Could marriage preparation by itself become a thing of the past for couples approaching the wedding altar?
The idea of a “marriage catechumenate” — a period of formation for marriage that would cover a period of time both before and after the wedding day — was part of the discussion at the ongoing synod of the family taking place in Rome.
“At least 10 times, the topic of a ‘catechumenate for marriage’ came up,” Vatican spokesman Father Thomas Rosica revealed at an Oct. 6 media briefing, describing it as “preparation for marriage, a longer process for marriage, as well as a preparation that takes place in the years right after the [wedding]; it continues.”
Overall, Catholics have a lower rate of divorce than the general population in the United States. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University reports close to one out of three (or 28%) of Catholic marriages end in divorce. But the rate jumps to nearly one out of two marriages ending in divorce for Catholics in “mixed marriages” with Protestant or non-religious spouses.
CARA’s surveys also show that weekly Mass attendance and church involvement correlate strongly with better family outcomes, such as spending time together as a family, eating dinner or playing games as a family, or even praying together. But just one out of five Catholic parents with children at home go to Mass weekly; and just under half of Catholic parents go to Mass once a month or more. The other half of parents go rarely or not at all.
One of the proponents of a “marriage catechumenate” type of formation is Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who proposed the idea in a book called The Mystery and Sacrament of Love, first published in 2007, but updated later to coincide with the synod discussions. The cardinal noted that, with so many couples poorly formed in marriage, the Church might instead offer them a “prolonged catechumenate” for marriage “if they wish to celebrate their marriage covenant in a Christian way.”
“Marriage catechumenate” is not a technical term. The “catechumenate” is technically a period of formation in the Christian faith for those approaching baptism.
But the concept of a post-baptismal catechumen experience of ongoing catechesis is a reality lived by Catholics who belong to the Neocatechumenal Way.
“It has helped me live out my marriage in a Christian way,” said Andrew Malone, a married father of eight who is part of a “Neocat” community at St. Benedict Joseph Labre parish in Queens, N.Y. While the Neocatechumenal Way has no formal marriage-preparation program, its catechumen-like catechesis involves two key important elements: sound, ongoing formation in the faith and a supportive community at every step of a person’s journey deeper into the faith, so he or she does not get lost or discouraged.
“It’s a lifetime apprenticeship,” said Malone, pointing out that many members in this context grow from “an infantile faith to a more mature faith that is trying to deal with all the difficulties of life.”