Marriage Catechumenates Taking Hold in the US

The vision of two Synods on the Family for marriage formation is starting to take shape in the U.S.

By Peter Jesserer Smith

DETROIT, (National Catholic Register) — The renewal of Catholic spiritual vigor within the Archdiocese of Detroit has been underway for several months following the release of Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s pastoral letter “Unleash the Gospel.

The blueprint for revitalizing Catholic discipleship involves establishing a “catechumenate for marriage” — fulfilling the vision for marriage formation expressed by the 1980 and 2015 Synods on the Family.

What is the
“Marriage Catechumenate?”

(Video by Witness to Love, a
member of the Marriage Reality Coalition)

“The archbishop here is really calling us to arms,” explained Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby, who is involved in implementing the pastoral letter’s vision for the parishes to have a “second catechumenate” for marriage and other forms of family-based pastoral accompaniment. He told the Register Archbishop Vigneron wants discipleship to permeate every aspect of Catholic life and for Catholic individuals and couples to become alive with the “self-giving love of Christ.”

The marriage catechumenate is an idea for marriage formation championed by the first Synod on the Family in 1980 and then by St. John Paul II with Familiaris Consortio in 1981. However, the concept did not gain traction until the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family, which called again for a catechumenate for marriage. Since then, Pope Francis has repeatedly called on the Church to implement the catechumenal model, where couples would be formed for marriage within the context of the parish community, with their pastor and mentor couples working together, both before the wedding and into their first years as a new family.

“St. John Paul II said as goes the family, so goes the Church,” Bishop Battersby said.

“Unleash the Gospel,” he said, imagines couples formed into a communion centered on Jesus Christ and following him to sanctify all aspects of life, so they can go forth and sanctify the world by their witness.

“There is one pattern for our living, our self-giving and our fulfillment, and that is Jesus Christ,” he said.

A Second Catechumenate

“Unleash the Gospel” charges the archdiocese’s Office of Family Life to develop an implementation plan for a catechumenate for marriage by June 2019.

Janet Smith, theology professor and Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, said she is “over the moon” with “Unleash the Gospel.” She considers it among the “most important documents in the Church in the past 25 years.”

The fight for fidelity to the magisterium following the Second Vatican Council “really depleted a lot of energies,” Smith explained, that otherwise would have implemented the Council’s true vision. But she said “Unleash the Gospel” and new emerging programs and methods of evangelization and discipleship are proof that the Council is now starting to bear its authentic fruit.

Smith said that catechumenate programs, like the “Witness to Love” ministry being implemented in the archdiocese, have benefited not just engaged couples, but mentor couples and priests. Smith said her seminarians are excited by the new catechumenal approach and she intends to promote “Witness to Love” to her classes.

The “absolutely essential element” she singled out is the personal mentorship that takes place with one-on-one catechesis and evangelization, with the priest, the mentor couple and engaged couple working together. Every couple is different, she said, and many couples have issues such as pornography addiction, abortion history, cohabitation or some other manifestation of the broken culture.

“Every parish should have this or something like this,” she said, adding that it would lead to fewer wounded persons, more persons who can minister to the wounded, and stronger family and social support networks that would reduce the need for civil government to stand in those gaps.

“A strong marriage is the backbone of the Church, the backbone of the culture and the backbone of our vocations,” she said. “Almost everything good comes out of a strong family.”

Continue reading article at ‘Reproposing’ the Gospel,” and learn about the future of Marriage Catechumenate.

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