 23 minutes
Christian marriage

Testo originale del articolo in inglese qui

These are pastoral orientations that, taking into account the richness of the situations that today's families are going through, propose a serious revision of Catholic marriage formation. The formation itineraries opt for a concrete and real catechumenate, based on the accompaniment of couples and families throughout their lives.

Vademecum della pastorale matrimoniale

On 15 June 2022 the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life published an important document entitled: Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life. It is a vademecum, or rather a handbook that indicates the guidelines or norms for a pastoral preparation for marriage adapted to our times.

In continuità con il magistero di Giovanni Paolo II e Benedetto XVI, il Santo Padre Francesco ha più volte spiegato la necessità di questo catecumenato matrimoniale, da utilizzare come "un antidoto per evitare il proliferare di celebrazioni nuziali nulle o incoerenti" (Discorso alla Rota, 21-1-2017).

In fact, from a negative point of view, the need for preparation is particularly urgent in our days, because of the very poor indications of the failure of the marital bond. It is not possible to witness the collapse of the family fabric in a culture of breakup and divorce, which produces so much human distraction.

The Church, as mother and teacher, has the duty to "responsibly accompany those who express the intention of uniting in marriage, so that they may be preserved from the traumas of separation and never lose faith in love" (Preface).

In a positive sense, the originality and purpose of the marriage catechumenate proposal is decisive: "it pursues the goal of bringing back to the couple the mystery of sacramental grace, which corresponds to them by virtue of the sacrament: to live the presence of Christ with them and among them"; for which it is necessary "to walk with them the path that leads them to the encounter with Christ, or to deepen this relationship, and to carry out an authentic discernment of their own vocation to sponsorship" (n. 6). The gift of the Spirit, in order to produce fruits of sanctity and evangelization, needs to be properly accepted.

Training in conjugal sanctity

In this sense, we must recognize a certain lack of consistency in pastoral action, because "the Church devotes much time, several years, to the preparation of candidates for the priesthood or religious life, but dedicates little time, only a few weeks, to those who are preparing for marriage" (Preface). For this reason, a renewed appreciation of the vocation to marriage is necessary, so that it may be in conformity with the universal vocation to holiness and mission - which with its own specificity also includes lay faithful - emphatically proclaimed by the Second Vatican Council. It must be affirmed that "the sacrament of Orders, religious consecration and the sacrament of marriage deserve the same care, because the Lord calls men and women to one or the other vocation with the same intensity and love" (n. 7). For this reason Christian spouses need a complete, deep and constant formation, so that they can develop their commitment for the good of the whole human community.

It should be noted that this Vatican document is limited in its intentions, since it is not a manual for the premarital period, nor does it consider all the issues of family pastoral care, but offers only the most important indications for the preparation to married life. 

For this reason, there are many doctrinal and pastoral tools that must be articulated, as specified in the Lists of Instructions for Family Pastoral Care of the Episcopal Conferences and Dioceses. 

Thus, for example, Francesco indicates that this document will have to be integrated with "another one in which concrete pastoral methods and possible accompaniment paths will be indicated, specifically dedicated to those couples who have witnessed the death of their marriage and are living in a new union or have been civilly remarried" (Prefazione).

Transversality, synodality, continuity

We must keep in mind that this is not a normative but a pastoral text, open to the consideration of the different realities of the people and of the environments to be evangelized. Therefore, these "are guidelines that need to be received, adapted and put into practice in concrete social, cultural and ecclesial situations" (Prefix), in a prudent exercise on the part of pastors and others involved in the delicate task of preparing the Christian for married life.

Three main general principles of pastoral action are outlined. First of all, the transversalitywhich "means that the pastoral care of married life is not limited to the narrow field of the faithful, but crosses many other pastoral environments and is always present in them" (n. 12). In reality, it is the very life of the couple (fidanzata or sposata) that is carefully accompanied by the Church, so that the vocation produces all the fruit of sanctity that it contains in germe, and is capable of radiating and fertilizing society with the vineyard of marriage and the family.

In secondo luogothe synodalitybecause "the Church is communion and concretely realizes its communion in its journey together, in the coordination of all pastoral areas and in the active participation of all its members in its evangelizing mission" (n. 13). In this field of ecclesial action, as in others, we must avoid clerical ridicule, or the fact that many disregard the affection of the Lord by neglecting their duties: we are all responsible - each according to his or her vocation, ability and charism - for the evangelization of society, culture and people.

The third criterion is continuitywhich "refers to the character that is not episodic but prolonged in time, and also permanent. This allows us to establish pedagogical paths that, in the various stages of growth, accompany the establishment of the vocation to marriage on the path of Christian initiation in faith" (n. 14).
It has some analogy with educational processes or human maturation: their abandonment or interruption are counterproductive and often harmful.
Different modalities should be considered to suitably adapt to the needs and life situations, but the task of human and Christian formation should never be abandoned. In this sense, it is necessary to remember that "long periods of pastoral neglect of some aspects of the life of individuals and families, which unfortunately lead to alienation from the community and often also from the faith, must be avoided" (n. 15). (n. 15). If the formation is transcended, it inevitably leads to confusion and exposure to ideological deformations, such as passionate emotionality or materialistic pansessualism. On the other hand, an adequate and uninterrupted formation favors the development of people and criteria, solidly rooted in the truth of the Gospel and in human and Christian virtues.

Catechumenate

We add that, even though the modalities and the admissions can be very varied, a matrimonial catechumenate is not a quasi thing: it has a consistency and some elementary treaties explained in this document. Moreover, this institution is inspired by the beautiful and centuries-old ecclesial tradition of preparation for the marriage of adults. "The Ritual of Christian Initiation for Adults can be a general framework of reference from which to draw inspiration" (n. 19).

For this reason, "in the elaboration of this project some requirements must be taken into consideration: that the formation lasts long enough for the couples to reflect and reflect; that, starting from the concrete experience of human love, faith and the relationship with Christ be placed at the center of the preparation for marriage; that it be organized by stages, followed - when possible and opportune - by passage meetings that are celebrated within the community; that it finally gather all these elements: formation, reflection, dialogue, confrontation, liturgy, community, prayer, celebration" (n. 16).

In the document it is reiterated that a concrete proposal to begin this journey could be the implementation in the dioceses, where possible, of a "pilot project" (n. 17). However, "this pastoral tool cannot be simply imposed as the only means of preparation for marriage, but must be used with discernment and good sense" (n. 16). An indiscriminate obligation, in fact, could have counterproductive effects, such as the withdrawal of many from the sacrament of marriage or the external and formal commitment, as an imperative requirement that must be raised and adopted "by force". It is rather a coherent suggestion, which must be shown to the candidates as a plausible offer of complete formation. In order for this formative tool to be truly effective, it must be presented in an appropriate and attractive way, so that the candidates to the sacrament of marriage themselves come to discover it and to desire to follow the project of the protagonists.

Guidare, aiutare, accompagnare

In the characterization of this formative modality, the document considers some general and methodological characteristics: its aim must be "to guide, help and be close to the couples on a path to be walked together"; "it is a preparation for a life that is lived, not a struggle to be overcome"; it avoids moralism and instead, it must take care of the "propositive, encouraging, stimulating tone and all that is oriented to the good and the beautiful that can be lived in marriage"; In the same way, it must take into account "the gradualness, acceptance and support, but also the witness of other Christian spouses who accept and are present along the way", since this will contribute to "create a climate of friendship and trust" (n. 20 ), so necessary for the effectiveness of this path towards Christian marriage.

Each person and each couple will be accompanied in their journey of reflection, conversion and understanding of the human and Christian meaning of married life, "always following the logic of respect, peace and mercy. However, this never leads to obscure the requirements of truth and charity of the Gospel proposed by the Church, and it must never be allowed to obscure the divine design of human love and marriage in all its beauty and grandeur" (n. 56).

Only "the team of companions that guides the journey can be composed of spouses assisted by a priest and other experts in family pastoral care" (n. 21). The presence of spouses is not only due to the scarcity of the clergy, but it responds to the nature of the conjugal vocation of evangelizers and to the connaturality with the way of life that the spouses want to learn. In addition, it notes that "some complex problems linked to conjugal sexuality or openness to life (e.g., responsible parenthood, artificial fertilization, prenatal diagnosis and other bioethical issues) have strong ethical, relational and spiritual implications for spouses, and today require a specific formation and clarification of ideas" (n. 22). The document also calls for "the urgency of a more adequate formation of priests, seminarians and lay people (including spouses) in the ministry of accompanying young people to marriage" (n. 86).

Assessing situations and predispositions

We must also consider the different existential situations of those who today accept the sacrament of marriage, which must be identified and accompanied in an adequate and timely manner. The great number of people who live more or less distant from the faith and from the Church calls for a solitary and opportune proposal: "The pastoral experience in a great part of the world now shows the constant and widespread presence of new initiatives of preparation for sacramental marriage on the part of couples who already live together, have celebrated a civil marriage and have children. Such initiatives can no longer be chosen by the Church, nor can they be applied within processes carried out by those who come from a minimal path of faith; they require rather forms of personalized accompaniment" (n. 25).

We often find "couples who have preferred to live together without marrying, but who, nevertheless, remain open to religious questions and ready to join the Church. With understanding care, they are welcomed with cordiality and without legalism, appreciating their desire for family" (n. 40). A suitable pastoral action is not limited to theoretical schemes, but is placed in the vital place -attitudes, dispositions, situations, etc.- in which people find themselves. in which people find themselves, in order to be able to help them with human and supernatural wisdom according to their own needs and growth, in their continuous conversion and ascent towards that human thought which is in itself sanctity.

Riti significativi

The document proposes some riti simbolici or quasi-liturgical gestures of initiation or culmination of the various stages or phases of this formative process or journey. "Among the things to consider before entering into the rite of marriage itself are: the reception of the Bible to the couple, the presentation to the community, the blessing of the rings of fidelity, the reception of the prayer of the couple that will accompany them on their journey. The opportunity of this will be evaluated according to the local ecclesial reality. Each of these prayers can be accompanied by a prayer" (n. 23).

This initiative is carried out with great caution, because on the one hand it is necessary to avoid creating excessive expectations, which restrict the freedom of the candidates, and on the other hand it must not lead to confusion or identification with the sacramental rite. For this reason the text calls for "the necessary prudence and a careful evaluation of how to provide these rights, depending on the social context in which they are found. In some cases, for example, it may be preferable for these events to be held only within the group of couples following the itinerary, without involving families or other persons. In other cases, however, it is preferable to avoid them altogether" (n. 26). Therefore, these suggestions are only suggestions to be taken into consideration and to be used with caution as a stimulus to persevere with enthusiasm on the path of formation, and to avoid possible counterproductive effects.

Tappe. Remote preparation

Since it is a matter of accompanying an inner growth, this articulated process or path should take into account the different stages of formative development and human and Christian maturation. For this reason, the document suggests that "in a long-term pastoral perspective, it would be good if the catechumenal journey itself were preceded by a pre-catechumenal phase: this would practically coincide with the long period of distant preparation for marriage, which begins in infancy. The true and proper catechumenal phase is composed of three distinct phases: early preparation, immediate preparation and accompaniment in the first years of married life" (n. 24).

In family and ecclesial education in true love during childhood and youth, the objectives of distance learning are: "(a) to educate children to self esteem and esteem for others, to the knowledge of their own dignity and respect for others; (b) to introduce children to Christian anthropology and to the vocational prospects contained in the battesimo that will lead to marriage or consecrated life; c) to educate the adolescents to the affectivity and to the sensuality in view of the future call to generous, exclusive and faithful love (whether in marriage, in the priesthood or in consecrated life); d) to provide young people with a path of human and spiritual growth to overcome immaturity, fear and resistance in order to open themselves to relationships of friendship and love, not possessive or narcissistic, but free, generous and self-giving" (n. 36) 

Housing: announcement and maturation of the conjugal project

In the intermediate or reception phase of the candidates to the marriage catechumenate, "the style of relationship and reception carried out by the pastoral team will be decisive"; because "it is important that the moment of reception becomes an annunciation of the kerygma [ndt. Rinascita nel vangelo], affinché l'amore misericordioso di Cristo costituisca l'autentico luogo spirituale in cui la coppia è accolta" (n. 38).

The document underlines some aspects of the evangelizing style that should be treated above all with faith: "the marriage ministry must always have a joyful and evangelical tone -vigorous and always propositive-; the witness, the beauty and the propulsive force of Christian families can come to the aid of pastors in the face of these challenges; the sacrament of marriage itself must be the object of a true proclamation on the part of the Church; faithfulness, unity, definitiveness, fruitfulness, totality, are, in essence, the essential dimensions of every bond of authentic love, understood, desired and constantly experienced by a man and a woman" (n. 39).

It is necessary to help overcome the superficial attitudes that -successfully, unwillingly and unquestioningly- have those who ask the Church for the nuptial sacrament, because "it is important that there be an inner willingness to begin a journey of faith with the marriage catechumenate and conversion". (n. 42).
In the discernment of the marital intention, the Church's doctrine distinguishes between the virtue of faith in the candidates and the will to desire a true marriage. "The presence of a living and explicit faith in the couple is obviously the ideal situation to arrive at marriage with the clear and conscientious intention of celebrating a true marriage. However, a necessary condition for access to the sacrament of marriage and for its validity remains the intention to do what the Church intends to do when she celebrates marriage between married couples" (n. 44).

Therefore, "if what the Church wants to accomplish by celebrating marriage is explicitly and formally rejected, spouses cannot be admitted to the sacramental celebration" (n. 45). Pastors cannot ignore the formation and conversion of souls, because they have the grave duty "to bring out the true intentions of the spouses, so that they themselves become aware of them, and to prevent the preparation and celebration of marriage from being reduced to extraneous acts. If, on the contrary, without denying what the Church wishes to accomplish, there is an imperfect disposition on the part of those who wish to marry, their admission to the celebration of the sacrament must not be excluded" (n. 45).

In this phase it is necessary "to approach this situation as a propitious moment to induce them to rediscover their faith and bring it to greater maturity, returning to the roots of their own faith, reviving the seed of divine life that has already been sown in them, and inviting them to reflect on the choice of sacramental marriage as a consolidation, sanctification and full realization of their love" (n. 45).
Therefore, with peace and zeal, pastors and others involved in this task must promote the emergence of inner conditions suitable for achieving a true marriage, prepared in the best possible conditions.

However, with a certain frequency it will be necessary that both parties or "one of them will be asked to follow the catechumenal way. In all these cases it will almost always help the priest to assess the best way to proceed in preparation for marriage" (n. 46), to ensure not only the validity of the sacrament, but also that it does not end badly, but produces fruits of Christian life.

The next preparation: a vocational itinerary of faith

Regarding the main duration of the catechumenate, "in general terms, it is suggested that the first preparation should last about a year, depending on the previous experience of the couple in matters of faith and ecclesial participation. Once the decision to marry has been taken, immediate preparation for marriage can begin, lasting several months, in such a way that it becomes a true and proper initiation to the sacrament of marriage" (n. 48).

To achieve this goal, it is necessary to drastically change the mentality of pastors and, then, of the people of God, so that everyone becomes aware that marriage preparation is something serious and intense, that it should not be just a superficial examination of a short course. It may be useful for this purpose to consider the analogy with the rigor of academic and professional training, which today is very important. Ebbene, the preparation of virtuous people, really capable of true sponsorship love, who have attained the maturity of the freedom of the gift of self, requires a formative effort of great importance, intensity and duration, on a par with the preparation of technical, artistic or sporting skills ... .

"The marriage catechumenate will acquire in this phase the character of a true journey of faith, during which the Christian message will be rediscovered and reproposed in its perennial newness and freshness. Even the candidates for marriage will be gradually introduced to Christian preaching" (n. 49). In this period "the couples will be helped to become involved in the ecclesial life and to participate in it. With delicacy and human warmth, they will be invited to take part in moments of prayer, Sunday Eucharist, confession, prayer, but also in moments of celebration and communion" (n. 50)..

In addition, "it will be indispensable to prepare an itinerary of reflection on the benefits proper to marriage, so as to prepare oneself to accept these graces and to embrace these benefits as a gift" (n. 51).
"It will be important in this phase to examine all that has to do with the partnership relationship and the interpersonal dynamics that it entails, with its rules, its laws of growth, the elements that strengthen it and those that hinder it" (n. 52). For this it is necessary to count on the contributions of human science.

Parimenti, "must be properly understood: the human dynamics of conjugal relationships, the correct conception of responsible parenthood, the education of children" (n. 53). And, finally, it is necessary "to be aware of the possible psychological and/or affective weaknesses, which can hinder or even completely annul the commitment of dedication and mutual love that spouses promise each other. But they can be the stimulus for a more serious process of growth that prepares to reach a sufficient condition of inner freedom and maturity" (n. 54).

The specific objective of this central stage of the marriage catechumenate is "to finalize the discernment of each couple about their own vocation to marriage. This can lead to a free, responsible and considered decision to marry, or it can lead to an equally free and considered decision to end the relationship and not marry. This is a discernment that must also be carried out in the context of spiritual dialogue" (n. 55).

11. Imparare che la castità è l'alleata dell'amore

One of the central themes of this formative tappa must be the proper understanding and vital learning of the human and Christian virtue of marriage: "it must be presented as an authentic ally of love, not as its negation. It is, in fact, the privileged way to teach respect for the individuality and dignity of the other, without subordinating it to one's own desires. It is of fundamental importance to guide and cultivate conjugal love, preserving it from any manipulation. It insists, in every state of life, to be faithful to the truth of one's own love.

This will mean, for the couple, to live the marriage in continuity and, once married, to live the conjugal intimacy with moral integrity. Marriage facilitates the reciprocal knowledge between spouses, because it prevents the relationship from being based on the physical strumentalization of the other, allowing a deeper dialogue, a freer manifestation of the heart and the emergence of all the aspects of one's personality - human and spiritual, intellectual and emotional - in a way that allows a true growth in the relationship, in the personal communion, in the discovery of the other's richness and limits: ed è questo è il vero scopo della datazione del tempo.

The values and the care instilled by the virtue of chastity are diverse and beautiful: respect for the other, the care not to ever subdue one's own desires, peace and delicacy with one's spouse in moments of physical and spiritual difficulty, the strength and self-control necessary in the case of the illness or disease of one of the spouses, etc.". (n. 57).

To cure the substance and the form

Regarding the methodology of this central phase, it is emphasized that "it is necessary that the transmission of the theoretical contents be accompanied by the proposal of a spiritual journey that includes experiences of prayer (personal, community and group), celebration of the sacraments, prayer spirituality, moments of Eucharistic adoration, missionary experiences, charitable activities" (n. 58). All this without going beyond the testimonial tone of sincere faith that allows authentic openness and inner renewal.

In short, the objectives of the next preparation are: "a) to provide a catechesis of initiation to the Christian faith and an approach to the life of the Church; b) to live a specific initiation to the sacrament of marriage and to become clearly aware of its essential characteristics; c) to approach the problems related to the couple's relationship and to become aware of one's own psychological and affective shortcomings; d) to complete a first phase of discernment of the partnership on the nuziale vocation; e) pursue with more decision a spiritual path" (n. 63).

Immediate preparation for the impact

In the months preceding the celebration of the marriage, the immediate preparation of the bride and groom takes place. "It will be opportune to recall the main contents of the preparatory process that follows: it will insist on the indispensable conditions of freedom and full awareness of the commitments involved in the choice to be made, linked to the essential characteristics of marriage" (n. 65).

The objectives of the preparation for the celebration of the sacrament are: "a) remembering the doctrinal, moral and spiritual aspects of marriage; b) to live spiritual experiences of encounter with the Lord; c) to prepare for a conscientious and fruitful participation in the liturgy of the Church" (n. 73).

To compensate the lacks and to favor the ecclesiastical insertion

Although this itinerary presents the ideal and complete formative framework, however, in reality it is often and habitually verified that "some couples are inserted in the catechumenal itinerary only in this phase and that the immediate preparation is the only concrete possibility to receive a minimum of formation in view of the celebration of the sacrament of marriage. For them it would be opportune to organize personalized meetings with the pastoral team of marriage preparation, in order to make them feel the care and attention, to approach together some of the more personal aspects of the choice of marriage, according to the situation of the couple, and to establish a relationship of trust, cordiality and friendship with their companions". (n. 65).

It is a matter of overcoming shortages with charity, but without considering that this exceptional situation, as diffuse as it may be, is normal or good. With peace and prudence, pastors and other members of the Christian community should try to insert those who are far away in the life of the Church and invite everyone to participate in the processes of adequate faith formation.
Moreover, in this phase it is necessary to "always keep at the center the encounter with the Lord as the source of the whole Christian life. In fact, it is always necessary to go beyond the mere sociological vision of marriage in order to help the couple understand the mystery of grace that is implicit in it" (n. 66). In this last stage preceding the celebration of marriage "it will be useful to reformulate the kerygmatic [ndr.: evangelical] annunciation of Christ's redemption that saves us from the reality of sin, which always pleads for human life"; as well as "the appeal to God's forgiveness that, in the sacrament of reconciliationdona il suo amore con una forza che supera quella di qualsiasi peccato" (n. 67).

15. Liturgical Catechesis

The celebration of the sacrament contains a transcendent divine richness, which is not reduced to merely human aspects such as social, sentimental or festive ones. It requires the sacred ministers and other catechists to learn the lies of the parties against these sacramental and missionary dimensions - transcendent and fascinating - that perhaps they have just been introduced. "The couple must be enlightened on the extraordinary value of the sacramental sign that their married life will acquire: with the nuptial rite they will become a permanent sacrament of Christ who loves the Church. Christian couples are called to become living icons of Christ the Bridegroom. It is the same way of living and relating to the spouses that must make present to the world the generous and total love with which Christ loves the Church and the whole of humanity. Ebbene, this is the extraordinary witness that so many Christian couples give to the world: their capacity for dedication and reciprocal dedication to their children, their capacity for faithfulness, peace, forgiveness and compassion are such as to show that at the basis of their relationship there is a supernatural source, something else, inexplicable in human terms, which unceasingly nourishes their love" (n. 68).

Throughout the process of preparation for Christian marriage and, later, throughout her life, she must rely on a powerful and decisive divine help: "La consapevolezza di una nuova effusione dello Spirito Santo durante il rito nuziale, che, inserendosi nel dinamismo della grazia iniziata nel battesimo dà una nuova connotazione alla carità divina infusa in noi dal battesimo stesso e che ora acquista i tratti della carità coniugale. It is very opportune to invoke the holy priests/beati of our time, who have already experienced the experience of being mariti and mogli, fathers and mothers, and also the holy intercessors, to increase the dignity of the state of conjugal life in the ecclesial life of the community and to help them to understand the beauty and power of this sacrament in the economy of salvation" (n. 69).

16. Ritiro and previous confessions

The document insists on a very valid proposal: "a few days before the marriage, a spiritual retreat of one or two days will be very advantageous. Even if this may seem unrealistic, given the many commitments due to the organization of the marriage, it must be said that it is precisely the trambusts of the many practical commitments linked to the imminent celebration that can distract the couple from what counts most: the celebration of the sacrament and the encounter with the Lord who comes to open their human love, drawing them to his divine love. In the case in which a true renewal would be impossible, a shorter time of prayer (for example, a serene encounter, like a prayer vigil) could serve as an alternative" (n. 70). "To involve parents, witnesses and relatives more closely in a time of prayer before marriage can be a wonderful opportunity for everyone" (n. 72).

Another essential element is added: to go to the sacrament of penance to receive the grace of marriage in the best possible way, freed from grave sin and purified also from minor sins. "In the period preceding marriage - whether in the context of spiritual renewal or in another context - the celebration of the sacrament of reconciliation is of great importance" (n. 71).
In this way the couple can receive Holy Communion - the source of all divine blessings and the presence of Christ's nuptial allegiance - at the celebration of marriage.

17. Cura pastorale degli sposi novelli

The third phase of this process refers to the first years of married life. In fact, "the catechumenal journey does not end with the celebration of marriage. In fact, more than as an isolated act, it is considered as the entrance into a permanent state, which therefore requires a specific permanent formation, made of reflection, dialogue and help from the Church. For this it is necessary to accompany at least the first years of married life and not to leave the new couples to themselves" (n. 74).

It is not good that marriage is alone, we can say imitating the affirmation of the Signore in the story of the creation of the woman. "The newlyweds must be aware that the celebration of marriage is the beginning of a journey, and that the couple is also an open project, not a finished work" (n. 75).
To this end, "the couple will be offered the continuation of the catechumenal journey, with periodic meetings" (n. 76). In our society, with a mentality so contrary to the true anthropology of marriage, it is very necessary that spouses find the company of the Christian community that reinforces and sustains the motivations of their journey.

It is often agreed that the attention of young spouses should focus on the need to guide their children and their children, transcending the commitment to the quality of their reciprocal relationship and forgetting the presence of God in their love. "It is worthwhile to help young couples to know how to find the time to deepen their friendship and to welcome the grace of God" (n. 77).

Living the gift

The document recalls how the meaning of the sacrament must be revealed in all its beauty: "this is the right moment to carry out a true marriage mystagogy, that is, an introduction to the mystery. Passing in sequence the different moments of the wedding rite, it is possible to approach its rich symbolic and spiritual meaning and its concrete consequences in married life: the changed consensus (the will to unite, and not a passive feeling, at the basis of marriage, a will that is always reinforced); the blessing of the signs that mark the marriage, for example the rings (the promise of fidelity that must always be renewed); the solemn blessing of the spouses (the grace of God that descends on the human relationship, assumes it and sanctifies it, to which we must always be open); the memory of marriage in the Eucharistic prayer (always immersing married love in the paschal mystery of Christ in order to reinvigorate it and make it ever deeper)" (n. 77).

Insomma, with the mystagogical matrimonial catechesis, as with the baptismal catechesis, the invitation to do is: diventate ciò che siete! Ora siete una coppia sposata, quindi vivete sempre di più come una coppia sposata! The Lord has blessed and rewarded your union with gratitude; therefore, fate che questa grazia porti frutto!

New arguments and interests

At the end of married life, it is important to receive concrete help to live the interpersonal relationship with serenity. There are so many new things to teach: "to accept the other's diversity that manifests itself immediately; not to have unrealistic expectations about life together and to consider it as a growth path; to manage the conflicts that inevitably arise; to know the different phases that go through every love relationship; to dialogue in order to find a balance between personal needs and those of the couple and the family; to acquire healthy daily habits; to establish from the beginning a good relationship with the families of origin; to begin to develop a shared conjugal spirituality" (n. 78).

There are many aspects of married and family life that can be the subject of dialogue and catechesis in these years. "It is essential, for example, to enlighten couples on the delicate subject of sexuality within marriage and related issues, such as the transmission of life and the regulation of births, and on other moral and bioethical issues. Another area not to be overlooked is that of the human and Christian education of children, which constitutes a serious responsibility of parents, for which spouses must be sensitized and adequately trained" (n. 79).
On various topics of conjugal and family life, the teaching of the Church makes a treasure of wisdom available to couples.

These first years of marriage represent a "phase of learning in which the closeness and the concrete suggestions of mature couples, who share with the more youthful the longer the journey, will be of great help" (n. 80). 

Cura pastorale del vincolo matrimoniale e delle varie risorse

Marriage pastoral care will be above all "a ministry of bonding: it will help couples, whenever they encounter new difficulties, to have at heart above all the defense and consolidation of the marital union, for their own good and that of their children" (n. 81).
"È essenziale incentrare il cammino della coppia sull'incontro con Cristo: la coppia ha bisogno di incontrare continuamente Cristo e di nutrirsi della sua presenza" (n. 82).
Egli is the model, the source and the support of the promised faithfulness: only with his grace, in ecclesial communion, can he take possession of married communion.

The constant and permanent attention of the Church towards the spouses can be achieved through different pastoral means: "ascolto della Parola di Dio; incontri di riflessione su temi di attualità legati alla vita coniugale e familiare; la partecipazione dei coniugi alle celebrazioni liturgiche a loro dedicate; ritiri spirituali periodici per le coppie di sposi; Eucharistic adoration organized for the spouses; conversation and spiritual accompaniment; participation in family groups to share experiences with other families; participation in charitable and missionary activities. It is necessary that the couple develop a true conjugal spirituality that nourishes and sustains the specific path of holiness that they follow in their married life" (n. 83).

This spirituality includes conjugal convocation, life and commitment to lay sanctity, as well as the evangelization of family culture. As the conjugal identity develops, "the sense of mission, which flows from the sacrament, can grow. It is opportune to invite spouses to become involved in the ordinary family ministry of their parishes or other ecclesial realities" (n. 84).

In synthesi, the objectives of accompaniment in the first years of married life are: "a) to present, in a mystagogical marriage catechesis, the spiritual and structural consequences of the sacrament celebrated in real life; b) to help the partners, right from the beginning, to correctly establish the interpersonal relationship; c) to deepen the themes of sexuality in married life, the transmission of life and the education of children; d) to instill in spouses a strong desire to defer the marriage bond in any crisis situation that may arise; e) to provide the encounter with Christ as an indispensable source of renewal of marital grace and to acquire a conjugal spirituality; f) to call to mind the meaning of the specific mission of Christian couples" (n. 85).

Accompanying in difficult conjugal situations

Finally, the ecclesial accompaniment of marriages in crisis situations is considered. "In the history of every marriage there can be moments in which conjugal communion diminishes and the spouses encounter periods, sometimes long, of sofferenza, fatigue and misunderstanding, going through marital crises. They are part of the history of the families: they are events that, if overcome, can help the couple to be happy in a new way, based on the possibilities that the beginning of a new phase appreciates, making the essence of the Union more and more mature.
In any case, in order to prevent a crisis situation from worsening to the point of becoming irrimediabile, it is advisable for the parish or community to have a pastoral service of support for the people in crisis" (n. 87). The Diocesan Centers of Family Orientation (COF) constitute a fundamental reference in this sense.

In fact, experience shows that in difficult or critical situations most people do not seek pastoral accompaniment, perhaps "because they do not feel it complete, close, realistic, incarnated".
For this reason "it is convenient that - besides the parish priest - the couples, especially those who have experienced a crisis after having overcome it, become companions of couples in difficulty or already divided" (n. 88).
"It is a matter of guaranteeing an accompaniment not only psychological, but also spiritual, to recover, with a gradual and personalized mystagogical path and with the sacraments, the deep sense of the legacy and the awareness of the presence of Christ among the faithful" (n. 90).
These tutors or mentors of marriages can be a decisive help to save and sanctify above all those who are going through difficulties.

It is noted that, unfortunately, "there are situations in which separation is inevitable. In these cases a particular discernment is indispensable to pastorally accompany the separated, the divorced, the abandoned. We must welcome and value in a particular way the pain of those who have undergone unjust separations, divorces or abandonments, or have been forced to interrupt the cohabitation because of spouse abuse. Forgiveness for sudden injustice is not easy, but it is a path that grace makes possible. Hence the need for a ministry of reconciliation and mediation, through specialized asylum centers that should be established in the dioceses" (n. 93).

It is reiterated that "divorced people who have not been divorced - who are often witnesses of marital divorce - must be encouraged to find in the Eucharist the nourishment that sustains them in their state. The local community and pastors must accompany these people with urgency, especially when there are children or when their situation of poverty is serious". (n. 94).

Building the family on the rocks

In the Conclusion it is recalled that this document responds to the profound "desire to offer the couples a better and deeper preparation for marriage, through a sufficiently broad itinerary, inspired by the baptismal catechumenate, which allows them to receive an adequate formation to the Christian married life, from an experience of faith and contact with Jesus; which is not limited, therefore, to a few encounters close to the celebration, but allows them to perceive the almost permanent character of the pastoral care of married life that the Church intends to develop". The whole ecclesial community must be involved in the mission of accompanying couples. In the formation and updating competitions, the work must be carried out with a sense of complementarity and co-responsibility.

In this path of integral formation, "not only the method of catechesis should be used, but also the dialogue with the couples, the individual encounters, the liturgical moments of prayer and celebration of the sacraments, the prayers, the prayers and the interaction with the whole ecclesial community. In all this process it is necessary to take into account the kerygmatic character of the Christian proposal, as well as its strength, beauty and novelty. The sacrament of marriage is presented as a good novel, that is, as a gift from God to couples who want to live their love to the full". Avoiding dichotomies, "the path of human growth and the process of spiritual growth must always be kept together".

The formation of Christian couples must "be embedded in the concrete reality of today and must not be afraid to confront issues and questions that represent social and cultural challenges", including the "formation of personal moral awareness and the formulation of a family life project". 

The pastoral accompaniment must be personalizzatobased above all on the testimonial of the companions and of the other spouses involved along the way. In every case, it is a question of leading to a serious personal and corporate discernmentThe celebration of marriage and married life will be the fruit of a conscious, free and joyfully made decision.
While preparing the couple for the sacrament of marriage, the accompaniment initiates them into the ecclesial life and helps them to find in the Church the place where they can nurture the marriage bond and where they can continue to grow throughout their lives in their vocation and in service to others, thus fully developing their corporate identity and ecclesial mission.
In addition, particular attention must be paid to the accompaniment of the conjugal couple in crisis.

By proposing to the new generations paths of catechumenal growth in view of marriage, we respond to one of the most urgent needs of Western society: to accompany young people towards the full realization of what continues to be one of their greatest "dreams" and one of the main objectives they strive to achieve in their lives, namely that of establishing a solid relationship with their loved one and, on the basis of the sacrament, to build a holy and evangelizing marriage.

The authorJosé Miguel Granados

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