March 2010: Pope Welcomes Plan for Marriage Preparation Handbook
The Pontifical Council for the Family’s plan to develop a handbook on marriage preparation was welcomed by Pope Benedict XVI when he spoke Feb. 8 to participants in the council’s three-day plenary assembly in Rome. The pope re-emphasized the need for a developmental approach to marriage preparation that extends all the way from early youth to the time the sacrament of matrimony is celebrated.
Pope Benedict also called upon the church’s bishops to “pay special attention to ensuring that the vocation of spouses becomes an enrichment for the whole Christian community.” The “missionary and prophetic witness” of married couples is particularly needed today, he said.
Marriage is “a vocation to love,” Pope Benedict said. He urged that the young, beginning at home and in school during childhood, be “taught to understand life as a vocation to love,” a vocation that might eventually assume for them the form of marriage or of “virginity for the kingdom of heaven,” but will always remain “a vocation to love.”
Three days earlier, addressing Scotland’s Catholic bishops, Pope Benedict made a similar point, accenting the positive nature of the church’s teaching on marriage as a vocation rooted in love. “The church offers the world a positive and inspiring vision of human life, the beauty of marriage and the joy of parenthood,” he said. He described this as a vision “rooted in God’s infinite, transforming and ennobling love for all of us,” which “opens our eyes to recognize and love his image in our neighbor.”
Addressing the Council for the Family, Pope Benedict noted that the marriage-preparation handbook it intends to develop will “outline properly the features” of the three stages of marriage preparation (remote, proximate and immediate) presented by Pope John Paul II in his 1981 apostolic exhortation on the family, “Familiaris Consortio.” Formation for marriage actually begins in childhood and continues through adolescence and into early adulthood as the young learn over time about sexuality, relationships and the meaning of authentic love, and about life in Christ, Pope Benedict indicated.
There are roles in marriage preparation for priests, various experts, exemplary couples and others, the pope said. Furthermore, the preparation offered to couples contemplating marriage should allow room for “dialogue” with the future spouses “individually and as a group,” and ought to provide “an atmosphere of friendship and prayer.”
“Take pains” during the time of preparation for a couple’s marriage to ensure that they “revive their personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, especially by listening to the word of God, by receiving the sacraments and above all by taking part in the Eucharist,” the pope advised.
Finally, during the period of immediate preparation for a couple’s wedding, the pope urged that steps be taken “to guarantee that the celebration of marriage is perceived” by the community and by the couple “as a gift to the entire church that contributes to her spiritual development.”