Mankind was created in the image and likeness of God in order to love and to be loved. This divine vocation is made possible by the Father’s love for us: we love because we were first loved (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). In October of 2014 and 2015, bishops from around the world met at the request of Pope Francis to discuss human love, specifically in the context of marriage and family. The themes touched upon included "the pastoral challenges of the family in the context of evangelization" as well as "the vocation and mission of the family in the Church and in the contemporary world." After two years of discussion, reflection, prayer, and deliberation, the Holy Father compiled the ideas gathered from the synods into a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.
Using both poetic and approachable prose, Pope Francis shared with the Church his insight into the joy and dignity of human love—writing on topics such as the Church’s teaching on marriage and family, the education of children, and pastoral strategies for marriage preparation. On July 12th, Center Director Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. used the wisdom found in Amoris Laetitia to present on its pastoral implications for marriage preparation using Facebook Live. You can view his presentation here.
Below are nine quotes and lessons from this historic document that are especially pertinent to couples preparing for marriage and those preparing couples for marriage. I invite you to spend some time reading these quotes, reflecting on them, and implementing the truths they contain into your understanding of marriage and marriage preparation.
1. Marriage Preparation begins at birth
Marriage preparation begins from birth – we are born into families, grow up in the context of family, and are surrounded by families throughout our lives. For this reason, Pope Francis says that “Learning to love someone does not happen automatically.” It is a lifelong process which we must choose to grow in each day.
2. Quality of content over quantity.
As couples gather together to prepare for marriage, Pope Francis recommends that we do not overwhelm them with every single resource from the Catholic Church. Since the time of marriage preparation is usually brief, the Holy Father recommends sharing quality information—such as the fundamental aspects of marriage, church teaching, and a basic understanding of the kerygma, or story of salvation. Marriage preparation should be comprehensive, but it cannot be exhaustive or total. Be prudent and intentional about the quality and quantity of information you are sharing.
3. Highlight prayer as an essential part of marriage.
Prayer is fundamental not only to the Christian life, but to any vocation. For the lifelong commitment of marriage to succeed, it must be rooted in the daily prayer of husband and wife. This prayer has two dimensions: personal and communal. Personal time of prayer and reflection ensures that each spouse is growing in their relationship with Christ, while prayer as a couple unifies the spouses, improves their communication with one another, and grounds their relationship in Christ. When both personal and communal prayer are alive within a marriage, the relationship of husband and wife is being revitalized and strengthened in such a way that can reflect the love of the Trinity and pour out into society as a whole.
4. Marriage is a life-long commitment.
Sacraments and major life events should be celebrated in a way outside of our ordinary day-to-day life. Marriage is no different. We are, in fact, celebrating something beautiful and life-changing. However, we should not let ourselves be carried away by the details of planning the “perfect wedding day.” Pope Francis advises couples not to get too invested in the consumption of material goods or the planning of the wedding day itself, inviting them instead to focus on rooting their relationship in Christ, the sacraments, and prayer.
5. Marriage is more than the wedding ceremony.
Marriage preparation encompasses much more than a formal program, retreat, class, or a weekend geared to meet a checklist for the church. Formal marriage preparation should help couples discover the dignity of the married vocation and set their sights on the life they will make together as “one.” The ceremony is not “the end of the road,” as Pope Francis states, but a necessary part of the sacrament. We are called to help couples see the wedding ceremony as a launchpad moving them forward in their life-long calling. We are furthermore called to give couples the tools and strategies for successfully working through trials and difficult moments together.
6. Marriage is “total.”
The Catholic Church affirms marriage as an indissoluble union grounded in fidelity, fruitfulness, freedom, and totality. Marriage is not simply a convenient relationship, a partnership with someone who makes you happy, or a public display of love—though it can comprise all of those things. The Church understands that marriage is a sacrament administered by man and wife, witnessed by the Church community, and blessed by God. It is a serious but heroic, joyful, and sanctifying undertaking “until death do us part.”
7. Give couples the tools they need to detect danger signals in their relationships and respond constructively.
Preparation for marriage should be filled with joy. However, it is still a time of preparation. Each relationship will have moments of unity and conflict. A couple may agree on issues like raising children or budgeting, while disagreeing on how to spend free time or how to best communicate. It is important for each couple to be aware of any sources of woundedness or conflict in their relationship before the wedding day in order to work on constructive practices for moving forward.
8. Explain the significance behind the liturgical celebration and the meaning of each of its signs.
While we are not called to get “wrapped up” in the wedding day, we are called to dispose ourselves to the profound significance of the liturgical celebration of marriage. Marriage is a sacrament. To enter into this sacrament is of vast significance. For this reason, it is important to learn more about and understand the meaning behind the signs used in the liturgical celebration – the rings, the white dress, the vows, etc. Let us help couples preparing for marriage enter into the wonder of the sacrament through the richness of the liturgical celebrations of the church.
9. Help couples preparing for marriage discover or rediscover the dignity and beauty of marriage.
It’s tempting to be disheartened by the lack of successful marriages we see in the world around us. Marriages can be overwhelmingly broken, destructive, or lifeless. This is not part of God’s original plan for marriage, and Pope Francis wants to encourage engaged couples to discover or rediscover the dignity and beauty of marriage as a liberating, sanctifying, unconditional relationship in which each spouse is loved and affirmed. How can you support married couples or those planning on getting married? How can you change the marriage narrative to better reflect God’s plan?