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Marriage Preparation Is More Than a Formality, Says Pope
It is important that couples be well prepared when they marry, not least because “the right to contract marriage presupposes that the person can and intends to celebrate it … as the church teaches it,” Pope Benedict XVI said Jan. 22 in his annual speech to the Roman Rota, a Vatican tribunal dealing principally with marriage cases.
The church’s marriage ministry interrelates with church law in ways that serve to illuminate the goals of marriage preparation and to explain why it is not just a formality, the pope indicated. His speech examined the relationship between church law and the care offered by pastors and other pastoral workers, a relationship that he said often is misunderstood.
“The juridical aspect is intrinsically linked to the essence of marriage,” Pope Benedict observed. In this regard, he said that the right to marry is “the right to celebrate an authentic marriage.” Without the intention of doing that, “no one can claim the right to a nuptial ceremony.”
Pope Benedict recalled something he wrote on these points in his 2007 apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, a document responding to the recommendations of the October 2005 assembly of the world Synod of Bishops. In it he pointed out that the synod “recommended devoting maximum pastoral attention to training couples preparing for marriage and to ascertaining beforehand their convictions regarding the obligations required for the validity of the sacrament of matrimony.”
His 2007 document said that “serious discernment” can help “to avoid situations where impulsive decisions or superficial reasons lead two young people to take on responsibilities that they are then incapable of honoring.” He said that the great good expected from marriage and the family, both by the church and society, calls for a “full pastoral commitment to this particular area.”
Speaking to the Roman Rota, Pope Benedict urged that neither marriage preparation itself nor discussion during it of the purposes and meaning of marriage be minimized.
He said that while “the need for the juridical work that precedes marriage and that aims to ascertain that ‘nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration’ escapes no one,” the view is widespread that “the examination of the parties engaged to be married and the publication of marriage banns” are “exclusively formal requirements,” along with “other appropriate means for carrying out the necessary inquiries which are to precede marriage– including courses for the preparation of marriage.”
The church’s required prematrimonial examination, “conducted separately with each of the engaged pair, without lessening the possibility of further conversations” with them as a couple, “has a mainly juridical purpose – to ascertain that nothing impedes the valid and licit celebration of the wedding,” Pope Benedict said. But he immediately added that “juridical does not mean formal, as though it were a bureaucratic step, like filling out a form.”
Instead, the prematrimonial examination is “a unique opportunity — one to be made the most of,” Pope Benedict said. He commented that through “a dialogue full of respect and cordiality, the pastor seeks to help the person to face seriously the truth about himself or herself and about his or her own human and Christian vocation for marriage.”
Marriage preparation has goals that transcend “the juridical dimension,” Pope Benedict said. For, this preparation’s horizon “is constituted by the integral, human and Christian good of the married couple and of their future children, aimed definitively at the holiness of their life.”
Yet, he told the Roman Rota, it should not be forgotten that during the weeks or months before a wedding, this preparation has the objective of promoting “the free celebration of a true marriage, that is, the constitution of a bond of justice and love between the spouses characterized by unity and indissolubility, ordained for the good of the spouses and for the procreation and upbringing of their offspring, and which among baptized people constitutes one of the sacraments of the new covenant.”
Marriage preparation puts an engaged couple “in a position to discover the truth” about their natural inclination to marry – to become aware, as well, of their capacity for commitment, a capacity inscribed in their “relational entity as man-woman,” Pope Benedict said.