" The idea is to build a relationship of trust between the couples and for the mentor couple to be the living connection to the parish community. " Peg Hensler Associate Director, Marriage Ministries and NFP

Throughout the years of his papacy, Pope Francis has consistently affirmed the Church’s essential role in nurturing the gift of Marriage among the faithful. 

He reiterates that teaching in his preface for a new Vatican document on sacramental Marriage preparation: “For the Church, in every age, is called to proclaim anew the beauty and abundance of grace contained in the Sacrament of Marriage and the family life which flows from it, especially to young people.”

The Holy Father has long sought the development of a special process of Marriage preparation that would include education, formation and accompaniment – a catechumenal approach similar to that which guides individuals who wish to become Catholic.

The goal, writes Pope Francis, “is to walk an important stretch of road together with couples in the journey of life, even after the wedding, especially during moments of crisis or discouragement.”

“Catechumenal Pathways for the Married Life” is the new Marriage preparation document that was released in June 2022 by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life. It is presented as a pastoral tool in response to the Holy Father’s call for “the implementation of a true catechumenate for future spouses including all the steps of the sacramental path: time of preparation for Marriage, its celebration, and the years immediately thereafter.”

Diocese’s Efforts

Fortunately, the Diocese of Trenton is among those dioceses that have been working toward a Marriage catechumenate for some time, said Peg Hensler, who handles Marriage ministry for the Diocese.

Hensler explained that the Diocese’s catechumenal model was based, in part, on a number of Church documents and a 2003 set of policies and guidelines for Marriage preparation for the Catholic Church in New Jersey. This model covers a multi-faceted approach to preparation, as well as pastoral care for the married couple beyond the wedding.

Hensler noted that the primary catalyst was the Diocese’s 2015 “Plan for Strengthening Marriage,” which outlines seven objectives for strengthening Marriage.

With the diocesan model, engaged couples choose mentors as part of an overall process that includes Pre-Cana and participation in a parish-based catechetical program focusing on Marriage.

 “The idea is to build a relationship of trust between the couples and for the mentor couple to be the living connection to the parish community,” said Hensler. 

She added that the main priority is “to create a team of married couples, along with clergy, who will be trained to oversee all Marriage prep efforts in the parish.”

Hensler is working with Father Jim Grogan, pastor, Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, to develop comprehensive training for clergy on the new Marriage preparation process, with an emphasis on identifying and recruiting mentors.

“We already have a few parishes where mentoring is being offered,” said Hensler, including Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Mary of the Lakes in Medford.

According to Father Grogan, couples who might be considered to serve in the role of mentor will have been married for at least five years, live out their Catholic faith, and are open to sharing their experience and guiding the new couple.

Accompaniment on the Journey

Father Grogan, married for 25 years and ordained a priest eight years after the death of his wife, brings a special insight to marriage.

“When we consider every important pursuit in our lives, we encounter times of discernment or searching, periods of transformation. We also often seek a mentor or coach to help us advance. That works for careers and for physical fitness. It also has a model in our sacramental life,” Father Grogan observed, noting sponsors for both Baptism and Confirmation, and now mentors for Marriage.

“That is where the idea of accompaniment seems to be a vital part of the journey of Marriage,” Father Grogan explained. “My personal experience has shown that both the newly married and the mentor couple benefit from the relationship and ongoing conversation. It seems that, like spiritual direction, all four of the participants grow from the in-depth conversations which accompany the mentoring role.”

Aspects of the new Vatican document are being looked at in a national conversation now being led by staff from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  One focus of the discussion, Hensler explained, is the call of married couples to the mission of evangelization, sometimes through their parish’s Marriage preparation ministry and by mentoring young, engaged couples, leading others to experience “the beauty and abundance of grace” available to them through the Sacrament of Marriage.

To learn more about the diocesan marriage catechumenate process visit dioceseoftrenton.org/better-together, or contact Peg Hensler, associate director, Marriage Ministries and Natural Family Planning, at [email protected].