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
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
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
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
With these wishes I impart my Blessing.
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