PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE
FOR THE SACRAMENT
1. Preparation for marriage, for married and family life, is of great
importance for the good of the Church. In fact, the sacrament of Marriage has
great value for the whole Christian community and, in the first place, for the
spouses whose decision is such that it cannot be improvised or made hastily. In
the past, this preparation could count on the support of society which
recognized the values and benefits of marriage. Without any difficulties or
doubts, the Church protected the sanctity of marriage with the awareness that
this sacrament represented an ecclesial guarantee as the living cell of the
People of God. At least in the communities that were truly evangelized, the
Church's support was solid, unitary and compact. In general, separations and
marriage failures were rare, and divorce was considered a social "plague" (cf.
Gaudium et Spes = GS, 47).
Today, on the contrary, in many cases, we are witnessing an accentuated
deterioration of the family and a certain corrosion of the values of marriage.
In many nations, especially economically developed ones, the number of marriages
has decreased. Marriage is usually contracted at a later age and the number of
divorces and separations is increasing, even during the first years of married
life. All this inevitably leads to a pastoral concern that comes up repeatedly:
Are the persons contracting marriage really prepared for it? The problem of
preparation for the sacrament of Marriage and the life that follows emerges as a
great pastoral need, first for the sake of the spouses, for the whole Christian
community and for society. Therefore, interest in, and initiatives for providing
adequate and timely answers to preparation for the sacrament of Marriage are
2. Through on-going contact with the Episcopal Conferences and the Bishops in
various meetings, and especially their "ad limina" visits, the Pontifical
Council for the Family has carefully followed the pastoral concern regarding the
preparation and celebration of the sacrament of Marriage and the life that
follows. The Council has been repeatedly asked to offer an instrument for the
preparation of Christian engaged persons which the present document represents.
The Council has also drawn on the contributions from many Apostolic Movements,
Groups and Associations working for the pastoral care of the family who have
offered their support, advice and experience for the preparation of these
Marriage preparation constitutes a providential and favourable
period for those oriented toward this Christian sacrament, and a Kayrós,
i.e., a period in which God calls upon the engaged and helps them discern the
vocation to marriage and family life. The engagement period is set within the
context of a rich evangelization process. In fact, questions that affect the
family converge in the life of the engaged, the future spouses. They are
therefore invited to understand the meaning of the responsible and mature love
of the community of life and love which their family will be, a real domestic
church which will contribute toward enriching the whole Church.
The importance of this preparation involves a process of evangelization which
is both maturation and deepening in the faith. If the faith is weak or almost
Familiaris Consortio = FC 68), it must be
revived. Thorough, patient instruction that arouses and nourishes the ardor of a
living faith cannot be excluded. Especially where the environment has become
paganized, it will be particularly advisable to offer a "journey of faith,
which is similar to the catechumenate" (FC
66), and a presentation of the fundamental Christian truths that may help
acquire or strengthen the maturity of the faith of the persons contracting
marriage. It would be desirable if the favourable moment of marriage preparation
could be transformed, as a sign of hope, into a New Evangelization for the
3. This particular attention is highlighted by the teachings of the Second
Vatican Council (GS 52), the guidelines of the Papal Magisterium (FC
66), the ecclesial norms themselves (Codex Iuris Canonici
= CIC, can. 1063; Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium = CCEO,
can. 783), the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1632), and other
documents of the Magisterium, including the Charter of the Rights of the
Family. The two most recent documents of the Papal Magisterium — the Letter
to Families Gratissimam Sane and the Encyclical
(= EV) — constitute a notable aid for our task.
In response to repeated requests, as we have said, the Pontifical Council for
the Family began reflection on the subject by concentrating more on
"preparation courses", in line with the Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio. During its preparation, the present document
went through the following editorial process.
In 1991, the Council dedicated its General Assembly (September 30 October 5)
to the theme of preparation for the sacrament of Marriage. The Presidential
Committee of the Pontifical Council for the Family and the married couples who
are part of the Council offered ample material for a first draft. Later, from
July 8-13, 1992, a working group was convened made up of pastors, consultors and
experts who prepared a second draft which was sent to the Episcopal Conferences
for their contributions and additional suggestions. A great number of responses
with useful suggestions came in, and these were studied and included in a
subsequent draft prepared by a working group in 1995. This Council now presents
the guideline document which is offered as a basis for the pastoral work related
to preparation for the sacrament of Marriage. It will be especially useful for
the Episcopal Conferences in the preparation of their Directories, and also for
a greater pastoral commitment in dioceses, parishes ?and apostolic movements
4. The "Magna Carta" for families, the Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio, which has already been cited, had already pointed
out that: "...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
The Code of Canon Law states that there should be "personal preparation for
entering marriage, so that the spouses are disposed to the holiness and the
obligations of their new state" (CIC can. 1063, 2,
CCEO can. 783, §1). These instructions are also found in the Ordo
celebrandi matrimonium 12.
In his Address to the Ninth General Assembly of the Pontifical Council for
the Family (October 4, 1991), the Holy Father added: "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". Then, with
some more concrete observations regarding the courses
as such, he went on to say: "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". This is all the more so because in the
particular Churches, for much of "the people of life and the people for
life', the family has a decisive responsibility. This responsibility
flows from its very nature as a community of life and love, founded upon
marriage, and from its mission to 'guard, reveal and communicate love'" (EV
92 and cf. FC 17).
5. For this purpose, the Pontifical Council for the Family offers this
document which has as its object the preparation for the sacrament of Marriage
and its celebration.
The guidelines that emerge constitute an itinerary for the remote,
proximate and immediate preparation for the sacrament of Marriage (cf.
FC 66). The material provided herein is addressed first of all to the
Episcopal Conferences, the individual Bishops and their co-workers in the
pastoral care of marriage preparation, and it is also addressed to the engaged
themselves who are the object of the Church's pastoral concern.
6. Particular pastoral attention will be given to the engaged in special
situations foreseen by the CIC can. 1071, 1072 and 1125, and by the
CCEO can. 789 and 814. When the guidelines presented in the document cannot
be applied completely in their regard, they can still be useful in guiding and
accompanying them in a fitting way.
Faithful to the will and teaching of Christ, through her own legislation the
Church expresses her pastoral charity in her care for all the situations of the
faithful. The criteria offered are means for providing help in a positive way
and should not be understood as further, constrictive requirements.
7. The underlying doctrinal motivation that inspires this document comes from
the conviction that marriage is a value that takes its origin from the Creation
and that it is rooted in human nature. "Have you not read that he who made them
from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ?For this reason a man
shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall
become one?'" (Matthew
19: 4-5). Therefore, what the Church does for the family and marriage certainly
contributes to the good of society as such and to the good of all. Furthermore,
as an expression of the new life made possible by the Risen Christ, Christian
marriage always expresses the truth about married love and is like a prophecy
that clearly proclaims a human being's real needs: that man and woman are called
upon from the beginning to live in a communion of life and love and that this
complementarity will lead to strengthening the human dignity of the spouses, the
good of the children and of society itself, through "...the defence and
promotion of life...everyone's task and responsibility" (EV 91).
8. Therefore, the present document takes into consideration both the
natural human realities proper to this divine institution, and the specific ones
of the sacrament instituted by Christ. It is divided
into three parts:
1) The Importance of Preparation for Christian Marriage;
2) The Stages or Periods of Preparation;
3) The Celebration of Marriage.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PREPARATION
FOR CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE
9. The starting point for an itinerary of marriage preparation is the
awareness that the marriage covenant was taken up and raised to a sacrament of
the New Covenant by the Lord Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The sacrament joins the spouses to the self-giving love of Christ the Bridegroom
for the Church, his Bride (cf. Ephesians 5: 25-32) by making them the
image of, and sharers in this love. It makes them give praise to the Lord, it
sanctifies the conjugal union and the life of the Christian faithful who
celebrate it, and gives rise to the Christian family, the domestic church, the
"first and living cell of society" (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 11), and
the "sanctuary of life" (EV 92 and also 6, 88, 94). Therefore, the
sacrament is celebrated and lived in the heart of the New Covenant, i.e. the
paschal mystery. It is Christ, the Bridegroom in our midst (cf. Gratissimam
Sane, 18; Matthew 9: 15), who is the source of its energies.
Therefore, Christian couples and families are neither isolated nor alone.
For Christians, marriage, which has its origin in God the Creator, also
implies a real vocation to a particular state and a life of grace. In order to
be brought to its maturation, this vocation requires adequate, particular
preparation and a specific path of faith and love, all the more so because this
vocation is given to a couple for the good of the Church and society. This has
all the meaning and strength of a public commitment made before God and society
that goes beyond individual limits.
10. As a community of life and love, both as a natural divine institution and
a sacrament, marriage always possesses a source of formidable energies (cf.
FC 43), no matter what difficulties there may be. Through the witness of the
spouses, marriage can become Good News, contributing greatly to the new
evangelization, and ensuring the future of society. However, these energies must
be discovered, appreciated and enhanced by the spouses themselves and by the
ecclesial community in the period preceding the celebration of marriage that
constitutes its preparation.
Many dioceses around the world are making efforts to find forms for an
increasingly effective marriage preparation. Many positive experiences have been
passed on to the Pontifical Council for the Family. No doubt these experiences
will be consolidated more and more and provide valid assistance if they are
known and appreciated within the Episcopal Conferences and by each Bishop
in the pastoral care of the local Churches.
What is called Preparation in this document includes a broad and
thorough process of education for married life which must be considered
in the totality of its values. This is why if the current psychological and
cultural situation is taken into consideration, marriage preparation represents
an urgent need. In fact, preparation is educating for the respect and care for
life which, in the Sanctuary of families, must become a real and proper culture
of human life in all its manifestations and stages for those who are part of the
people of life and for life (cf.
EV 6, 78, 105). The very reality of marriage is so rich that it first
requires a process of sensitization so that the engaged will feel the need to
prepare themselves for it. Therefore, pastoral care of the family should direct
its best efforts towards qualifying that preparation, also making use of
pedagogical and psychological aids that have a sound orientation.
In another document published recently (December 8, 1995) by the Pontifical
Council for the Family entitled, The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality:
Guidelines for Education Within the Family, the Council tries to help
families in their task of educating their children with regard to sexuality.
11. Lastly, because of the present circumstances which were mentioned
earlier, the Church's concern has become more urgent with regard to marriage
preparation. On the one hand, the recovery of values and some important aspects
of marriage and the family can be observed together with the flourishing of
joyful testimonies by countless Christian spouses and families. However, on the
other hand, the number of persons is increasing who ignore or reject the riches
of marriage with a form of mistrust that goes so far as to doubt or reject its
goods and values (cf. GS 48). Today we see with alarm the spread of a
"culture" or a mentality that has lost heart with regard to the family as a
necessary value for spouses, children and society. Some attitudes and some
measures envisaged in laws do not help the family based on marriage and even
deny its rights. As a matter of fact, a secularized atmosphere has been
spreading in different parts of the world which especially affects young
people and subjects them to the pressure of a secularized environment in which
one ends up losing the meaning of God and consequently the deep meaning of
spousal love and the family as well. Is it not denying the truth of God to shut
out the very origin and source of this intimate mystery? (cf. GS 22). The
negation of God in its different forms often includes the rejection of the
institutions and structures which are part of God's plan, and which have been
laid down since Creation (cf. Matthew 19: 3ss). As a result, everything
is interpreted as being the fruit of human will andor consensus that can change.
12. In countries where the process of de-Christianization is more prevalent,
the disturbing crisis of moral values stands out, in particular, the loss of the
identity of marriage and the Christian family and hence the meaning of
engagement. In addition to these losses, there is a crisis of values within the
family itself to which a climate of widespread and even legalized permissiveness
contributes. This is greatly encouraged by the communications media that present
contrary models as if they were real values. What seems to be a cultural fabric
is formed, offered to the new generations as an alternative to the concept of
conjugal life and marriage, its sacramental value, and its links with the
Phenomena which confirm these situations and reinforce such a culture are
connected with new lifestyles which devalue the human dimensions of the
contracting parties with disastrous consequences for the family. These include
sexual permissiveness, the decrease in marriages or their continuous
postponement, the increase in divorces, the contraceptive mentality, the spread
of deliberate abortion, the spiritual void and deep dissatisfaction which
contribute to the spread of drugs, alcoholism, violence and suicide among young
people and adolescents.
In other areas of the world, situations of underdevelopment including extreme
poverty and misery, as well as the simultaneous presence of cultural elements
against or outside the Christian vision make both the stability of the family
and building up an in-depth education in Christian love difficult and
13. Permissive laws contribute toward aggravating the situation with all
their force in forging a mentality that harms families (cf. EV
59) with regard to divorce, abortion and sexual freedom. Many means of
communication1 spread and help strengthen a climate of permissiveness and form
what seems to be a cultural fabric that impedes young people from their normal
growth in the Christian faith, their ties with the Church, and their discovery
of the sacramental value of marriage and the requirements derived from its
celebration. It is true that education for marriage has always been necessary,
but a Christian culture made its formulation and assimilation easier. Today this
is sometimes more arduous and more urgent.
14. For all these reasons, in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio — which brings together the results of the 1980 Synod on the
Family — His Holiness John Paul II indicates that "More than ever necessary in
our times is preparation of young people for marriage and family life" (FC
66). He urges the promotion of "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" (Ibid.).
Along the same lines, and in order to respond in an organic way to the
current threats and demands, it seems timely for the Episcopal Conferences to
publish with some urgency "a Directory for the Pastoral Care of the Family"
(Ibid.). In such Directories, the elements considered necessary for a
more incisive pastoral care should be sought and delineated which aim at
recovering the Christian identity of marriage and the family so that the family
itself will succeed in being a community of persons at the service of human life
and the faith, the first and living cell of society, a believing and
evangelizing community, a real "domestic church, centre of communion and
ecclesial service" (Ibid.), "summoned to proclaim, celebrate and serve
the Gospel of life" (EV 92, and also 28, 78, 79, 105).
15. Given the importance of the theme, and aware of the different initiatives
which have been made in this direction by not a few Episcopal Conferences and
many diocesan Bishops, the Pontifical Council for the Family extends the
invitation to continue in this pastoral service with renewed commitment. The
Episcopal Conferences have prepared useful material that can contribute to
marriage preparation and following up family life. In continuity with the
directives of the Apostolic See, the Pontifical Council offers these starting
points for reflection with exclusive reference to one part of the
above-mentioned Directory: that related to preparation for the sacrament of
Marriage. Hence this part of the directory can be more useful in delineating and
developing those aspects which are necessary for the proper preparation for
marriage and Christian family life.
16. Alive in the tradition of the Church and deepened by the Magisterium, the
Word of God stresses that marriage for Christian spouses implies a response to
God's vocation and the acceptance of the mission to be a sign of God's love for
all the members of the human family, by partaking in the definitive covenant of
Christ with the Church. Therefore, spouses become cooperators with the Creator
and Saviour in the gift of love and life. Hence Christian marriage preparation
can be described as a journey of faith which does not end with the celebration
of marriage but continues throughout family life. Therefore, our perspective
does not close with marriage as an act, at the moment of its celebration, but is
on-going. This is why preparation is also a "special opportunity for the engaged
to rediscover and deepen the faith received in Baptism and nourished by their
Christian upbringing. In this way they come to recognize and freely accept their
vocation to follow Christ and to serve the Kingdom of God in the married state"
The Bishops are aware of the urgent and indispensable need to propose and
articulate specific formation programmes in developing a process of Christian
formation that is gradual and continuous (cf. Ordo celebrandi matrimonium,
15). In fact, it will useful to recall that real preparation is directed toward
a conscious and free celebration of the sacrament of Marriage. However, this
celebration is the source and expression of more binding and permanent
17. From the experience of many pastors and educators it appears that the
engagement period can be a time of mutual discovery but also of a deepening of
faith. Therefore, it is a period of special supernatural gifts for personal and
interpersonal spirituality. Unfortunately, for many, this period which is
intended for human and Christian maturation, can be disturbed by an
irresponsible use of sexuality which does not help spousal love to mature and,
therefore, some make a kind of apologia for premarital relations.
The successful outcome of the engaged couple's deepening in the faith is also
conditioned by their previous formation. On the other hand, the way in which
this period is lived will certainly have an influence on their future life as
spouses and as a family. From this comes the decisive importance of the help
offered to the engaged by their respective families and the whole ecclesial
community. This also consists in prayer. In this regard, the blessing of the
engaged which is foreseen in the De benedictionibus
(nos. 195-214) is significant, in which the signs of this initial commitment are
mentioned: the ring, the exchange of gifts and other customs (nos. 209-210). In
any case, the human depth of the engagement should be recognized and saved from
any commonplace approach.
Therefore, both the riches of marriage and the sacrament of Marriage,
and the decisive importance of the engagement period-which today is often
extended for years (with the various kinds of difficulties that this implies),
are reasons which call for the particular solidity of this formation.
18. It follows that the diocesan and parochial programming — with pastoral
plans that give priority to the pastoral care of the family which enriches the
whole of ecclesial life — presupposes that the formative task will find its
proper place and development and that, between the dioceses and in the framework
of the Episcopal Conferences, the best experiences can be evaluated and passed
on in an exchange of pastoral experiences. It also seems important to know what
forms of catechesis and education are given to adolescents regarding the various
types of vocation and Christian love, what programmes are prepared for the
engaged, the ways in which married couples who are more mature in the faith are
included in this formation, as well as the best experiences aimed at creating a
spiritual and cultural environment that is suitable for young people heading for
19. In the formation process, according to what is also referred to in the
Familiaris Consortio, three stages or principal
periods must be distinguished in marriage preparation: remote, proximate and
The particular goals of each stage will be achieved if — in addition to the
fundamental human qualities and the basic truths of the faith — the engaged will
also learn about the principal theological and liturgical content that marks the
different phases of preparation. As a result, in the effort to adapt their life
to those values, the engaged will acquire the true formation that prepares them
for married life.
20. Marriage preparation must be set within the urgent need to evangelize
culture — by permeating it to its roots (cf. Apostolic Exhortation
Evangelii Nuntiandi, 19) — in everything that concerns the institution of
marriage: making the Christian spirit penetrate minds and behaviour, as well as
the laws and structures of the community where Christians live (cf. Catechism
of the Catholic Church, n. 2105). This preparation, both implicitly and
explicitly, constitutes one aspect of evangelization, so much so that it can
deepen the strength of the Holy Father's affirmation: "The family is the heart
of the New Evangelization" (...). The preparation itself "is a responsibility
which first concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the basis
of an ever greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique
event which clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then
to be given as a gift" (EV 92).
In addition to religious values, abundant good and values that strengthen
solidarity, respect, justice and forgiveness in personal and collective
relations flow from marriage as the foundation of the family. In turn, the
family, based on marriage, expects from society "a recognition of its
identity and an acceptance of its status as a subject in society" (Gratissimam
Sane, 17), and therefore to become "the heart of the civilization of love"
The whole diocese should be involved in this task and offer the proper
support. The ideal would be to create a diocesan Commission for marriage
preparation, including a group for the pastoral care of the family, composed of
married couples with parish experience, movements and experts.
The task of this diocesan Commission would be formation, follow-up and
coordination, in collaboration with centres on various levels involved in this
service. The Commission should in turn be formed by networks of teams of chosen
lay persons who work together in marriage preparation in a broad sense and not
only in the courses. It should have the help of a coordinator, normally a
priest, representing the bishop. If the coordination is entrusted to a lay
person or a couple, a priest's assistance would be advisable.
All of this should enter into the organizational context of the diocese with
its corresponding structures, such as possible areas headed by an Episcopal
Vicar and vicars forane.
THE STAGES OR PERIODS OF PREPARATION
21. The stages or periods which will be discussed are not rigidly defined. In
fact, they cannot be defined either in relation to the age of the participants,
nor in relation to their duration. However, it is useful to be familiar with
them as working itineraries and instruments, especially for the content to be
transmitted. They are broken up into remote, proximate and immediate
A. Remote preparation
22. Remote preparation includes infancy, childhood and adolescence and takes
place first of all in the family and also in the school and formation groups, as
a valid assistance to the family. This is the period in which respect for all
authentic human values both in interpersonal and social relations is transmitted
and instilled, with all this implies for the formation of character,
self-control and self-esteem, the proper use of one's inclinations, and respect
for persons of the other sex. Moreover, especially for Christians, a solid
spiritual and catechetical formation is also required (cf. FC
23. In the Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, John Paul II mentions
two fundamental truths in the task of education: "first, that man is called to
live in truth and love; and second, that everyone finds fulfillment through the
sincere gift of self" (n. 16). Children's education thus begins before birth in
the atmosphere in which the new life is awaited and welcomed, especially through
the mother's loving dialogue with her child (cf. Ibid., 16). This
continues in childhood since education is "before all else a reciprocal
?offering' on the part of both parents: together they communicate their own
mature humanity to the newborn child" (Ibid.). "In giving origin to a new
life, parents recognize that the child, ?as the fruit of their mutual gift of
love, is, in turn, a gift for both of them, a gift which flows from them'" (EV
In its integral sense, which implies the transmission and basic growth of
human and Christian values, Christian education — as the Second Vatican Council
affirms — "not only develops the maturity of the human person ..., but is
especially directed towards ensuring that those who have been baptized, as they
are gradually introduced to a knowledge of the mystery of salvation, become
daily more appreciative of the gift of faith which they have received...They
should be trained to live their own lives in the new self, justified and
sanctified through the truth" (Gravissimum Educationis, 2).
24. In this period, a faithful and courageous education in chastity and love
as self-giving must not be lacking. Chastity is not a mortification of love but
rather a condition for real love. In fact, if the vocation to married love is a
vocation to self-giving in marriage, one must succeed in possessing oneself in
order to be able to truly give oneself.
In this regard the sexual education received from parents in the first years
of childhood and adolescence is important, as has been indicated in the document
of this Pontifical Council for the Family mentioned earlier in n. 10.
25. In this stage of remote preparation some specific objectives should be
achieved. Without pretending to make a complete list of them, as an indication
it is noted that above all this preparation should attain the goal whereby every
member of the faithful called to marriage will understand completely that, in
the light of God's love, human love takes on a central role in Christian ethics.
In fact, as a vocation and mission, human life is called to the love that has
its source and end in God, "without excluding the possibility of the total gift
of self to God in the vocation to the priestly or religious life" (FC
66). In this sense, it should be recalled that even when remote preparation
deals more with doctrinal content of an anthropological nature, it is to be
placed in the perspective of marriage in which human love becomes a sharing, as
well as a sign, of the love between Christ and the Church. Therefore, married
love makes present among mankind the same divine love made visible in the
redemption. The journey or conversion from a rather external and vague level of
faith, typical of many young people, to a discovery of the "Christian mystery"
is both essential and decisive: a faith that involves the communion of Grace and
love with the Risen Christ.
26. Remote preparation will have achieved its main goals if it succeeds in
instilling the essentials for acquiring more and more the parameters of a right
judgment regarding the hierarchy of values needed in choosing the best that
society has to offer, according to St. Paul's advice: "...test everything; hold
fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5: 19). It should not be forgotten
that, through the grace of God, love is also cherished, strengthened and
intensified through the necessary values connected with giving, sacrifice,
renunciation and self-denial. In this stage of formation, pastoral help should
already be directed toward making moral behaviour be supported by faith. The
example of parents, which becomes a real witness for those who will marry
in the future, provides stimulus, support and consistency to this kind of
27. This preparation will not lose sight of the importance of helping young
people acquire a critical ability with regard to their surroundings, and the
Christian courage of those who know how to be in the world without belonging to
it. This is what we read in the Letter to Diognetus, a venerable and
certainly authentic document from the early Christian era: "Christians are not
distinguished from the rest of mankind by either country, speech, or
customs...the whole tenor of their way of living stamps it as worthy of
admiration and admittedly extraordinary... They marry like all others and beget
children; but they do not expose their offspring. Their table they spread for
all, but not their bed. They find themselves
in the flesh, but do not live according to the flesh" (V, 1, 4, 6,
7, 8). Formation should arrive at a mentality and personality capable of not
being led astray by ideas contrary to the unity and stability of marriage, thus
able to react against the structures of the so-called
social sin that "With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser
harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole
human family" (Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 16).
In the face of these sinful influences and so many social pressures, a critical
conscience must be instilled.
28. A Christian lifestyle, witnessed to by Christian families, is in
itself a form of evangelization and the very foundation of remote preparation.
In fact, another goal of this stage is the presentation of the parents'
educational mission. It is in the family, the domestic church, that Christian
parents are the first witnesses and educators of the children both in the growth
of "faith, hope and charity", and in each child discovering his or her own
vocation. "Parents are the first and most important educators of
their own children, and they also possess a fundamental competence in
this area: they are educators because they are parents" (GS 16).
For this purpose parents need suitable and adequate assistance.
29. Among the types of assistance, the parish can be listed as the first
place of Christian ecclesial formation. It is there that a style of living
together as a community is learned (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium,
42). Moreover, the school, other educational institutions, movements, groups,
Catholic associations and, of course, associations of Christian families must
not be overlooked.
Of particular importance in the educational processes of young people are the
means of mass communication which ought to aid the family's mission in society
in a positive way and not make it difficult.
30. This educational process must also be taken to heart by catechists,
animators of the pastoral care of youth and vocations and, above all, pastors
who will take advantage of homilies during liturgical celebrations and other
forms of evangelization, personal meetings, and ways of Christian commitment, in
order to stress and highlight the points that contribute to a preparation
directed toward possible marriage (cf. Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium, 14).
31. Therefore, the ways and means must be "invented" for the on-going
formation of adolescents in the period preceding engagement which follows the
stages of Christian initiation. Exchanging information about the most
appropriate experiences in this regard is extremely useful. Families joined
together in the parishes, institutions and different forms of association, help
create a social atmosphere in which responsible love will be healthy. Wherever
it may be corrupted, for example, by pornography, they can react through the
family's right. All of this is part of a "human ecology" (cf. Centesimus
B. Proximate preparation
32. Proximate preparation takes place during the period of engagement. It
consists of specific courses and must be distinguished from immediate
preparation which is usually concentrated during the last meetings between the
engaged and pastoral workers before the celebration of the sacrament. During
proximate preparation, it seems useful to provide the possibility to verify the
maturation of the human values pertaining to the relationship of friendship and
dialogue that should characterize the engagement. In view of the new state in
life as a couple, the opportunity should be offered to deepen the life of faith,
especially regarding knowledge about the sacramentality of the Church. This is
an important stage of evangelization in which the faith must involve the
personal and community dimensions both of the individual engaged persons and
their families. In this process, it will also be possible to identify any
difficulties they may have in living an authentic Christian life.
33. The period of proximate preparation generally coincides with the period
of youth. Therefore it includes everything that pertains to the pastoral care of
youth as such which is concerned with the integral growth of the faithful. The
pastoral care of youth cannot be separated from the framework of the family as
if young people make up a kind of separate and independent "social class". It
should reinforce the young people's social sense, first with regard to the
members of their own family, and orient their values toward the future family
they will have. The young people should have already been helped to discern
their vocation through their own personal efforts and with the aid of the
community, and above all the pastors. This discernment must take place before
any commitment is made to get engaged. When the vocation to marriage is clear,
it will be sustained first by grace and then by adequate preparation. The
pastoral care of youth should also keep in mind that, because of various kinds
of difficulties — such as a "prolonged adolescence" and remaining longer in
one's family (a relatively new and troubling phenomenon), young people today
tend to put off the commitment to get married for too long.
34. Proximate preparation should be based first of all on a catechesis
sustained by listening to the Word of God, interpreted with the guidance of the
Magisterium of the Church, in view of an ever greater understanding of the faith
and giving witness to it in concrete life. Instruction should be offered in the
context of a community of faith between families, especially in the parish, who
participate and work in the formation of young people, according to their
charismas and roles, and expand their influence to other social groups.
35. The engaged should receive instruction regarding the natural requirements
of the interpersonal relationship between a man and a woman in God's plan for
marriage and the family: awareness regarding freedom of consent as the
foundation of their union, the unity and indissolubility of marriage, the
correct concept of responsible parenthood, the human aspects of conjugal
sexuality, the conjugal act with its requirements and ends, and the proper
education of children. All of this is aimed at knowing the moral truth and
forming the personal conscience.
Proximate preparation should certainly ascertain whether the engaged have the
basic elements of a psychological, pedagogical, legal and medical nature for
marriage and family life. However, especially with regard to total self-giving
and responsible procreation, the theological and moral formation will have to be
given in a particular way. In fact, conjugal love is total, exclusive, faithful
and fruitful (cf. Humanae Vitae, 9).
Today the scientific basis2 of the natural methods for the regulation of
fertility are recognized. Knowledge about these methods is useful. When there is
just cause, their use must not only be a mere behavioral technique but be
inserted into the pedagogy and process of the growth of love (cf.
EV 97). Then the virtue of chastity will lead the spouses to practice
periodic continence (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos.
This preparation should also ensure that Christian engaged persons have
correct ideas and a sincere "sentire cum ecclesia" regarding marriage itself,
the mutual roles of a woman and a man in a couple, the family and society,
sexuality and openness towards others.
36. Young people should also be helped to become aware of any psychological
andor 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. This help will also aid in discovering the
potential and the need for human and Christian growth in their life. For this
purpose, the persons in charge of marriage preparation should also be concerned
with giving solid formation to the moral conscience of the engaged so that they
will be prepared for the free and definitive choice of marriage which is
expressed in the mutually exchanged consent before the Church in the marriage
37. During this stage of preparation, frequent meetings will be necessary in
an atmosphere of dialogue, friendship and prayer, with the participation of
pastors and catechists. They should stress the fact that "The family
celebrates the Gospel of life through daily prayer, both
individual prayer and family prayer. The family prays in order to glorify and
give thanks to God for the gift of life, and implores his light and strength in
order to face times of difficulty and suffering without losing hope" (EV
93). Moreover, Christian married couples who are apostolically committed, in a
vision of sound Christian optimism, can contribute to shedding greater light on
Christian life in the context of the vocation to marriage and in the
complementarity of all the vocations. Therefore, this period should not only be
for theoretical 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. In this way, premarital chastity takes on its full meaning and
rules out any cohabitation, premarital relations, and other practices, such as
mariage coutumier, in the process of making love grow.
38. In line with the sound pedagogical principles of a gradual and
comprehensive personal growth, proximate preparation must not neglect formation
for the social and ecclesial tasks proper to those who will have new families as
a result of their marriage. Family intimacy should not be conceived as being
closed in on itself, but rather as a capacity to interiorize the human and
Christian riches inherent in married life in view of an ever greater giving to
others. Therefore, in an open concept of the family, married and family life
requires the spouses to recognize themselves as subjects having rights but also
duties towards society and the Church. In this regard, it will be very useful to
encourage reading and reflecting on the following documents of the Church which
are a rich and encouraging source of human and Christian wisdom: Familiaris
Consortio, the Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane, the Charter of
the Rights of the Family, Evangelium Vitae, and others.
39. The proximate preparation of young people should make them understand
that the commitment they take on through the exchange of their consent "before
the Church" makes it necessary for them to begin a path of reciprocal fidelity
in the engagement period. If necessary, any practices to the contrary must be
abandoned. This human commitment will be enhanced by the specific gifts which
the Holy Spirit gives to the engaged who invoke him.
40. Since Christian love is purified, perfected and elevated by Christ's love
for the Church (cf. GS 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. Reciprocal self-giving thus
implies more and more the exchange of spiritual gifts and moral support in order
to make love and responsibility increase. "The indissolubility of marriage flows
in the first place from the very essence of that gift: the gift of one person
to another person. This reciprocal giving of self reveals the spousal
nature of love" (Gratissimam Sane, 11).
41. Spousal spirituality, by involving human experience which is never
separated from moral life, has its roots in Baptism and Confirmation.
Preparation of the engaged should therefore include regaining the dynamism of
the sacraments, with a special role of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the
Eucharist. The sacrament of Reconciliation glorifies divine mercy toward human
misery and makes the vitality of Baptism and the dynamism of Confirmation grow.
From this the pedagogy of redeemed love is strengthened which lets the greatness
of God's mercy be discovered before the drama of man, created by God and
wonderfully redeemed. By celebrating the memory of Christ's giving to the
Church, the Eucharist develops the affective love proper to marriage in daily
giving to one's spouse and children, without forgetting and overlooking that
"the celebration which gives meaning to every other form of prayer and worship
is found in the family's actual daily life together, if it is a life of
love and self-giving" (EV
42. For this kind of multifaceted and harmonious preparation, the persons who
will be in charge will have to be identified and given adequate formation. It
would be useful to create a group, on different levels, of pastoral workers who
are aware of being sent by the Church. This group should be composed of
Christian married couples in particular, and include experts possibly in
medicine, law, psychology, with a priest who will prepare them for the roles
they will play.
43. The pastoral workers and persons in charge must have a solid doctrinal
preparation and unquestionable fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church so that
they will be able to transmit the truths of the faith and the responsibilities
connected with marriage with sufficient in-depth knowledge and life witness. It
is quite obvious that these pastoral workers, as educators, will also have to be
capable of welcoming the engaged, whatever their social and culture extraction,
intellectual formation and concrete capacities may be. Moreover, their faithful
life witness and joyful giving are indispensable conditions for carrying out
their task. Based on their own experiences in life and human problems, they can
offer some starting points for enlightening the engaged with Christian wisdom.
44. The above implies the need for an adequate formation programme for the
pastoral workers. The formation leaders' preparation should prepare them to
present the fundamental guidelines of marriage preparation which we have spoken
about with clear adherence to the Church's Magisterium, a suitable methodology
and pastoral sensitivity, and also enable them to offer their specific
contribution, according to their own expertise, to the immediate preparation
(nos. 50-59). The pastoral workers ought to receive their formation in special
Pastoral Institutes and be carefully chosen by the Bishop.
45. The final result of this period of proximate preparation should be a
clear awareness of the essential characteristics of Christian marriage: unity,
fidelity, indissolubility, fruitfulness; the conscience of faith regarding the
priority of the sacramental Grace which associates the spouses, as subjects and
ministers of the sacrament, to the love of Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church;
the willingness to carry out the mission proper to families in the educational,
social and ecclesial areas.
46. As Familiaris Consortio notes, the formative journey of young
engaged persons should therefore include: deepening of personal faith and the
rediscovery of the value of the sacraments and the experience of prayer.
Specific preparation for life as a couple "will present marriage as an
interpersonal relationship of a man and a woman that has to be continually
developed, and it will encourage those concerned to study the nature of conjugal
sexuality and responsible parenthood, with the essential medical and biological
knowledge connected with it. It will also acquaint those concerned with correct
methods for the education of children, and will assist them in gaining the basic
requisites for well-ordered family life" (FC 66); "preparation for the
family apostolate, for fraternal solidarity and collaboration with other
families, for active membership in groups, associations, movements and
undertakings set up for the human and Christian benefit of the family" (Ibid.).
Moreover, the engaged should be helped beforehand to learn how to preserve
and cultivate married love later, interpersonal, marital communication, the
virtues and difficulties of conjugal life, and how to overcome the inevitable
47. However, the center of this preparation must be a reflection in the faith
on the sacrament of Marriage through the Word of God and the guidance of the
Magisterium. The engaged should be made aware that to become "una caro" (Matthew
19:6) in Christ, through the Spirit in Christian marriage, means imprinting a
new form of baptismal life on their existence. Through the sacrament, their love
will become a concrete expression of Christ's love for his Church (cf. LG
11). In the light of the sacramentality, the married acts themselves,
responsible procreation, educational activity, the communion of life, and the
apostolic and missionary spirit connected with the life of Christian spouses are
to be considered valid moments of Christian experience. Although still not in a
sacramental way, Christ sustains and accompanies the journey of grace and growth
of the engaged toward the participation in his mystery of union with the Church.
48. With regard to a possible Directory that will bring together the best
experiences with marriage preparation, it seems useful to recall what the Holy
Father John Paul II stated in his concluding Discourse to the General Assembly
of the Pontifical Council for the Family held from September 30-October 5, 1991:
"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 married life and its specific act, must be treated faithfully
and accurately, according to the clear teaching of the Encyclical
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
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".
With deep satisfaction, this Pontifical Council observes that the tendency is
growing towards greater commitment and awareness of the importance and dignity
of the engagement period. Similarly, it urges that the specific courses will not
be so brief as to reduce them to a mere formality. On the contrary, they should
provide sufficient time for a good, clear presentation of the fundamental
subjects indicated earlier.3
The course can be carried out in the individual parishes, if there are enough
engaged persons and well-prepared collaborators, in the Episcopal or forane
Vicariats, or in parish coordinating structures. Sometimes they can be given by
persons in charge of family movements, associations or apostolic groups guided
by a competent priest. This is an area which should be coordinated by a
diocesan organism that works on behalf of the Bishop. Without neglecting the
various aspects of psychology, medicine and other human sciences, the content
should be centred on the natural and Christian doctrine of marriage.
49. In proximate preparation, especially today, the engaged must be given
formation and strengthened in the values concerning the defense of human life.
Particularly in view of the fact that they will become the domestic church and
"Sanctuary of life" (EV 92-92), they will become part in a new way of the
"people of life and for life" (EV 6, 101). The contraceptive mentality
which is prevalent today in so many places, and the widespread, permissive laws
with all they imply in terms of contempt for life from the moment of conception
to death, constitute a series of multiple attacks to which the family is exposed
and wounded in the most intimate part of its mission, and which impede its
development according to the requirements of authentic human growth (cf.
Centesimus Annus, 39). Therefore, today more than before, formation is
needed of the minds and hearts of the members of new families not to conform to
the prevailing mentality. In this way, through their own new family life, one
day they will be able to contribute towards creating and developing the culture
of life by respecting and welcoming new lives in their love, as the testimony
and expression of the proclamation, celebration and service to every life (cf.
EV 83-84, 86, 93).
C. Immediate preparation
50. If a suitable itinerary and specific courses have been followed and have
worked well during the period of proximate formation (cf. n. 32ss.), the aims of
immediate preparation could consist of the following:
a) A synthesis of the previous preparation, especially its doctrinal,
moral and spiritual content, thus filling in eventual gaps in basic formation;
b) Experiences of prayer (retreats, spiritual exercises for the
engaged) in which the encounter with the Lord can make them discover the depth
and beauty of the supernatural life;
c) A suitable liturgical preparation which also envisages the active
participation of the engaged, with special attention to the Sacrament of
d) Good use the canonical talks that are envisaged with the parish
priest, so that everyone can get to know one another better.
These ends will be achieved through special meetings of a more intensive
51. The pastoral usefulness and positive experience of marriage preparation
courses show that they can be dispensed with only for proportionally serious
reasons. Therefore, if couples present themselves with the urgency of
celebrating their marriage soon and without proximate preparation, the parish
priest and his co-workers will have the responsibility of offering them some
occasions to make up an adequate knowledge of the doctrinal, moral and
sacramental aspects set out in the proximate preparation for marriage and
finally include them in the phase of immediate preparation.
This is required because of the necessity to personalize the formative
itineraries in a real way, to take every occasion to deepen the meaning of what
takes place in the sacrament, but without rejecting those who show they are well
disposed towards the faith and the sacrament just because they were absent from
some stages of preparation.
52. The immediate preparation for the sacrament of Marriage must find
suitable occasions to introduce the engaged couple to the rite of marriage. As
well as deepening the Christian doctrine on marriage and the family with
particular attention to moral duties, in this preparation the engaged should be
guided to take an informed and active part in the marriage celebration, and
understand the meaning of the liturgical actions and texts.
53. This preparation for the sacrament of Marriage should be the culmination
of a catechesis which helps engaged Christians to retrace their sacramental
journey intelligently. It is important that they know that they are uniting
themselves in marriage as persons baptized in Christ, and that they should
behave in conformity to the Holy Spirit in their family life. Thus it is right
that future spouses dispose themselves for the celebration of marriage so that
it may be valid, worthy and fruitful, by receiving the sacrament of Penance (cf.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1622). The liturgical preparation for
the sacrament of Marriage should make the most of the elements of ritual that
are currently available. To indicate a clearer relationship between the nuptial
sacrament and the paschal mystery, the celebration of marriage is normally set
within the celebration of the Eucharist.
54. In order to make the Church visible in the diocese and articulate this in
the parishes, it is understandable that all the canonical-pastoral preparation
for marriage should culminate in the parish and diocese. Thus it is more in
conformity with the ecclesial meaning of the sacrament for the marriage to be
celebrated normally in the church of the parish community to which the spouses
belong (CIC, Canon 1115).
It is desirable that the whole parish community take part in this
celebration, around the families and friends of the engaged. Provisions for this
should be made in various dioceses, taking local situations into account, but
also decisively favouring truly ecclesial pastoral action.
55. Those who will take an active part in the liturgy should be invited also
to prepare themselves properly for the sacrament of Reconciliation and the
Eucharist. It should be explained to the witnesses that they are not only the
guarantors of a juridical act, but also representatives of the Christian
community which, through them, participates in a sacramental act relevant to it,
because a new family is a cell of the Church. On account of its essentially
social character, marriage calls for the participation of society and this is to
be expressed through the presence of the witnesses.
56. The family is the most appropriate place where, according to the decision
of the local Ordinary and through the common priesthood, parents can carry out
sacred acts and administer some sacramentals, such as for example in the context
of Christian Initiation, in the joyful or sad events of daily life, in saying
grace at meals. A special place should be given to family prayer. This creates
an atmosphere of faith within the home and will be the means of living out a
richer fatherhood and motherhood for the children, teaching them to pray and
introducing them to the gradual discovery of the mystery of God and personal
dialogue with him. Parents should remember that they carry out their mission of
proclaiming the Gospel of life through educating their children (cf.
Evangelium Vitae, 92).
57. Immediate preparation is a propitious occasion to begin the on-going
pastoral care of marriage and the family. From this point of view, the
preparation needs to be carried out so that spouses know their mission in the
Church. Here they can be helped by the richness offered by specific family
movements, so as to cultivate a spirituality of marriage and the family and the
way they fulfil their tasks within the family, the Church and society.
58. The preparation of the engaged should be accompanied by sincere and deep
devotion to Mary, Mother of the Church, the Queen of the Family. The
engaged themselves should be taught to recognize that Mary's presence is as
active in the family, the Domestic Church, as it is in the wider Church.
Likewise they should be taught to imitate Mary in her virtues. Thus the Holy
Family, the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, makes the engaged discover "how
sweet and irreplaceable education in the family is" (Paul VI, Discourse at
Nazareth, January 5, 1964).
59. A gift and enrichment for the whole Church will be sharing with others
whatever is creatively proposed in various communities to make these proximate
and immediate phases of preparation deeper and more adequate.
THE CELEBRATION OF MARRIAGE
60. Preparation for marriage leads to married life, through the celebration
of the sacrament, which is the culmination of the journey of preparation which
the spouses have made and the source and origin of their married life.
Therefore, the celebration cannot be reduced only to a ceremony, the product of
culture and sociological conditioning. Nevertheless, praiseworthy customs that
belong to various peoples or ethnic groups can be brought into the celebration
(cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 77; Familiaris Consortio, 67),
provided that they express above all the coming together of the ecclesial
assembly as a sign of the faith of the Church, which recognizes in the sacrament
the presence of the Risen Lord uniting the spouses to the Love of the Trinity.
61. Through diocesan liturgical commissions, the bishops should give precise
directions and supervise how these are applied in practice, in order to put into
effect, in the celebration of marriage, what is indicated in article 32 of the
Constitution on the Liturgy, so that even externally the equality of the
faithful may be evident and, further, that any appearance of pomp be avoided.
The active participation of those present is to be favoured in every way.
Suitable materials should be provided to help them comprehend and savour the
richness of the rite.
62. Mindful that where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ (cf.
Matthew 18:20), there he is present, a restrained style of celebration
(which should also continue in the feasting that follows) must not only be an
expression of the community of faith, but a motive for praising the Lord. To
celebrate getting married in the Lord and before the Church means professing
that the gift of grace made to the spouses by the presence and love of Christ
and His Spirit calls for a practical response, with a life of worship in spirit
and truth, in the Christian family, the "domestic church". Precisely because the
celebration is to be understood not only as a legal act but also as a moment in
the history of salvation of those being married, and through their common
priesthood, for the good of the Church and society, it will be good to help all
present to take part actively in the celebration itself.
63. It will be the duty of whoever presides to make use of the possibilities
which the ritual itself offers, especially in its second typical edition
promulgated in 1991 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of
the Sacraments, so as to highlight the role of the ministers of the sacrament
who, for Christians of the Latin Rite, are the spouses themselves, as well as
the sacramental value of the community celebration. With the formula of the
exchange of consent, the spouses will always remember the personal, ecclesial
and social aspect gained from this consent for all their life, as a gift of one
to the other even unto death.4
The Eastern Rite reserves the role of the minister of marriage to the
assisting priest. In any case, according to the law of the Church, the presence
of a priest or a duly authorized minister is necessary for the validity of the
matrimonial union and clearly sets forth the public and social meaning of the
spousal covenant, both for the Church and for all of society.
64. Bearing in mind that marriage is normally celebrated during Mass (cf.
Sacrosanctum Concilium, 78;
Familiaris Consortio, 57), when dealing
with a marriage between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic, the celebration
will take place according to the special liturgical and canonical provisions
(cf. Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium - OCM, 79-117).
65. The celebration will lead to more active participation if apposite
introductions to the meaning of the liturgical texts and the content of the
prayers are used. The simplicity of these introductions should favour
recollection and understanding the importance of the celebration (cf. OCM,
52, 59, 87, 93, 99), and avoid turning the celebration into a didactic moment.
66. The celebrant who presides5 and presents the ecclesial meaning of the
marriage commitment for the assembly, will try to involve those who are being
married, together with their relatives and the witnesses, so that they can
comprehend the structure of the rite. This applies especially to the most
characteristic parts, such as: the Word of God, the consent exchanged and
ratified, the blessing of the signs that symbolize marriage (rings etc.), the
solemn blessing of the spouses, the reference to the spouses in the heart of the
Eucharistic Prayer. "The various liturgies abound in prayers of blessing and
epiclesis asking God's grace and blessing on the new couple, especially the
bride." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1624). It will also be
necessary to explain the gesture of imposing hands on the "subject ministers" of
the sacrament. Standing, the sign of peace or other rites determined by the
competent authorities, etc. will be appropriately brought to the attention of
67. To achieve a style of celebration at once restrained and noble, whoever
presides should be helped by the presence of assistant ministers, of people who
will animate and sustain the singing of the faithful, lead the responses and
proclaim the Word of God. With particular concrete attention to those who are
being married and their situation, and absolutely avoiding any preference for
persons, the celebrant should adapt himself to the truth of the signs used in
the liturgical action. Thus, in welcoming and greeting those about to be
married, their parents if present, the witnesses and others who attend, he will
be the living spokesman of the community that welcomes those who are being
68. The proclamation of the Word of God is to be made by suitable and
prepared lectors. They can be chosen from among those present, especially
witnesses, family members, friends, but it does not seem appropriate for the
bride and groom to be lectors. In fact, they are the primary receivers of the
proclaimed Word of God. However, the choice of readings can be made in accord
with the engaged couple during the phase of immediate preparation. In this way
they will more easily bear the Word of God in mind so as to put it into
69. The homily, which is obligatory, will have as its centre the presentation
of the "great mystery" being celebrated before God, the Church and society.
"Saint Paul uses a concise phrase in reference to family life: it is a great
mystery (Ephesians 5: 32)". (Gratissimam Sane, 19). Beginning
with the proclaimed texts of the Word of God andor the liturgical prayers, light
should focus on the sacrament, hence the consequences for the life of the
spouses and their families should be illustrated. Superfluous personal
references to the spouses should be avoided.
70. If the rite takes place during the celebration of Mass, the gifts may be
brought to the altar by the spouses themselves. In any case, the well-prepared
prayer of the faithful should be neither too long nor lacking in concrete
content. As may be pastorally appropriate, Holy Communion can be given under
71. Care should be taken that the details of the marriage celebration are
characterized by a restrained, simple and authentic style. The festive tone
should not be disturbed by excessive display.
72. The solemn blessing of the spouses recalls that the gift of the Holy
Spirit is invoked in the sacrament of Marriage. Through this gift, the married
couple are made more constant in their mutual concord and spiritually sustained
in carrying out their mission, also in the difficulties of their future life. In
the framework of this celebration, it will certainly be appropriate to present
the Holy Family of Nazareth as a model of life for Christian spouses.
73. With regard to the periods of remote, proximate and immediate
preparation, while it is good to bring together actual experiences in order to
effect a major change of mentality and practices associated with the
celebration, pastoral workers should take care to follow and make comprehensible
what is already set down and established by the liturgical rite. It is obvious
that such understanding will depend on the whole process of preparation and the
community's level of Christian maturity.
* * *
Anyone can take note that herein some elements are proposed for an organic
preparation of the faithful called to the sacrament of Marriage. Especially in
the first five years of married life, it would be desirable to follow up the
young couples through post-marriage courses, to be carried out in parishes or
deaneries, according to the norm of the Directory for the Pastoral Care of the
Family, mentioned earlier in nos. 14 and 15, in connection with the Apostolic
Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, 66.
The Pontifical Council for the Family entrusts to the Episcopal
these guidelines for their own directories.
The pastoral concern of the Episcopal Conferences and individual Bishops will
ensure that these guidelines are put into action in the ecclesial communities.
Thus each of the faithful will understand better that the sacrament of Marriage,
a great mystery (Ephesians 5: 21ss) is a vocation for so many in
the People of God.
Vatican City State, May 13, 1996
Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council
for the Family
+ Most. Rev. Francisco Gil Hellín