Marriage and Family Life

Ss Anselm & Cecælia, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2
Parish response to Reflections on Marriage and Family Life

The discussion raised many issues re: Church teaching on marriage and its relationship with sacramental discipline. There were a minority who found that Church teaching on marriage is out-dated and the strictures of sacramental discipline are too exclusive/punitive for divorced Catholics who re-married outside the Church. On the other hand, there were many parishioners who agreed with both Church teaching on marriage and the conditions of sacramental discipline. These parishioners felt that the Church should resist being ‘changed’ to suit the needs of the ‘modern family’ and ‘changing socio-cultural’ realities for the sake of ‘bowing’ to relativism and the demands of secularisation.

Parishioners request the Synod to consider/address the following points:

I. Marriage is both a sacrament and a vocation. Catechesis on the spiritual understanding of Catholic marriage is sorely lacking. This needs to be taught to children, as well as to adults.

2. Catechesis is required to teach children/adults that a relationship with God is fundamentally and inextricable united to our relationship with the Church and with our neighbour.

3. Marriage preparation courses need to be implemented as standard procedure and need to be lengthier than merely a few sessions prior to marriage. A diocesan marriage preparation course should be introduced, run and supervised by the Diocese.

4. Many partners (particularly mothers) attend Mass/church services without their partner. Their children attend Catholic primary/secondary schools. Whether attendance is to secure admission to catholic education or is due to personal piety, or both, is undetermined. What is obvious is that their male partners seldom, if ever, attend. How might we encourage ‘family worship’ amongst these parishioners?

5. People in second marriages who are not receiving the Sacraments, but who attend Mass, may feel excluded. How do we increase their inclusion into the parish family? Could we invite them to be Lectors, to act as welcomers to those entering the church by handing out service leaflets/hymnals, and/or assist in the offertory collection and offertory procession by bringing forward the bread & wine?

6. Catholics who are divorced and remarried outside the Church, or Catholics in partnerships who have not been married should be encouraged/instructed that their participation in the Mass, even though they do not receive Holy Communion, still brings them grace (i.e. the teaching about “making a good spiritual communion”). They should be told that they are welcome to come up during the distribution of communion for a blessing. This blessing needs to be explained within the context of the ‘parish family: that they are, in fact, ‘in communion’ with all of us.

7. Couples in second marriages, who have withdrawn from the Sacraments because they were not married in the Church, and who no longer have conjugal relations with their partner should be encouraged to approach their priest to ask if they can receive the Sacraments.

8. A pamphlet entitled “Diocesan Guidelines” should address these issues, outlining for all couples the requirements for receiving Holy Communion.


Synod on the Family.
Westminster Deanery response to the reflection document for Clergy

It was felt by some that the tone of the text of this reflection document was often unhelpful, and failed to speak adequately of the great grace and joy of Marriage. There was a view that the document suggests that we are often lacking in mercy – which we are not, and this is not clear. There was a desire that we speak of a positive, beautiful and life-giving expression of marriage. How do we explain this to 18yr-olds who been raised on a diet of sexual freedom, open relationships and ignorance of the true vocation of Christian Marriage? We run the real danger of appearing as grey men out of all touch with our culture. Do we ever speak enthusiastically of heroism, holiness and virtue, all of which potentially connect to the natural idealism of youth. Mercy and truth must walk hand – in – hand. Do we have the courage and the conviction to proclaim that it is good to live in this way?

It was also asked what other Christian communities can teach us, in their approaches to living a coherent and courageous Christian witness? Without over-simplifying, how often do we accept the social status quo of ‘booze and promiscuity’ rather than challenge it with ideals of scripture – fidelity, sobriety, responsibility? Do we speak of the role of the Holy Spirit in moderating the passions and assisting us towards the truth of God’s plan revealed in Marital love? What could the evangelicals teach us, for example about preaching the value of marriage and family?

A strong point was made that whilst it is readily apparent that when these delicate questions surrounding marital issues are brought into the open, the clarifications that become necessary are difficult and complex, and can make us seem prescriptive and pharasaical. There was a view expressed that already in each of our ministries, there is a prayer thought and personal reflection, seeking solutions which are good for the faith and good for the people. Once these issues are brought into the open, for prescriptive or universal solutions to be found, they become intensely problematical. A certain prudence, was therefore urged.

A suggestion was made that the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy’s statement Marriage in the Teaching of The Catholic Church was a worthwhile reference point for many of these discussions.

This was energetically countered by a reflection on the real experience of parochial life and work, and that the ‘ideal’ (not a term widely appreciated by the members) of marriage was so very often not lived, but existing in simultaneity’ with regular faith-practice and parish participation. Gentleness with the people who fill our pews was urged, without detracting from the beauty of the truth we profess.