The essence of the Mission Direct area of Family Ministry is to assist families in building the domestic church in their homes. The Director of Family Ministry oversees all the ministries that support families in this effort. Marriage Ministry is of prime importance, as a healthy and holy marriage serves as the solid foundation for a thriving Catholic family life.
Marriage Ministry helps couples draw on the graces given to them in the sacrament of Matrimony. As St. John Paul II has written,
The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families. …The gift of Jesus Christ is not exhausted in the actual celebration of the sacrament of marriage, but rather accompanies the married couple throughout their lives. (Familiaris Consortio 56)
The key to helping couples draw on their sacramental grace and thrive in their vocation of marriage is providing parish accompaniment and facilitating supportive relationships amongst couples. Marriage Ministry in Families of Parishes gives us the opportunity to do just that.
The scope of Marriage Ministry
It is important to have a full vision for Marriage Ministry so that Families of Parishes know what they are aiming for. As with any ministry, we know that it takes time to build and develop something new.
Marriage Ministry is for couples in all stages and circumstances of married life, including couples considering or preparing for marriage, couples living out their marriage vocation, couples struggling or experiencing crisis in their marriage, and couples who are divorced.
Couples in each stage of marriage have a different set of needs for formation and support. While the different stages of marriage often have common formation and developmental needs and challenges, the needs of couples in various circumstances vary according to each couple and the particular issues they face.
There is a growing number of single-parent families and remarried blended families, and each has their own unique set of challenges for living out God’s plan for the domestic church. Statistically, one in four American Catholics has been divorced, and roughly a third are remarried. Only about a quarter of divorced Catholics say they or their former spouse have sought an annulment from the Catholic Church.
Anticipating and meeting the needs of couples
These are the developmental stages of marriage that couples typically progress through:
Seriously dating, engaged couples
Young married couples
Child rearing couples
Empty nester couples
Throughout these stages, marriages require different attention. In most parishes today, the only ministry geared toward marriage is marriage prep. Few parishes offer programming and activities geared toward marriage enrichment, but for those who do, most of these events are attended by relatively stable and happy couples.
Often hidden from the sight of our pastoral care are couples experiencing significant struggles in their marriage. Feeling isolated or unaware of helpful Catholic support and resources, these couples are at greater risk of advancing toward a troubled or crisis marriage, divorce, or settling for a mediocre marriage. Struggling marriages mean struggling families.
Through the combined resources of a Family of Parishes, we have the opportunity to provide more robust Marriage Ministry that accompanies couples throughout their married lives by:
accompanying couples across their marriage journey,
providing content and processes of marriage ministry, and
forming a substantial and ongoing network of couple-to-couple support for one another.
How to Develop Marriage Ministry in Families of Parishes
Know your audience. Survey married couples to know their needs, priorities, and preferences as the basis for developing targeted and relevant ministry.
Create a plan for all stages and needs of marriages. Marriage Ministry encompasses the spectrum of a couple’s journey from pre-marriage to death do us part. Each phase has its own challenges and needs, and each couple has their own unique challenges and needs. Consider starting small and first targeting the greatest needs in your community.
Capitalize on the Families of Parishes structure and resources that are available to you. Consider either centralizing marriage ministry within the Family or distributing different facets of ministry across the Family of Parishes. Collaborate on planning large outreach events and offering small group activities across the parishes.
Form a Marriage Ministry Team. Recruit volunteers (couples who are passionate and gifted for marriage ministry, deacon couples) who will serve as the backbone, inspiration, and innovation for a sustained and vibrant marriage ministry.
For extra support and resources, contact the AOD Marriage Support Office. As we begin to strengthen Marriage Ministry in our Families of Parishes, we have the opportunity to strengthen the domestic Church and strengthen couples in their vocation so that they can be witnesses to the beauty of marriage according to God’s plan.