Proper preparation for Christian marriage

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

José Miguel Granados-July 20, 2022-Reading time: 25 minutes
Christian marriage

The Year of the Family "Amoris laetitia".The Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life were published a few days earlier. A few days before, the Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life were published. These are pastoral orientations that, bearing in mind the richness of situations that families are going through today, propose a serious revision of formation for Catholic marriage. The itineraries are committed to a practical and real catechumenate, based on the accompaniment of spouses and families throughout their lives.

1.Vademecum of pastoral care of marriage

Dated June 15, 2022, the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, has published an important document with the title: Catechumenal Itineraries for Married Life. It is a timely vade mecum or handbook with the guidelines or guidelines for an adequate pastoral care of marriage preparation for our time.

In continuity with the magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Holy Father Francis has explained on various occasions the need for this marriage catechumenate, which is "an antidote to avoid the proliferation of null and void or inconsistent marriage celebrations" (Address to the Roman Rota, 21-1-2017).

Indeed, from a negative point of view, the need for preparation is particularly urgent in our times, given the lamentable rates of marital failure. We cannot stand by and watch unmoved as the family fabric crumbles in a counterculture of rupture and divorce, which causes so much human destruction.

The Church, as mother and teacher, recognizes the duty she has to "accompany with responsibility to 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 the purpose of the proposal of the marriage catechumenate is decisive: "it aims to make the mystery of sacramental grace resonate between the spouses, which corresponds to them by virtue of the sacrament: to make the living presence of Christ with them and among themselves"; for which it is necessary "to travel with them the path that leads them to an encounter with Christ, or to deepen this relationship, and to make an authentic discernment of their own nuptial vocation" (n. 6). The gift of the Spirit needs to be properly accepted in order to produce fruits of holiness and evangelization.

2. Formation for conjugal sanctity

In this sense, it is necessary to recognize a a certain incoherence The Church devotes much time, several years, to the preparation of candidates for the priesthood or religious life, but she devotes little time, only a few weeks, to those preparing for marriage" (Preface). For this reason, a renewed appreciation of the vocation to marriage is necessary, in conformity with the universal call to holiness and mission - which includes the lay faithful with their specificity - proclaimed with emphasis by the Second Vatican Council. It must be affirmed that "the sacrament of Holy Orders, religious consecration and the sacrament of marriage deserve the same careThe 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 an integral, profound and constant formation, so that they can fulfill their task for the good of the whole human community.

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

For this reason, there are many doctrinal and pastoral tools that must be articulated, as specified in the Family ministry directories of the episcopal conferences and dioceses.

Thus, for example, Francis indicates that this document will have to be complemented by "another document indicating concrete pastoral methods and possible itineraries of accompaniment, specifically dedicated to those couples who have experienced the failure of their marriage and are living in a new union or have remarried civilly" (Preface).

3. Transversality, synodality, continuity

We must bear in mind that is not a normative text but a pastoral textopen to the consideration of the diverse realities of the subjects and environments to be evangelized. For this reason, these "guidelines that ask to be received, adapted and put into practice in concrete social, cultural and ecclesial situations" (Preface), in a prudent exercise on the part of pastors and other agents of the delicate task of preparation for Christian married life.

Three major general principles of pastoral action are identified. First, the transversality, which "means that the pastoral care of married life is not limited to the restricted sphere of the meetings of engaged couples, but crosses many other pastoral areas and is always present in them" (n. 12). In fact, it is the very life of the couple (engaged or married) that is carefully accompanied by the Church, so that the vocation may produce all the fruit of holiness that it contains germinally, capable of radiating and fertilizing society with the Gospel of marriage and the family.

Secondly, the synodalityfor "The Church is communion and concretely realizes her communion in walking together, in the coordination of all pastoral areas and in the active participation of all her members in her evangelizing mission" (n. 13). In this field of ecclesial action, as in others, we must avoid a clerical reductionism or that many disengage themselves from the Lord's mandate by neglecting their duties: we are all responsible - each according to his or her vocation, abilities and charisms - for the evangelization of society, cultures and persons.

The third criterion is the continuity, that "it refers to the fact that it is not episodic, but prolonged in time, including permanent. This makes it possible to establish pedagogical itineraries which, in the various stages of growth, accompany the rooting of the vocation to marriage in the journey of Christian initiation in the faith" (n. 14). Something analogous to the processes of education or human maturation occurs: their interruption or neglect is counterproductive and often harmful. Different modalities should be considered, adapted to the different stages and situations of life, but the task of human and Christian formation should never be abandoned. In this sense, it is necessary to remember to avoid "long periods of pastoral neglect of certain phases in the life of individuals and families, which unfortunately lead to alienation from the community and often also from the faith" (n. 15). If formation is neglected, confusion and exposure to ideological deformations, such as passionate emotionalism or materialistic pansexualism, irremediably advance. Adequate and uninterrupted formation, on the other hand, favors the development of discerning persons, solidly grounded in the truth of the Gospel and in human and Christian virtues.

4. Catechumenate

Let us add that, although the modalities and adaptations can be very varied, a marriage catechumenate is not just any old thing: it possesses a consistency and some elementary features, which are made explicit in this document. Moreover, this institution is inspired by the beautiful and secular ecclesial tradition of preparation for adult baptism. "The Ritual of Christian Initiation for Adults can be a frame of reference to be inspired by" (n. 19).

For this reason, "in the development of this project, it is necessary to take into account certain requirements: for the duration of the enough time to allow couples to reflect and mature; that, starting from the concrete experience of human love, faith and encounter with Christ be placed at the center of marriage preparation; that it be organized by stagesmarked - when possible and appropriate - by rites of passage that are celebrated within the community; that encompasses all of these elements: formation, reflection, dialogue, confrontation, liturgy, community, prayer, festivity" (n. 16).

The document considers that a concrete proposal to begin on this path could be the implementation in the dioceses, whenever possible, of a "pilot project". (n. 17). However, "this pastoral tool cannot simply be imposed as the only way to prepare for marriage, but must be used with discernment and common sense" (n. 16). Indeed, an indiscriminate obligation could have counterproductive effects, such as the alienation of many from the sacrament of marriage or external and formal compliance, as an imposed requirement to be suffered and fulfilled "reluctantly". It is rather a consistent suggestion, to be shown to the candidates as a plausible offer of integral formation. For this formative instrument to be truly effective, it must be presented in a suitable and attractive way, so that the candidates to the sacrament of marriage themselves come to discover, yearn for, and to take a leading role in the project.

5. Guiding, helping, accompanying

In the characterization of this training modality, the document considers some general and methodological characteristics: its intention is to be " provide the best possible training for the students", and "...".guiding, assisting and being close to couples on a path to be traveled together"It is not a preparation for an exam to be passed, but for a life to be lived"; moralism is to be avoided and care must be taken instead to "...".proactive, persuasive, encouraging and all oriented towards the good and beautiful that is possible to live. in marriage"; it also has to take into account "gradualness, welcome and supportbut also the testimony of other Christian spouses who are welcoming and present along the way", as this will help to "create a climate of friendship and trust"(n. 20), so necessary for the efficacy of this journey towards Christian marriage.

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

Usually, "the team of companions that guides the way can be formed by couples helped by a priest and other experts in family pastoral care" (n. 21). The presence of married couples is not only due to a shortage of clergy, but also responds to the vocation of the married couple as evangelizers and to the connaturality with the form of life that they want to undertake.

In addition, it should be taken into account that "some complex issues related to conjugal sexuality or openness to the life of the couple". (e.g., responsible parenthood, artificial insemination, prenatal diagnosis, and other bioethical issues) have strong ethical, relational, and spiritual implications for spouses, and require today's specific training and a clarity of ideas" (n. 22). The document also recalls the "urgency of a more adequate formation of priests, seminarians and lay people (including married couples) in the ministry of accompanying young people to marriage" (n. 86).

6. Assess situations and attitudes

Also to be considered are to consider, distinguish and accompany in an appropriate and timely manner the various existential situations of those who approach the sacrament of marriage in our day. The great number of people who live more or less distant from the faith and from the Church calls for a solicitous and timely proposal: "Pastoral experience in much of the world now shows the constant and widespread presence of new requests for preparation for sacramental marriage on the part of couples who already live together, have celebrated a civil marriage and have children. Such requests can no longer be evaded by the Church, nor can they be flattened within paths laid out for those who come from a minimal journey of faith; rather, they require forms of personalized accompaniment" (n. 25).

We often meet "couples who have preferred to live together without getting married, but who nevertheless remain open to religious matters and are willing to approach the Church. With a sympathetic view, they should be warmly welcomed without legalismappreciating its desire for family" (n. 40). Adequate pastoral action does not confine itself to theoretical schemes, but places itself in the vital place - attitudes, dispositions, situations, etc. - in which people find themselves in order to help them with human and supernatural wisdom according to the stages of healing and growth in ongoing conversion and in the ascent to human fulfillment, which is holiness.

7. Significant rituals

The document proposes some symbolic rites or quasi-liturgical gestures of initiation or culmination of the various stages or phases of this formative process or journey. "Among the rites to be considered, before arriving at the marriage rite proper, may be: the giving of the Bible to the bride and groom, the presentation to the community, the blessing of the engagement rings, the giving of a couple's prayer that will accompany them on their journey. The appropriateness of this will be evaluated according to the local ecclesial reality. Each of these rites may be accompanied by a retreat" (n. 23).

This initiative is made with a lot of cautionOn the one hand, it is important to avoid creating excessive expectations that force the freedom of the candidates, and on the other hand, it is also important to avoid confusion or identification with the rites proper to the sacrament. For this reason, the text urges "the necessary prudence and a careful evaluation of how to propose these rites, according to the social context in which one acts. In some cases, for example, it may be preferable for these rites to be celebrated only within the group of couples following the itinerary, without involving families or others. In other cases, however, it is preferable to avoid them altogether" (n. 26). Therefore, these rites are suggestions to consider and use prudentially to take advantage of its stimulus to persevere with enthusiasm on the training path and avoid possible counterproductive effects.

8. Stages. Remote preparation

Since it is a matter of accompanying internal growth, this process or articulated path must take into account the following various stages of formative development and of human and Christian maturation. For this reason, the document suggests that "in a long-term pastoral perspective, it would be good if the catechumenal itinerary itself were preceded by a pre-catechumenal phase: this would coincide practically with the long period of remote preparation to marriage, which begins in childhood. The proper catechumenal phase consists of three distinct stages: the upcoming preparationthe immediate preparation and the accompaniment of the first years of married life" (n. 24).

In family and ecclesiastical education for true love during childhood and youth, the objectives of remote preparation are: "(a) to educate children in self-esteem and esteem for others, in the knowledge of their own dignity and in respect for others; (b) to present to children the Christian anthropology and vocational perspective contained in baptism that will lead to marriage or consecrated life; c) to educate adolescents in affectivity and sexuality in view of the future call to a generous, exclusive and faithful love (whether in marriage, in the priesthood or in the consecrated life); d) to propose to young people a path of human and spiritual growth to overcome immaturity, fears and resistance to open themselves to relationships of friendship and love, not possessive or narcissistic, but free, generous and oblative" (n. 36).

9. Reception: 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 implemented by the pastoral team will be decisive"; for "it is important that the moment of reception becomes a proclamation of the kerigmaso that the merciful love of Christ constitutes the authentic spiritual place in which the couple is welcomed" (n. 38).

Here the document emphasizes some features of the evangelizing style This is especially important for engaged couples: "the pastoral care of married couples should always have a cheerful tone and kerygmatic -The witness, beauty and driving force of Christian families will be able to 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 by the Church; fidelity, uniqueness, definitiveness, fruitfulness and totality are, after all, the essential dimensions of every bond of authentic love, understood, desired and coherently lived by a man and a woman" (n. 39).

Those who ask the Church for the nuptial sacrament should be helped to overcome superficial attitudes that are often unconsciously and inculpably held by those who ask for it, for "it is important that there be an interior willingness to begin a journey of faith-conversion through the marriage catechumenate" (n. 42). In the discernment of the conjugal intention Church doctrine distinguishes between the virtue of faith in the candidates and the will to wanting a real marriage. "The presence of a living and explicit faith in couples is obviously the ideal situation for coming to marriage with a clear and conscious intention to celebrate a true marriage. However, a necessary condition for access to the sacrament of marriage and its validity remains their intention to do what the Church means to accomplish in celebrating marriage between the baptized" (n. 44).

Thus, "if they explicitly and formally reject what the Church wishes to accomplish in celebrating marriage, the engaged will not be admitted to the sacramental celebration" (n. 45). Pastors cannot neglect the formation and conversion of souls, for they have the grave duty to "make the Church's will known to the faithful" (n. 45). to bring out the true intentions The Church's intention is to make the bride and groom aware of them, so that the preparation and celebration of marriage may not be reduced to purely external acts. If, on the other hand, 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 should not be excluded" (n. 45).

In this phase it is necessary to "take advantage of this situation as a a favorable moment for them to rediscover their faith and bring it to a greater maturity.returning to the roots of his baptism, rekindling the seed of divine life that has already been sown in them, and inviting them to reflect on the choice of sacramental marriage as the consolidation, sanctification and full realization of their love" (n. 45). Thus, with patience and zeal, pastors and others entrusted with this task are to bring about the right interior conditions for entering into a true and prepared marriage in the best possible conditions.

However, with some frequency it will happen that both parties or "one of them refuses to follow the catechumenal path. In all these cases, it will be up to the presbyter to evaluate the best way to proceed in preparing for marriage" (n. 46), in order to ensure not only the validity of the sacrament but also that it not be wasted and produce fruits of life Christian.

10. Upcoming preparation: vocational itinerary of faith

Regarding the main time of the catechumenate, "in general terms, it is suggested that the upcoming preparation last approximately one yearDepending on the couple's previous experience of faith and ecclesial participation. Once the decision to marry has been made, immediate preparation could begin. to marriage, lasting a few months, in order to become a true and proper initiation to the nuptial sacrament" (n. 48).

In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to drastically change the way in which the mentality of the pastors and, later, of the people of God, so that everyone becomes aware that marriage preparation is something serious and intenseThe idea is that it should not remain the superficial varnish of a short course. In this regard, it may be useful to consider the analogy with the rigor in the academic education and professional training that are so demanding in our time. For, in a similar way to technical, artistic or sporting skills, to prepare virtuous subjectsThe formation of those who are truly capable of true spousal love, who have reached the maturity of the freedom of self-giving, requires a formative effort of great scope, intensity and duration.

"The marriage catechumenate at this stage will take on the character of a real catechumenate. faith itineraryduring which the Christian message will be rediscovered and reproduced in its perennial newness and freshness. Candidates for marriage will also be gradually initiated into Christian prayer" (n. 49). During this period, "couples are to be helped to approaching ecclesial life and to participate in it. With gentleness and human warmth, they will be invited to participate in moments of prayer, Sunday Eucharist, confession, retreats, but also in moments of celebration and conviviality" (n. 50).

It will also "be essential to prepare an itinerary of reflection on marital propertyand thus be ready to accept these graces and embrace these goods as a gift" (n. 51). "It will be important at this stage to deepen everything that has to do with the relationship with the couple and interpersonal dynamics with its rules, its laws of growth, the elements that strengthen it and those that weaken it" (n. 52). For this, it is necessary to count on the contributions of the human sciences.

They "must also be duly explored: the human dynamics of marital sexualityThe correct conception of responsible parenthood, the education of children" (n. 53). And, finally, we must "become aware of the possible psychological and/or affective deficienciesThe marriage can weaken or even completely nullify the commitment of self-giving and mutual love that the spouses promise to each other. But they can be the stimulus to initiate a more serious process of growth that prepares to reach a sufficient condition of interior 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 vocation to marriage. This can lead to the free, responsible and meditated decision to marry, or it can lead to the equally free and meditated decision to end the relationship and not to marry. This discernment, which should also take place within the framework of spiritual dialogue" (n. 55).

11. Learning chastity, ally of love

One of the central themes at this formative stage has to be the proper understanding and vital apprenticeship in the human and Christian virtue of chastityIt must be presented as a true ally of love, not as its negation. It is, in fact, the privileged way to learn to respect the individuality and dignity of the other, without subordinating it to one's own desires. It has a fundamental importance in guiding and nourishing conjugal love, preserving it from any manipulation. It teaches, in any state of life, to be faithful to the truth of one's own love.

This will mean, for the engaged couple, to live chastity in continence and, once married, to live conjugal intimacy with moral rectitude. Chastity facilitates reciprocal knowledge between the bride and groom, because by preventing the relationship from becoming fixed on the physical instrumentalization of the other, it allows for a deeper dialoguea freer manifestation of the heart and the emergence of all aspects of one's personality - human and spiritual, intellectual and affective - in such a way as to allow true growth in the relationship, in personal communion, in the discovery of the richness and limits of the other: and this is the true purpose of the engagement period.

They are diverse and beautiful values and attentions that the virtue of chastity teaches: the respect the other, the care of never submitting it to one's own desires, the patience and the delicacy with the spouse in times of difficulty, physical and spiritual, the strength and the self-control necessary in times of absence or illness of one of the spouses, etc." (n. 57).

12. Care for substance and form

As for the methodology of this central phase, it should be emphasized that "it is necessary that the content transmission Theoretical studies must be accompanied by the proposal of a spiritual path that includes experiences of prayer (personal, community and couple), celebration of the sacraments, spiritual retreats, times of Eucharistic adoration, missionary experiences, charitable activities" (n. 58). Without neglecting the tone testimonial from trust that enables authentic openness and inner renewal.

In summary, the objectives of the upcoming preparation are: "a) to re-propose a catechesis of initiation to the Christian faith and an approach to the life of the Church; b) to experience a specific initiation to the sacrament of marriage and to reach a clear awareness of its essential notes; c) to deepen the themes linked to the couple's relationship and to become aware of their own psychological and affective shortcomings; d) to complete a first phase of discernment of the couple on the nuptial vocation; e) to continue a spiritual journey with more decision" (n. 63).

13. Immediate preparation for engagement

In the months preceding The immediate preparation for the nuptials takes place prior to the celebration of the marriage. "It will be opportune to remember the main contents of the path of preparation followed up to now: emphasis will be placed on the indispensable conditions of freedom and full awareness of the commitment to the choice to be made, linked to the essential characteristics of marriage" (n. 65).

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

14. To fill gaps and encourage ecclesial insertion.

Although this pathway presents the ideal and complete training framework, it is nevertheless realistic to note that it is frequent and regular "that some couples are only now being inserted into the catechumenal itinerary, and that immediate preparation is the only concrete possibility for them to receive a minimum of training. in view of the celebration of the sacrament of marriage. For them, it would be opportune to arrange some personalized meetings with the pastoral team of marriage preparation, to make them feel the care and attention, to deepen together some 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 those accompanying them" (n. 65).

It is a matter of making up for deficiencies with charity, but without considering that this exceptional situation, however widespread it may be, is the normal or the good thing. With patience and prudence, the pastors and other members of the Christian community must to seek insertion in the life of the Church to those who are far away and to invite everyone to participate in the processes of proper faith formation.

In this phase, moreover, it is necessary to "always return to the encounter with the Lord as the source of the whole Christian life. It is always necessary, in fact, to go beyond the mere sociological vision of marriage in order to make the spouses understand the mystery of grace that is implicit in it" (n. 66). In this last stage prior to the celebration of marriage "it will be useful to reformulate the announcement kerygmatic of redemption of Christ who saves us from the reality of sin, which always looms over human life"; as well as "to have recourse to God's forgiveness which, in the sacrament of reconciliationHe bestows his love more powerfully than any sin" (n. 67).

15. Liturgical catechesis

The celebration of the sacrament contains a transcendent divine richness, which should not be reduced to merely human aspects such as the social, festive or sentimental. It is up to the sacred ministers and other catechists to open the minds of the couples to these sacramental and missionary dimensions-transcendent and fascinating-which they may barely glimpse. "Couples should be enlightened about the the extraordinary value of a sacramental sign that their conjugal life will acquireThe wedding rite: with the nuptial rite, they will become a permanent sacrament of Christ who loves the Church. Christian spouses are called to become living icons of Christ the Bridegroom. It is the way spouses live and relate to each other that should make present to the world the generous and total love with which Christ loves the Church and all humanity. For this is the extraordinary witness that so many Christian spouses give to the world: their capacity for mutual self-giving and dedication to their children, their capacity for fidelity, patience, forgiveness and compassion are such that they give a glimpse of the fact that at the basis of their relationship there is a supernatural source, a something moreinexplicable in human terms, which unceasingly nourishes his love" (n. 68).

In the whole process of preparation for Christian marriage and, later, in the life of the marriage, one must count on the powerful and decisive divine help: "The awareness of a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the nuptial rite, which, inserting itself in the dynamism of grace initiated in baptism, gives a new connotation to the divine charity instilled in us from baptism itself and which now acquires the features of the marital charity. It is very timely invoking the saints/beats cThe Church should also appeal to the faithful of our time, who have already lived the experience of being husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and also to the holy intercessors, to enhance the dignity of the state of married life in the ecclesial community and to help them to understand the beauty and power of this sacrament in the economy of salvation" (n. 69).

16. Previous retreat and confession

The document insists on a very appropriate proposal: "a few days before the marriage, a spiritual retreat of a day or two will be very beneficial. While this may seem unrealistic, given the many commitments due to wedding planning, it must be said that it is precisely the hustle and bustle of the many practical tasks related to the upcoming celebration that can distract the bride and groom from what matters most: the celebration of the sacrament and the meeting with the Lord who comes to dwell in his love human being by filling him with his divine love. In the event that a true retreat is impossible, a shorter time of prayer (for example, an evening meeting, such as a prayer vigil) could serve as an alternative" (n. 70). "Involve parents, witnesses and close relatives. in a moment of prayer before the wedding, can be a very beautiful opportunity for everyone" (n. 72).

It adds another indispensable element: to go to the sacrament of penance in order to receive the grace of marriage in the best possible way, cleansed of grave sin and purified also of minor faults. "In the period leading up to the wedding - in the context of the aforementioned spiritual retreat or prayer vigil or even in another context - the celebration of the sacrament of penance is an essential element. sacrament of reconciliation is of great importance" (n. 71). Thus they can worthily receive Holy Communion - the source of all divine blessings and the presence of Christ's nuptial covenant - at the wedding celebration.

17. Pastoral care of the newlyweds

The third stage of this process is related to the early married life. In fact, "the catechumenal journey does not end with the celebration of marriage. In fact, rather than as an isolated act, it should be considered as the entrance into a permanent state, which therefore requires a lifelong learning specific, 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 newlyweds in solitude" (n. 74).

It is not good for marriage to be alone, we can say mimicking the Lord's affirmation in the story of the creation of the woman. "Newlyweds should be aware that the celebration of marriage is the beginning of a journey, and that the couple is still a open projectnot a finished work" (n. 75). To this end, "the following will be proposed couples 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 for couples to find the company of the Christian community that reinforces and sustains the motivations of their journey.

It often happens that the attention of young couples is focused on the need to earn money and on their children, neglecting the commitment to the quality of their relationship with each other and forgetting the presence of God in their love. "It is worthwhile to help young couples to know how to find time to deepen their friendship and welcome grace of God" (n. 77).

18. Living the gift

The document recalls how the meaning of the sacrament is to be unfolded in all its beauty: "this is an opportune moment for a true matrimonial mystagogy, that is, an introduction to the mystery. Reviewing the different moments of the wedding rite, one could delve deeper into its rich symbolic and spiritual meaning and its concrete consequences in married life: the exchanged consent (the will to unite, and not a passing sentiment, at the basis of marriage, a will that must always be strengthened); the blessing of the signs that recall 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 upon the human relationship, assumes it and sanctifies it, to which one must always be open); the remembrance of marriage in the Eucharistic prayer (to always immerse conjugal love in the paschal mystery of Christ in order to reinvigorate it and make it ever more profound)" (n. 77).

In short, with mystagogical marriage catechesis, as with baptismal catechesis, the invitation is: Become what you are! You are now a married couple, so live more and more like a married couple! The Lord has blessed and filled your union with grace, so!make this grace bear fruit!

New topics and interests

From the very beginning of married life, it is important to receive a concrete help to live the interpersonal relationship with serenity. There are many new things to learn: "to accept the diversity of the other that manifests itself immediately; not to have unrealistic expectations of life together and to consider it as a path of growth; to manage the conflicts that inevitably arise; to know the different stages through which every loving relationship passes; to dialogue in order to seek a balance between personal needs and those of the couple and the family; to acquire healthy daily habits; to establish an adequate relationship with the families of origin from the beginning; to begin to cultivate a shared conjugal spirituality (n. 78).

There is many aspects of conjugal and family life that can be the subject of dialogue and catechesis in recent years. "It is essential, for example, to enlighten couples on the sensitive issue of sexuality within marriage.... and related issues, that is, the transmission of life and the regulation of births, and on other moral and bioethical questions. Another area that should not be forgotten is that of the human and Christian education of children, which constitutes a serious responsibility for parents, and in regard to which couples should be sensitized and suitably trained" (n. 79). For the various topics of conjugal and family life, the Church's teaching offers spouses a treasure of wisdom.

These early years of marriage represent a "learning phase in which the closeness and the concrete suggestions of mature married coupleswho share with the younger ones what they have learned along the way, will be of great help" (n. 80).

20. Pastoral care of the link and various resources

The pastoral ministry of marriage will be first and foremost "a pastoral care of the bondIt will help couples, whenever they face new difficulties, to have at heart above all else the defense and consolidation of the marital union, for their own sake and for the sake of their children" (n. 81). "It is essential to focus the couple's journey on the encounter with Christ: the couple needs to encounter Christ continually. and nourished by his presence" (n. 82). He is the model, the source and the support of the promised fidelity: only with his grace, in ecclesial communion, can the communion of the conjugal "we" be strengthened.

The Church's constant and permanent attention to married couples can be carried out through the following means various pastoral media:  "listening to the Word of God; meetings for reflection on current topics related to conjugal and family life; the participation of married couples in liturgical celebrations especially designed for them; periodic spiritual retreats for married couples; Eucharistic adoration organized for spouses; conversation and spiritual accompaniment; participation in family groups to share experiences with other families; participation in charitable and missionary activities. For spouses need to develop a true conjugal spirituality to nourish and sustain the specific path of holiness that they follow in married life" (n. 83).

This spirituality includes conjugal co-vocation, the life and commitment to lay holiness, as well as the evangelization of the family culture. As the conjugal identity develops, "the sense of missionthat flows from the sacrament, can grow. It is opportune to invite married couples to become involved in the ordinary family ministry of their parishes or other ecclesial realities" (n. 84).

In summary, the objectives of accompaniment in the first years of married life are: "(a) to present, in a mystagogical marriage catechesis, the spiritual and existential consequences of the sacrament celebrated in concrete life; (b) to help couples, from the beginning, to establish the interpersonal relationship in the right way; (c) to deepen the themes of sexuality in married life, the transmission of life and the education of children; d) to instill in married couples the firm will to defend the marriage bond in any situation of crisis that may arise; e) to propose the encounter with Christ as an indispensable source of renewal of marital grace and to acquire a conjugal spirituality; f) to recall the meaning of the specific mission of Christian marriages" (n. 85).

21. Accompanying in difficult marital situations.

Finally, the ecclesial accompaniment of married couples in crisis situations is considered. "In the history of every marriage there can be times when conjugal communion diminishes and the spouses encounter periods, sometimes long, of suffering, fatigue and misunderstanding, going through true marital crises. They are part of the history of families: they are phases which, if overcome, can help the couple to be happy in a new way, starting from the possibilities that a new stage opens up, making the wine of the union mature even more. However, in order to prevent the crisis situation from becoming irremediable, it is advisable that the parish or the community have at its disposal a pastoral service for the accompaniment of couples in crisis" (n. 87). The family counseling centers (COF) are a key reference in this regard.

In fact, experience shows that in difficult or critical situations most people do not turn to pastoral accompaniment, perhaps because "they do not feel it to be understanding, close, realistic, incarnated". For this reason, "it is appropriate that - in addition to the pastor - it should be the spouses, especially those who have experienced a crisis after having overcome it, who become accompanying couples in difficulty or already divided" (n. 88). "It is a matter of guaranteeing not only psychological accompaniment, but also spiritualto recover, through a gradual and personalized mystagogical journey and the sacraments, the profound meaning of the bond and the awareness of the presence of Christ between spouses" (n. 90). These tutors or mentors The marriage can be a decisive help in saving and sanctifying especially those who are in difficulty.

It was noted that, unfortunately, "there are situations in which the separation is unavoidable. In these cases, a particular discernment is indispensable in order to pastoral accompaniment the separated, the divorced, the abandoned. We must especially welcome and appreciate the pain of those who have unjustly suffered separation, divorce or abandonment, or who have been forced to break off their cohabitation because of the abuse of their spouse. Forgiveness for the injustice suffered is not easy, but it is a path that grace makes possible. Hence the need for a pastoral care of reconciliation and mediationthrough specialized listening centers to be established in the dioceses" (n. 93).

It is considered that "divorced people who have not remarried - who are often witnesses to marital fidelity- to find in the Eucharist the nourishment that sustains them in their condition. The local community and pastors should accompany these people with solicitude, especially when there are children or when their situation of poverty is serious". (n. 94).

22. Building the family on rock

The Conclusion recalls that this document responds to the profound "desire to offer couples a better and deeper preparation for marriage, through a sufficiently broad itinerary, inspired by the baptismal catechumenateThe aim is to provide them with an adequate formation for Christian married life, based on an experience of faith and an encounter with Jesus, which is not limited to a few encounters close to the celebration, but which allows them to perceive the quasi-permanent character of the pastoral care of conjugal life that the Church intends to carry out. The entire ecclesial community must be involved in the mission of accompanying couples. In the tasks of formation and updating, it is necessary to work with a sense of complementarity and co-responsibility.

In this path of integral formation, it is necessary to employ "not only the method of the catechesisbut also the dialogue with the partners, the meetings individual, the liturgical moments of prayer and celebration of the sacraments, rites, retreats and interaction with the whole ecclesial community". Throughout this process, the following must be taken into account character kerygmatic of the Christian proposal, that is, its strength, beauty and newness. The "sacrament of matrimony is presented as a good newsIt is a gift from God to couples who wish to live their love to the full". Avoiding dichotomies, "the path of human growth and the process of spiritual growth are always kept together".

The formation of Christian marriages must be "embedded in today's concrete reality and must not be afraid to address issues and questions that represent social and cultural challenges", including the "formation of consciousness personal morale and the formulation of a family life project".

Pastoral accompaniment must be customizedbased mainly on the testimony of the accompanying persons and of other couples involved in the journey. It is a question of leading in each case to a serious discernment The mission of the Institute is to prepare couples for the celebration of marriage and married life as the fruit of a conscious, free and joyful decision. At the same time that it prepares couples for the sacrament of marriage, it also prepares them for the sacrament of matrimony. initiates in the ecclesial life and helps them to find in the Church the place where they can nourish the marriage bond and continue to grow throughout their lives in their vocation and service to others, thus fully developing their spousal identity and their ecclesial mission. In addition, special attention should be given to the accompaniment of married couples in crisis.

By offering the new generations itineraries of catechumenal growth in view of marriage, we are responding to one of the most urgent needs of society today: to accompany young people towards the full realization of what remains one of their greatest "dreams" and one of the main goals they intend to achieve in life, which is to establish a solid relationship with the person they love and to build a holy and evangelizing marriage on the basis of the sacrament.

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