“Marriage preparation has to be seen and put into practice as a gradual and continuous process.”
St. John Paul II wrote these words in Familiaris Consortio (On the Christian Family in the Modern World). In this exhortation, he introduced the concept of a three-stage marriage preparation process: remote, proximate and immediate (Familiaris Consortio, 66). In a previous blog post, we briefly described the three stages and discussed what constitutes proper marriage preparation according to Canon law. .
Here, we will further describe the process by summarizing the pastoral document entitled, Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage, issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family.
“Remote preparation includes infancy, childhood and adolescence and takes place first of all in the family” (22). It is in the family where children learn “respect for all human values in interpersonal and social relations” and are formed in “character, self-control and self-esteem, the proper use of one’s inclinations, and respect for persons of the other sex” (22). Additionally, parents are the primary formators of their children in Christian spirituality and catechesis, including education in chastity and self-giving love. “Formation should arrive at a mentality and personality capable of not being led astray by ideas contrary to the unity and stability of marriage” and equip children with the knowledge to defend God’s plan for human sexuality in a culture hostile to the faith (27).
Pastoral support needs to assist parents in this mission so that their example of marital love “becomes a real witness for those who will marry in the future” and should provide “stimulus, support and consistency in kind of Christian lifestyle” (26). The document further says that a “Christian lifestyle, witnessed to by Christian families, is in itself a form of evangelization” and is the “very foundation of remote preparation” (28).
“Proximate preparation takes place during the period of engagement” and should offer the couple the opportunity to “deepen the life of faith, especially regarding knowledge of the sacramentality of the Church” (32). Evangelization is an important part of this stage “in which the faith must involve the personal and community dimensions both of the individual engaged persons and their families” (32). In this stage of the process, any difficulties the couple may have in living a faithful Christian life should be identified.
The engaged couple should be made aware of the natural requirements of God’s plan for marriage: freedom of consent, the exclusivity, unity and indissolubility of their marriage and the openness to life of every act of marital union (35). They couple should also be helped to understand “psychological and/or emotional shortcomings they may have, especially the inability to open up to others, and any forms of selfishness that can take away from the total commitment of their self-giving” (36).
In this manner, this period is for “theological study but also for formation during which the engaged, with the help of grace and by avoiding all forms of sin, will prepare to give themselves as a couple to Christ who sustains, purifies, and ennobles the engagement and married life…making love grow” (37). “Since Christian love is purified, perfected and elevated by Christ’s love for the Church (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 49), the engaged should imitate this model and develop their awareness of self-giving which is always connected with the mutual respect and self-denial that help this love grow” (40).
Immediate Preparation consists of the following components:
- A synthesis of previous preparation (doctrinal, moral, spiritual)
- Experiences of prayer (retreats, spiritual exercises)
- Liturgical preparation with the active participation of the engaged
- Sacrament of Reconciliation
- Canonical discussions between the priest and engaged couple. (50)
“It is important that…[engaged couples]…know that they are uniting themselves in marriage as persons baptized in Christ, and they should behave in conformity to the Holy Spirit in their family life” (53).
Marriage preparation as envisioned by St. John Paul II is a gradual and continuous process from the birth of the child through adolescence to young adulthood. The family is where the primary work of marriage preparation takes place. The parents of the child play a critical role in modeling godly Christian marriage for their children. May the Lord bless your marriage so that the light of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church, may shine brightly through your love as husband and wife.