This past Saturday we celebrated the Assumption of our Lady. Whenever this feast comes round, I am reminded of my time studying Italian in Siena, before I got thrown in the deep-end in Rome. (If you ever want to feel smarter than someone else, ask me about my first failed language exam.) Siena is famous for, amongst other things, its horserace called Il Palio, a race in which each suburb or contrada gets a horse. There are in fact two horseraces held over the summer in Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo, one in July and one in August.
The one in August is held around the Assumption, and celebrates this feast day. The Palio, itself, is actually the flag or banner that is the trophy awarded to the victorious contrada. The August banner has an image of the Assumption like you will find in our Church: with our Lady standing on the clouds. The Palio for July, though, is my favourite. Since Mary is not fully assumed in July, the banner has her halfway to heaven, wearing the clouds around her waist like a belt. It always seemed to me a brilliant image of the Church, partly in heaven and partly on earth, eyes fixed on heavenly things and with feet firmly planted on the ground. This brings me to what I mentioned last week at the end of the online Mass: our Parish’s mission in relation to marriages.
I said a few weeks ago that I thought my receiving the appointment to be Parish Priest and Director of Vocations at the same time might mean that our community had a special task to pray for vocations. I asked everyone to add three decades of the Rosary for this intention to their daily prayers. Well, I think it is even more obvious that this Parish has a special mission in relation to marriages. Our Church is justly popular with couples looking to get married. Its beauty speaks for itself. However, all these couples who come to us must be prepared for marriage. I think this is something we can take greater responsibility for.
At the moment, couples wishing to get married contact the Parish and then come for an initial interview. We then send them to do a marriage preparation course before a second interview at which we go through the prenuptial inquiry and the government requirements. However, I would like the parish to help the couples that come to us more personally. In particular, I would like the parish to help these couples with their marriage preparation. I have in mind that some experienced couples in the parish (probably with a few years under their belt) would be trained to accompany these couples as they prepare for marriage. The training would be in a few marriage preparation courses and in the use of some programs and techniques for preparation. Our parish couples would then send the couples to them for marriage preparation. A number of other parishes do it this way and it seems to have great results.
What we are looking for is a parish approach that recognises and cherishes the impetus for marriage, while at the same time kitting out the couples that come to us with some tools that might come in handy in living out their love for each other. This would involve all areas of relationship, and so better hand on the fullness and beauty of the Church’s teaching on this wonderful sacrament. Eyes on heaven, feet on the ground.
Before I ask people to volunteer their friends, I would love it if some couples could volunteer themselves. I promise that the parish will properly induct anyone so no-one will go into the job at a loss. Please do pray about this and let me know if you think this might be a way in which you could serve our neighbour. God bless!