Q: Archbishop J, How are we forming people for the vocation of Marriage?
Marriage is a vocation; it is a sacrament, a commitment for life! It is one of the biggest decisions that people make. Unfortunately, we do not have now a seamless preparation from childhood, through adolescence to marriage, but we are working to address these gaps to provide seamless formation. While we work on the whole, let us focus on the immediate preparation for marriage.
Some history and context
For about ten years there has been an ongoing conversation concerning the need for a renewal of the immediate marriage preparation programme, ‘Evenings for the Engaged’, in the Archdiocese.
In 2016, under Archbishop Joseph Harris and Bishop Robert Llanos, new delegates Raymond and Tricia Syms and a new spiritual director/theological adviser Fr Matthew Ragbir were appointed to the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission (AFLC).
Earlier that year, Pope Francis released the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the fruit of the Holy Father’s prayerful reflections on the two synods concerning the family.
Pope Francis has placed much emphasis on marriage preparation, building on the legacy of St John Paul II’s work.
Preparing for a vocation
In 1981, St John Paul II had called for “better and more intensive programmes of marriage preparation in order to eliminate as far as possible the difficulties that many married couples find themselves in, and even more in order to favour positively the establishing and maturing of successful marriages” (66, Familiaris Consortio).
He introduced the notion that marriage preparation is really a maturing in love that prepares all persons to offer themselves as gift in whatever vocation they are called to. He invited the Church to see marriage preparation as a “gradual and continuous process” comprising three key stages of preparation beginning from early childhood: remote, proximate and immediate preparation (66).
St John Paul II also called for a balancing of the different aspects of immediate preparation and spoke of the vital importance of sacramental preparation, which is separate to the life skills.
A persistent challenge
In 2017 Pope Francis addressed the Vatican judges proposing two remedies to the crisis in family life and marriages: (i) “an adequate process of preparation for marriage aimed at rediscovering marriage and the family according to God’s plan …not only for human growth, but above all for the faith of the engaged couple” and (ii) “helping the newlyweds to follow up their journey in the faith and in the Church” (Address to the Roman Rota, January 2017).
In the Archdiocese, much has happened over the years to help young couples preparing for marriage. We owe tremendous gratitude to the many married couples and priests who for many years have worked in the ministry of marriage preparation.
Our ministry has mainly focused on immediate marriage preparation and not much has happened in the area of remote or proximate preparation.
Archbishop Harris and Bishop Llanos approved the Theology of the Body programme as part of the sacramental preparation for Confirmation as a way to attend to the proximate formation for our youth. They also approved the AFLC’s conversations with stakeholders in immediate marriage preparation and the piloting of a new programme. These took place in 2017.
In the conversations, the Commission found
– No standardised programme for immediate marriage preparation
– A lack of sacramental preparation, separate from life skills for marriage
– The methods used, made little use of media and technology
After my installation in December 2017, I began to meet the departments and commissions of the Archdiocese in 2018. I gave my approval for the process of standardisation of the marriage preparation programme and expanded the task at hand.
The Archdiocese has a responsibility to offer a solid immediate marriage preparation programme that addresses the urgent concerns of the Holy Father, which are also my concerns. They require an adequate preparation for marriage, conscious celebration of the sacrament and the accompaniment of the couples before and after marriage.
A pastoral conversion
This pastoral conversion will take time as formation is required and a renewed commitment. Key elements to be addressed as we focus on immediate marriage preparation include:
1* The need for accompaniment. The Archdiocesan programmes will be mentorship based. We invite married couples in our parishes to journey with those preparing for marriage. Become involved in marriage preparation and attend the upcoming training.
2* The time needed for maturing in love and growing in faith. Pope Francis called for, “a serious journey of preparation for Christian marriage … not reduced to a few meetings” (September 2018). The preparation “must be mature and takes time. …One cannot say marriage preparation is three or four conferences given in the parish” (October 24, 2018). The Archdiocesan programmes will invite persons on a journey of a few weeks of preparation.
3* The role of priests. The Holy Father reminds us that parish priests have a special call concerning married couples: “Priests, especially parish priests, are the first interlocutors of young people who wish to form a new family and get married in the Sacrament of Marriage” (September 2018).
The three phases of implementation
The Archdiocesan plan for immediate marriage preparation will have three phases:
A meeting for all those involved in marriage preparation, will take place on April 6, from 9 a.m. at Holy Faith Convent, Couva.
Suggested dates for the training of facilitators: Saturday, May 18 and 25, and all Saturdays in June. It is important that those involved in marriage preparation and new married couples, accompanying engaged couples, attend these sessions.
Key Message: Marriage is a vocation that requires many levels of preparation from childhood to the day of marriage and beyond.
Action Step: Pray for those who are undertaking this vital work that they may have wisdom to prepare the next generation for the Sacrament of Marriage.
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 5:22–33.