Our serious challenge to support newly marrieds
When all the bishops of Australia met via zoom in November one issue discussed was how best to prepare and support couples who approach the Church for the sacrament of marriage.
Marriage rates in Australia have dropped dramatically over the last 50 years from just under 10 marriages each year per 1000 people in the early 70s to just under 5 per 1000 people now. Of those couples still marrying, the vast majority (78 per cent) are now married by a civil celebrant compared to only 10 per cent in 1970.
Of the 22 per cent of religious marriages performed, only a third are Catholic. These trends are reflected across all rural and metropolitan dioceses of Australia.
So when couples do approach the church seeking a sacramental marriage, it is vital that they are welcomed, celebrated and supported in their journey towards marriage and beyond.
Pope Francis has signaled the urgency of the issue by holding two synods on marriage and the family then promulgating the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.
There Francis describes the church as a ‘family of families’ and points out that each wedding signifies the founding of a new ‘domestic church’ which contributes to the Church’s renewal.
Francis also makes clear that the responsibility for forming couples for the path of married life does not belong just to priests, pastoral professionals or specialised ministries within the church. It is the responsibility of the whole faith community .
Since then, the Pope has been proposing a vision for a ‘catechumenate for the sacrament of marriage’. Pope Francis has argued that the “marriage catechumenate’ should extend into the first few years of marriage.
It’s an ambitious and challenging vision but it dovetails beautifully into the plenary questions we are all reflecting on regarding what sort of church we want to be and what we want our parishes to look like.
Practicing Catholic married couples in particular need to take seriously the responsibility we have to support new marriages. We can begin by just welcoming young couples who turn up for Mass on a Sunday.
Beyond that, we can become involved in a pastoral programs such as The Marriage Course which is currently being piloted in the Archdiocese.
- Lara Kirk is the Archdiocesan Manager, Marriage, Family and Relationships. Lara is married with five children and attends St Augustine’s Parish in Yass
Sounds like a good idea Lara
Support for young couples is certainly a positive suggestion. It is a complex area. One of the earliest and best things anyone said to us before we married 40 years ago, was, “I don’t know much about marriage (this was refreshing coming from a priest!) but you are both going to change and change a lot. You need to work out how you are going to manage those changes and look after your relationship’. It was great advice!! Some of us might be happy to support young couples, but do not agree with all the Church ‘rules’ and would not be comfortable to be in a situation where that was expected. A dilemma!
Why are the names of the dioceses not included in the graphs provided. It may give some clues on why this is occurring and what can work to improve it.
Re the Pope’s take the marriage catechumenate should extend into the first few years of marriage, we have a program in this Archdiocese called Ministry for Newly Married which is a program for those in the first 5 years of marriage.