The synod is inspiring the debate on marriage the Church desperately needs

A bride smiles during the joint wedding ceremony in St Peter's last month (AP)

Scanning the blogosphere on the current Synod in Rome I have picked up some thought-provoking commentary, which I offer here for the interest of readers: one blogger, a canon lawyer, thinks that divorced and remarried Catholics would not feel so excluded from Communion if other Catholics – possibly with grave sins on their consciences which have not been confessed – realised that they also should not present themselves at the altar. He makes the point that going to Mass doesn’t mean automatically going up to receive the Eucharist, as almost everyone seems to think. If more people held back for good reason, those debarred would not feel so conspicuous. He also suggests that the derisory one hour fast before Communion should be extended to three hours at least – just to remind people of the solemnity of the Sacrament. Much food for thought here.

Another writer, this time in Crisis Magazine, wants the bishops to attend to another neglected subject, and writes strong words on the severe blow to lifelong, faithful marriage by the legal innovation of “no fault divorce”. As he points out, it completely disregards the innocent party to a marriage who may have no wish to end it and thinks the Church should come out more strongly in defence of the injured spouse. This is the first time I have seen this subject alluded to. It shows how completely the culture has changed, so that no-one can now be blamed, officially at least, for the breakdown of a marriage.

This last point was taken up by Fr Vincent Twomey of the Pontifical University of Maynooth, who was one of the signatories of the Letter sent to the Synod by a group of academics, Catholic and non-Catholic, with constructive ideas that might flow from the Bishops’ deliberations. Commenting in a podcast that “divorce has never been easier” he said it raised the question, “why bother to be faithful?”

John Thavis’s blog mentions that the Vatican press office has issued a two-page summary of the synod talks so far. They refer to the “need to develop a longer programme of accompaniment for married couples, and not just a brief marriage preparation course.” Indeed, the preparation for engaged couples needs to be “long, personalised and even severe.” This might put some couples off a church wedding; but again, surely it is better to offer solid instruction to those who are open to it, than to allow people to go ahead, in ignorance of what sacramental marriage entails, with perfunctory guidance. I once knew a good and conscientious priest in the diocese of Vancouver, Canada, who had devised a serious pre-marital programme with sessions on every aspect of marriage. He told me that in several cases engaged couples had decided not to go ahead with the wedding, after realising fundamental differences of outlook as a result of these preparation classes.

Finally, an article in CNA entitled, We want Church truth on marriage, young Catholics say, quotes several young Catholic couples stressing how important it is for them to learn about the Church’s teaching on marriage. One young married man said couples needed to see “examples of sacramental traditional marriages in order to desire them.” The child of divorced parents himself, he indicated that it was his faith and the example of other faithful Catholic couples that made him desire sacramental marriage “because in the few examples that there are of people living out the beauty and the fullness of the vocation, when people encounter that, they no longer can settle for anything less.” It is to the credit of Pope Francis that he has opened this debate. Ignoring all the spin, the gossip and the rumours, the subject of marriage has been neglected for too long by the Church and the Pope is anxious to remedy this.


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