And helping the couples isn't just a task for priests
Pope Francis has spoken once again about marriage and the family, with a special focus on young couples and wounded families, giving clear indications to priests and lay people involved in marriage ministry. The context was a formation course which had been given at the pope’s request, on the theme “Marriage and Family,” held September 24-26, organized by the Diocese of Rome and the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.
The Holy Father spoke to participants at the end of the three-day course, which explained, on one hand, the principle changes in the new process of annulment, and on the other, the importance of marriage preparation, as well as the fundamental role of priests and married couples who give formation to the future spouses in preparation for this sacrament.
Here are the main points covered by the Bishop of Rome in his words.
The importance of marriage preparation
Francis, referring back to his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia (“The Joy of Love”), emphasized “the urgency of a serious path of preparation for Christian marriage,” which requires that the future spouses be given adequate preparation for a fully conscious decision.
For this reason, the preparation of the couples “cannot be reduced to just a few meetings,” and cannot end with the celebration of matrimony, but must continue, at least for the first years of marriage, following a trajectory of growth in the couple’s faith.
Awareness of the sacrament
Another vital question which the pope asks is that regarding the validity of many marriages, due to a lack of faith.
This question underscores the important role of marriage catechesis forming the future spouses and ensuring they fully understand and accept the decision they are preparing to make. “In the preparatory courses, it’s indispensable for the engaged couple to go back to the roots of initiation in their faith, which sometimes has never moved beyond the concepts learned at First Communion.”
Not just priests…
From this perspective, according to the pope, the role of “priests together with families, lay people, married couples with solid family experience, and experts in psychology” becomes of central importance so that the new couples, or couples in difficulty, do not find themselves facing their challenges alone.”
“It’s necessary that there be a support group. We priests cannot do it alone,” the pope explains.
Accompanying “wounded families” and marriage annulment
Regarding “spouses who are passing through a crisis,” Francis explains the importance of “helping them to revive the grace of faith and, in some cases, offer them instructions for a marriage annulment.”
And, in the interests of the “salus animarum” (“salvation of souls”), the pope emphasizes how, in cases in which the union “isn’t a true sacramental marriage,” and the spouses want to get out of this situation, they should be able to “find in bishops, priests, and lay ministers, the support they need, manifested not just through the communication of juridical norms, but above all in an attitude of listening and comprehension.”
The Pope recalled how “the reform of the marriage process must be applied by all the bishops (some already do) in a dimension of gratuitousness, since the aim is the salvation of souls”.