In his annual speech to the Holy See’s main court on Saturday, Pope Francis stressed the pressing need for effective education and preparation for the sacrament of marriage – not only to guard against invalid marriages, but also to strengthen the faith of the couple as they prepare for the unique blessings and challenges of married life.
“The goal of this preparation consists, namely, in helping engaged couples to know and to live the reality of marriage as it is intended to be celebrated, so that it is possible to do so not only validly and lawfully, but also fruitfully, so that they are able to make this celebration a stage of their journey of faith,” Pope Francis said.
“In this spirit, I would reiterate the need for a ‘new catechumenate’ in preparation for marriage,” he said in his Jan. 21 address to the judges of the Roman Rota at the Vatican’s Clementine Hall.
“Welcoming the guidance of the Fathers of the last Ordinary Synod, it is urgent to implement effectively what has already been proposed in Familiaris Consortio (no. 66),” he said.
“That is, as for the baptism of adults the catechumenate is part of the sacramental process, so the preparation for marriage must become an integral part of all sacramental marriage procedure, as an antidote that prevents the increase of invalid or tenuous marriage celebrations.”
The Pope delivers a speech to the members of the Rota, a court of higher instance at the Holy See, each January to inaugurate the court’s judicial year.
In this year’s speech, Francis noted that the breakdown of faith, religious values, and belief in eternal truths, particularly regarding the family, has become widespread even among Christians, which can impact the awareness and consent with which people enter into the sacrament.
At the same time, the different backgrounds and experiences of faith of those seeking Christian marriage cannot be ignored, he said. “Some participate actively in parish life; others will come for the first time; some also have a life of intense prayer; others are, however, driven by a more generic religious sentiment.”
“Faced with this situation, we need to find valid remedies,” the Pope emphasized.
The first remedy he proposed is the training of young people: “through an adequate process of preparation aimed to rediscover marriage and the family according to God’s plan,” he said.
The meetings between a priest and an engaged couple are, of course, a fundamental and important part of their preparation. But more than that, Francis said, the period of a couple’s engagement becomes “an extraordinary opportunity for mission” for the “whole community.”
“The Christian community to which the engaged turn is called to cordially announce the Gospel to these people, because their experience of love can become a sacrament, an effective sign of salvation. In this circumstance, the redemptive mission of Jesus reaches the men and women in the concreteness of their love life.”
For many young people, the approach of marriage with all of the changes involved, can be a period of increased openness to a renewal of faith and encounter with “Jesus Christ, with the message of the Gospel and the Church’s doctrine,” the Pope said.
In this regard, teaching the truth about marriage and love becomes extremely important, Francis reminded the judges.
He quoted from Benedict XVI’s last speech to the Rota on Jan. 26, 2013, in which he said that “only in being open to the truth of God […] is it possible to understand, and to achieve in the concreteness of life, even marriage and family, the truth of man…”
“The rejection of the divine proposal,” Benedict said, “in fact leads to a profound imbalance in all human relationships […], including the matrimonial one.”
Pope Francis went on to quote from Lumen fidei, his first encyclical, which says that “Love needs truth. Just as it is based on truth, love can last in time, overcome the ephemeral moment and stand firm to support a common path.”
“If love has no relationship to the truth, it is subject to the changing feelings and does not pass the test of time,” Lumen fidei continues. “True love instead unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light towards a great and full life.”
From this perspective, another vital aspect of building up the truth of marriage is in continuing to support and strengthen couples even after the wedding, Francis said.
“You need to identify with courage and creativity, a training project for young married couples, with initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of the sacrament received.”
Often, he said, a young couple is left to themselves, perhaps because they are not even seen in the parish, or the birth of children keeps them busy, “but it is in these first moments of family life they must be guaranteed greater proximity and a strong spiritual support.”
“The Christian community is called to welcome, accompany and help young couples,” by offering them opportunities and tools, aside from just Sunday Mass, he said, including programs for within the parish and within the home.
The Pope concluded his speech by wishing the judges a good new year, reminding them that “it requires great courage to get married in the time in which we live. And the many who have the strength and the joy of making this important step should feel next to them the love and concrete closeness of the Church.”