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Pope Francis: Marriage prep should be more than a few parish meetings

Pope Francis greets a married couple at a Wednesday General Audience. (Daniel Ibáñez/CNA)

In his general audience Wednesday, Pope Francis said that engaged couples require “careful preparation” for the lifelong fidelity that marriage requires.

“One cannot say marriage preparation is three or four conferences given in the parish. This is not preparation,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Square Oct. 24, in a departure from his prepared remarks.

“The preparation must be mature and it takes time. It is not a formal act; it is a sacrament,” Francis said. This responsibility falls on the priest and the bishop, he added.

“To enter the Sacrament of Marriage, the engaged couple must mature the certainty that within their bond is the hand of God, who precedes them and accompanies them, and will allow them to say: ‘With the grace of Christ I promise to always be faithful to you,’” the pope continued.

Pope Francis spoke about marriage prep as a part of a catechesis on the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” In recent weeks, the pope has dedicated his weekly general audiences to a series of lesson and reflections on the Ten Commandments recorded in the scriptural books of Exodus and Deuteronomy.

“This Sixth Commandment calls us to turn our gaze to Christ, who with his fidelity can take from us an adulterous heart and give us a faithful heart,” the pope said.

The Catholic Church teaches that married love is an indissoluble lifelong bond that is faithful and fruitful.

“Fidelity is the characteristic of a free, mature, responsible human relationship,” Pope Francis said. “One can not love only as long as ‘it is convenient;’ love manifests itself just beyond the threshold of one’s own advantage, when everything is given without reserve.”

This fidelity comes from Christ’s “death and resurrection, from His unconditional love comes constancy in relationships,” the Holy Father explained. “Christ reveals true love … He is the faithful Friend who welcomes us even when we make mistakes and always wants our good, even when we do not deserve it.”

Pope Francis quoted St. John Paul II’s catechesis, that every human being “must with perseverance and consistency learn what the meaning of the body is.”

“The call to married life requires, therefore, a careful discernment on the quality of the relationship and an engagement time to verify it,” Francis added.

An engaged couple “cannot promise fidelity ‘in joy and pain, in health and in sickness,’ and to love and honor each other every day of their lives, only on the basis of good will or hope that ‘this thing works,’” he said. “The human being needs to be loved without conditions.”