Walking Towards Marriage: The Phases of Sacramental Preparation
Strengthen pastoral programs for marriage preparation with new catechumenal itineraries at Diocesan and Parish levels (cf. AL 205-222), in order to offer remote, proximate, and immediate marriage preparation, as well as accompaniment of new spouses in the first years of their marriage. This responsibility is especially entrusted to married couples who, together with pastors, become companions on the journey for engaged couples and those new to married life.
The sacrament of marriage is a gift received, but also contributed to by the spouses who offer the gift of themselves to each other, and their union to God. Their formation in this dynamic structure of mutual self-gift is life long as they accompany one another, their families, and the Church in the family’s pilgrimage to the Father’s house.
Within this continuum marriage, and the community it gives rise to-- the family, is truly a house of formation: founded upon the sacrament of baptism and the consent of the spouses, nourished by the Eucharist and communal prayer, and reaching out in familial charity. From the very beginning it is in the family that children engage their vocation to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ. Responding to the Holy Spirit’s universal call to holiness they begin their journey of responding to the call to a particular vocation within the family.
Family members accompany one another in the everyday routines of life. Here spouses exercise in their own distinct way Christ’s three-fold office of Priest, Prophet, and King; that is to sanctify, teach, and govern. This spousal ministry is exercised in family prayer, hospitality, Sunday Worship together, celebration of the liturgical seasons, responsible stewardship of the family’s resources, and the service of charity to those in need. These are dimensions of the Christian family as the domestic church, a school of familial love, and it is here that the formation for and discernment of vocation takes place.
This formation in a young person’s life represents the remote phase of preparation for the sacrament of marriage, in particular within their adolescence and youth, and is the most important as it provides the foundation for how a young person understands him or herself.
Itineraries for Remote Phase of Marriage Preparation
Adult Faith Formation initiatives, Youth Ministry (high school), Pilgrimage, Prayer in the Home resources, Parish Family Events, Parish Religious Education, family oriented lay movements, Young Adult Ministry (20s and 30s), College Campus Ministry, World Youth Day, mission opportunities, houses of formation, gap year of service
As youth enter young adulthood, they begin a period of greater personal responsibility which includes the discernment of vocation. In this context, responsible dating can be both the discernment of the vocation to marriage, as well as discerning a lifelong commitment with a particular person. How can this discernment proceed absent faith and prayer, and not be expressive of Christian discipleship? As the dating relationship matures, and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this discernment becomes more focused and proceeds to the decision to either separate or become engaged. In the latter case, this begins the proximate phase of marriage preparation, which has the character of the catechumenate in the form of accompaniment of the young couple by the parish community. The Church, including clergy, consecrated religious, and laity, assists the couple to discern in faith, prayer, and the affective dimensions of their relationship God’s call to marriage. This requires openness to God’s presence in their lives and prepares them for the exchange of their wedding promises. The intentional catechesis of the engaged couple reveals to them the truth and irrevocability (the complete gift of self) of the promises they will make as ministers of the sacrament to one another, and that, through their “yes,” they become a sign of Jesus’ love for His Church (the “Great Mystery” found in Ephesians 5:32). Hence, one sees, at the very outset of marriage, that the spouses are missionary disciples bearing witness to Jesus Christ.
Itineraries for Proximate Phase of Marriage Preparation
Dating and Engaged Ministries, College Campus Ministry, Young Adult Ministry, Couples Retreats, Mentor programs, NFP education, Premarital inventories, Adult Faith Formation programs
In the weeks before the wedding ceremony, the immediate phase of marriage preparation takes place as a spiritual oasis in the midst of the frenzied nature of this time. Contrary to the hecticness of how this period is typically experienced by the engaged, it is essential that the parish assist the couple in taking time for quiet contemplation and prayer through retreats, spiritual direction, other forms of reflection, reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, preparation in regard to the elements and meaning of the wedding liturgy, and the support of mentor couples, clergy, laity, and religious who accompany the engaged.
Itineraries for Immediate Phase of Marriage Preparation
Accompaniment by parish priest, staff, and other ordained, consecrated, and lay leaders, preparation for the wedding liturgy
After the celebration of the sacrament of marriage, the couple is invited to find a “home” in the parish community. It is of vital importance that the relationship between the newlyweds, the parish, and its families be established in the early phase of marriage (with the initial work of this relationship established throughout the proximate and immediate stages of this journey). Here they encounter the Church as a “family of families,” forming relationships which can be life-long. Families, by their nature, accompany one another through prayer, listening, and generous responsivity in times of joy, need, and in the celebration of the gift of life. The newlyweds can contribute their gifts to the life of the Church by giving witness to thanksgiving and joy… the joy of love!