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Prepare couples adequately for marriage

October 4, 1991

Help spouses live in such a way

that they make Christ's love present


On Friday, 4 October, the Holy Father granted a special audience to the participants in the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family which was being held in Rome. During the audience the Pope addressed them in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Members of the Presidential Council and Members of the Pontifical Council for the Family,

1. To all of you I bid a cordial welcome. I especially greet Cardinal Alfonso López Trujíllo, whom I thank for the words with which he introduced this meeting.

Ten years have passed, as the Cardinal recalled, since the institution of the Pontifical Council for the Family (13 May 1981) and of the Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, erected at the same time at the Pontifical Lateran University.

I want to thank everyone who from the beginning has contributed to the creation of this Council: Bishop Kazimierz Majdaski, Cardinal James Knox of happy memory, Cardinal Edouard Gagnon and so many others; I also thank those who have given life to the activity of the Institute of which Monsignor Caffara is President.

2. Both the Council and the Institute are the results of the 1980 Synod and the Post-synodal Document Familiaris consortio, which is the "Magna Charta" for this vast and relevant area of theological and pastoral problems, which the Pontifical Council for the Family is called to confront. Thus it was at the time of its institution and thus it is today as well. Familiaris consortio takes up the teaching on the family given in the Constitution Gaudium et spes as well as in the post-conciliar Magisterium of Paul VI, expressed above all in the Encyclical Humanae vitae.

3. I would like to clarify that, obviously, we must keep before our eyes not only the texts, but also the real problems of marriage and the family in the modern world and the Church. These problems are many and diverse, but they have a common root. The Pontifical Council for the Family, conscious of this situation, must concern itself with these problems and take their diversity into consideration. This also demands a universal character in the make-up of the personnel who work in this Pontifical Council.

4. The structure of these tasks requires collaboration with the local Churches through the Episcopal Conferences which have their central point of reference in the Ministerium Petrinum. At the same time the members of the Council, as representatives of families and coming from various parts of the world, by virtue of their Christian vocation, are especially the direct witnesses of conjugal and family life in the world's diverse countries, cultures and territories. In a certain way they can show possible ways for solving these problems. Here it is a question of the service of pastors together with the apostolate of the laity.

5. In this task it is necessary to refer to the Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals held from 4-6 April 1991; in particular to the theme of the defence of human life from its beginnings. It is necessary that the suggestions and proposals which came out of this ecclesial event should be kept in mind and put into effect in real life.

As I said in my opening address to that consistory: "The struggle between the civilization of death and the civilization of life and love always continues.... They are very important problems for the Church's mission and, at the same time, concern human dignity and inalienable human rights; they indirectly involve mankind's future and that of all society as well" (L'Osservatore Romano in English, 8 April 1991).

The necessity of defending life becomes a particular challenge for all the Church's activity and for contemporary evangelization. In fact, the sacramental institution of marriage itself is being threatened and, as a consequence, the solidity and stability of the family. It is a question of an essential ethical connection with, in a certain sense, an "organic" nature.

It might not be an exaggeration to say that in a particular way the "anti-Gospel" front is concentrating on this area; it has at its disposal a specific way of arguing and manifold "means". The objective of these arguments and means is to show the "easiest way" to the men and women of our day. And this is the "broad path" against which the Lord Jesus suggests the "straight and narrow" path that leads to salvation.

6. It is up to the Council for the Family and all pastoral activity in this field to take up the task of convincing people about the goodness of this "evangelical way" and to show how, despite everything, this "yoke" is "easy and... light" (Mt 11:30).

This task is an enormous and complex one. It must be shared in a just way by the priests and laity. The role of the laity is indispensable and cannot be replaced: they are, in a certain sense, the immediate "witnesses". Both groups must find their support in the Magisterium and in the theology that reflects all the demands. For this reason it is quite significant that the Council for the Family and the Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family were founded at the same time. There is a need for many institutes of this type, but on the condition that in formation and education they are in the spirit of the whole truth proclaimed by the Church.

7. During your plenary assembly you have reflected on a topic of very great pastoral importance, marriage preparation courses.

The Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio already emphasized its relevance: "The changes that have taken place within almost all modern societies demand that not only the family but also society and the Church should be involved in the effort of properly preparing young people for their future responsibilities.... The Church must therefore promote 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" (n. 66).

The Code of Canon Law, in canon 1063, requires that pastors of souls provide the faithful with formation for Christian marriage. In addition to preaching and catechesis adapted to children, young people and adults, it states that there should be "personal preparation for entering marriage so that through such preparation the parties may be predisposed toward the holiness and duties of their new state" (can. 1063, 2).

Briefly stated, today more than ever a serious, profound and accurate preparation is necessary so that the most noble vocation of spouses may develop, with fidelity and serenity, according to God's will. The family must give convincing proof of its own mission as witnesses to God, in whose covenant the spouses unite their lives.

We can certainly find consolation in the many Christian families who live in a way that makes present in the world the mystery of Christ's love for people: the mystery of the love in which they participate through the Sacrament of Matrimony.

The greater the difficulties caused by one's surroundings for knowing the truth of the Christian sacrament and of the institution of marriage, all the greater must be our efforts to prepare spouses adequately for their responsibilities.

You have been able to observe that, given the necessity of having such courses in parishes, in consideration of the positive results of the various methods used, it seems appropriate to start drawing up criteria to be adopted, in the form of a guide or directory, to offer the particular Churches a valuable aid.

It is essential that the time and care necessary should be devoted to doctrinal preparation. The security of the content must be the centre and essential goal of the courses in a perspective which makes spouses more aware of the celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage and everything that flows from it regarding the responsibility of the family.

Questions concerning the unity and indissolubility of marriage, and all that regards the meaning of the union and of procreation in the married life and its specific act, must be treated faithfully and accurately, according to the clear teaching of the Encyclical Humanae vitae (cf. nn. 11-12). This is equally true for everything that pertains to the gift of life which parents must accept responsibly and joyfully as the Lord's collaborators.

The courses should not only emphasize what concerns the mature and vigilant freedom of those who want to contract marriage, but also their own mission as parents, the first educators of their children and their first evangelizers.

8. I hope that your work may help to enlighten consciences about these topics which are so very important and sensitive for the future of the faith and of humanity and that it will stimulate concrete initiatives which will be of help and guidance for those who are involved in the family apostolate.

With these wishes I impart my Blessing.

Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion

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