Reclaiming Matrimony: the Matrimonium Project
Renaissance of Marriage Conference 2019
As a bishop I have a pastoral responsibility for the mission of the Church within my diocese, in this case, the Archdiocese of Hobart. One area that has become more a focus for my attention is that of marriage and family.
In studying the statistics on the number of sacramental marriages being celebrated within the Archdiocese, it is clear that there has been an alarming drop over the past decade.
A very high percentage of couples presenting for marriage in a Catholic church have been cohabiting.
This, together with strong social trends which are inimical to forming sound and strong marriages, caused me to give attention to how the Catholic vision for marriage and family life might be more effectively promoted in Tasmania.
Arriving in my diocese in 2013 I established an Office for Life, Marriage and Family. I charged this office with the task – a huge task – of promoting Catholic teaching on the issues of life, marriage and family. Its primary focus was directed towards the Catholic community, but it also needed to be engaged in the public arena. The Catholic Church, with its body of teaching and valuable insights, had much to contribute to the public debates that were occurring in the society on matters relating to sexuality, gender and marriage.
In observing the serious decline in young Catholics approaching the Church for the Sacrament of Marriage, it became clear that a new approach needed to be found to enable young people to develop a sound understanding of the nature of marriage which was in accord with God’s plan. This would include an appreciation of the value of their wedding being a sacramental moment.
The idea of a catechumenate for marriage, advanced by Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia, brought forward an important idea: that in current circumstances a thorough and long-term preparation for Christian sacramental marriage is now required.
It is clearly evident that the Catholic culture has declined as a formative experience for young people. Many know little of the Church’s understanding of the nature of the marriage union and an appreciation of the call to family. Many come to marriage with minimal faith practice and little understanding of a sacramental worldview.
In response to this the Archdiocese of Hobart has embarked on what we are calling the ‘Matrimonium Project’.
This is a multi-faceted pastoral strategy aimed at rebuilding a Christian culture of marriage and family. It is a long-term strategy. There are no quick fixes. We have much work to do in re-establishing what has been lost.
Key facets of the Matrimonium Project
- Intentional Catholic Family life
One key facet of this program is to help families develop strategies for living what can be called “intentional Catholic family Life”. In the current cultural climate it is necessary to assist married couples to clarify and invest in their family life. Couples need encouragement, inspiration and formative materials.
At the heart of this is a decision, a commitment made by the couple, to become a strong Catholic family. I am reminded of the words of Joshua in the Old Testament: “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) There is a decision needed which will then direct and inspire actions that will be taken.
To do this couples will need help. Our Office for Life, Marriage and Family can provide this service. One idea being considered, for example, is the production of a regular newsletter offering ideas and inspiration in ways in which intentional Catholic family life can be realised. Subjects on parenting, family prayer, and ways to form children will be offered to them. The target group for this would be parents who have primary school children.
The promotion of already existing Catholic organisations like, the National Association of Catholic Families (NACF) can assist in providing social and spiritual support for Catholic families.
- Matrimonium Couples
Parishes are key locations for Catholic families engage with the faith community. In parishes Catholic families can find other families who have similar ideals to their own. Thus, parishes can serve to foster support for families.
To enable this to occur each parish could have a couple who act as a leader in the local community. We could call these ‘Matrimonium couples’. With some formation and encouragement these couples could promote Catholic family life within the parish community. It may be as simple as ensuring there are some social events for families. It could include the provision of formation for engaged couples. It can also ensure that the parish community assists couples who may be struggling in one way or another.
- Shifting from wedding planning to vocational preparation
The dominant culture in which young people live places a huge emphasis on the wedding day in terms of the time people spend in planning and the money spent on the event. Secular culture is largely working against the core dimensions of marriage as being faithful, fruitful, total and permanent. A deeper and longer period of formation is needed to support people in living their vocation to marriage.
Pope Francis has consistently promoted the merits of a marriage catechumenate that was first proposed in recent Church history by Pope St John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio (1981). Almost 40 years later we are still in the early stages of discerning what the marriage catechumenate should look like.
- Remote formation for marriage and family
The Church often provides various programs to assist couples in their immediate preparation for marriage. These courses are frequently provided through our social service agencies. However, there is also a benefit in providing young people, well before they get engaged, with formation in the richness of Catholic teaching.
Catholic young people can be offered some solid formation in the Catholic vision for marriage and family. Early this year the Archdiocese conducted its first ‘Matrimonium Summer School’ in Hobart. This week-long program offered talks on sexuality, marriage and family. It drew its inspiration from the vision for marriage and family expounded by Pope St John Paul II over his long pontificate.
- Formation of students in our Catholic schools
The Catholic Church in Australia has a wonderful resource in its education system. We teach one in five Australians. This presents a great opportunity to provide in a systematic way the Catholic vision of sexuality, marriage and family over the years of schooling, beginning in primary school.
Working in collaboration with key Catholic education staff, the Office for Life, Marriage and Family is developing programs to promote this body of inspiring teaching.
We are developing a partnership with the Culture Project team who would work with Catholic schools to undertake the major project work of empowering students to navigate the challenges of our contemporary culture, to grow in integrity (holiness), and to protect their safety and wellbeing by assisting them to respond to the challenges of the dehumanising influences of social media and communication, pornography, drugs, and some aspects of the popular music culture.
Rebuilding a culture of marriage and family
The family is the basic unit of society. It is true to say that the health of society depends on the health of family life. Promoting family life is not only for the benefit of the Church but will also benefit society as a whole.
There is no doubt that marriage and family are under particular stress in our society. A whole raft of forces inimical to marriage and family is severely weakening the quality of family life.
The revitalisation of the culture of marriage and family needs to be a priority for the Church. While we look for leadership from bishops and the Pope, this is an area which is the domain of the lay person. There is no reason why lay people cannot spearhead this cultural revival.
Archbishop Julian Porteous
August 13, 2020