"The more the journey of preparation is deepened and extended in time, the sooner the couples will learn to correspond to the grace and strength of God and will also develop the "antibodies" to face the inevitable moments of difficulty and fatigue of married and family life."
The pope noted that those preparing couples for marriage could make no assumptions about the level of formation in the faith couples might have. Many, he said, "have remained stuck to some elementary notion of the catechism of the first Communion and, if all goes well, of Confirmation." Because of this "it is essential to resume the catechesis of Christian initiation to the faith, whose contents are not to be taken for granted or as if they were already acquired by the engaged couple."
Addressing these common gaps in couples' understanding of the faith would, Francis explained, both help them understand the faith and instil "a filial sense of the Church."
Above all, the pope stressed, priests and lay formators alike should welcome the opportunity to form couples over a period of years, not weeks, calling it an essential expression of the Church's maternal concern.
"It is an experience of joyful motherhood, when newlyweds are the object of the attentive care of the Church which, in the footsteps of her Master, is a caring mother who does not abandon, does not discard, but approaches with tenderness, embraces and encourages."
The pope also discussed the difficulties faced by couples whose unions did break down, noting that the first priority should be to revive their faith and help them "rediscover the grace of the sacrament," though in some cases the Church needed offer equal support through the nullity process which was also pointed toward the salus animarum.
Francis finished by noting that he was pleased to see that his reforms of the nullity process had been widely adopted into practice. These, he said, were meant as an aid to bishops and judicial vicars in dioceses whose work in tribunals is to seek the truth and "to comfort the peace of consciences, especially the poorest and far from our ecclesial communities."