Marriage seminar provides educational tools for parishes

BRIGHTON -- One of the greatest challenges for the Catholic Church in Massachusetts is to strengthen marriage in the Commonwealth, Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley told priests and pastoral associates at a resource seminar for the marriage initiative launched last June.

The seminar was held at Bishop Peterson Hall on May 14. Similar events will also be held in the three other dioceses of the state.

Young people, especially, need to be educated about what marriage is because by the time a couple is engaged they have already decided whether they want a wedding in a church or “under a palm tree in the Bahamas,” said Cardinal O’Malley.

The cardinal added that the vocation crisis that can be seen in the priesthood and religious life extends to marriage. The crisis in the vocation to marriage has a greater effect on society because most people are called to that vocation, he said.

“We who are teachers of the faith must help people to live lives of discipleship and recapture a sense of vocation,” he added.

Based on this principle, the four bishops of the state, under the direction of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, launched a campaign to educate on and pray for the vocation of marriage. The initiative began with the distribution of 1 million prayer cards bearing an icon of the Holy Family to parishes throughout the state on June 22, 2007.

The initiative launched a Web site and parish poster campaign in February 2007. The 18-month initiative will end in March of 2009.

At the resource seminar for parish leaders, parish representatives were presented with a binder full of resources and information about ordering materials to assist them in promoting the marriage initiative. They were encouraged to pray the marriage prayer daily in their parishes as well as display icons of the Holy Family and the initiative’s poster.

The binder also contained homiletic aids, bulletin announcements and multimedia materials including an audio recording called “Contraception, Why Not?” and a video on the vocation to marriage produced by the Knights of Columbus.

David and Angela Franks, coordinators of the marriage initiative, gave seminar attendees a “pastoral snapshot” on the state of marriage in the nation and the Commonwealth.

In the United States, marriages have declined by 11 percent and weddings in the Catholic Church have declined 28 percent from 1986 to 2006. In Massachusetts, the numbers have decreased by 42 percent and 60 percent for marriages in the Church in the same 20 years, they said. The Franks emphasized that the crisis in marriage is not new and did not begin with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Goodridge decision that allowed same-sex marriages in 2003. Over the past few decades, sex has been separated from lifelong and life-giving love, thus allowing the court to declare marriage a “self-defined adult relationship,” they said.

Most marriages today are preceded by cohabitation, which is harmful to marriages and proves that many people do not understand the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. Cohabitating couples “practice not committing,” they said.

David said that people need to be reminded that God made them for lifelong, life-giving relationships with the commitment found only in marriage.

The Franks said that following God’s plan in regard to marriage leads to personal happiness and positively affects society. There is both a sacramental reality and a natural reality of marriage, and the natural reality can be determined by anyone, including non-Christians, because marriage has visible positive effects.

Angela said studies have shown that husbands and wives benefit from increased income, personal happiness and better physical and mental health. A marriage between one man and one woman has also proved to be the optimal situation for children, she said.

“This really impacts everyone, not just people who are married,” she said. “It has an impact on our local Church as well.”

Catholics who are married in the Church form a domestic Church at home. They bring their children, the future of the Church, to the sacraments and those children are more likely to discern religious vocations, she said.

A survey that was featured on the initiative’s Web site, found that most Catholics surveyed believe that marriage is the lifelong union between one man and one woman. The vast majority, 94 percent, of respondents are Catholics who attend Mass weekly, Angela said.In some instances, respondents showed a lack of knowledge about Catholic teaching on marriage. Three-fourths of those surveyed believe that adultery is a cause for divorce, she said.

According to the Church, a marriage is only invalid if some impediment to declaring vows was present at the time of the wedding. Once a valid union has occurred, God has bound the couple together for life.

One priest at the seminar shared that he tells a couple approaching the Church for marriage that the love between a wife and a husband is meant to be reflect the love shared in the Holy Trinity. That love is unconditional and everlasting, he said.

David Franks said adultery cannot be grounds for divorce because married love is meant to reflect God’s love.

“God loves us despite our infidelity,” he added.

For more information about the marriage initiative, visit