This article describes the impact of Familiaris Consortio in the years just after its publication.
“How do we encourage a vision of marriage as a vocation, as a domestic church? How does a parish offer support to its families quite explicitly rather than just assuming that families in fact give support to the parish? How do we recognise that family life is the basis, the basic school of faith and the basic school of prayer and often if people don’t receive much faith formation in their family it’s going to be quite difficult to provide it elsewhere. And how do we explain our teaching and how do we care especially for those in circumstances where their hopes have not worked out and they are living with a great disappointment or living with a sense of having been offended or having been rejected or betrayed or whatever else.” Archbishop Vincent Nichols
The comprehensive nature of Familiaris Consortio appears to have acted as a deterrent to a wider readership. Nevertheless, the document continues to guide those working in the area of pastoral care of marriage and family life, providing a framework within which to articulate the aims, objectives and challenges of family ministry. Amidst it’s 64,000 words are nuggets that are, as Dr Thomas points out, so powerful that it deserves a re-read, for example:
God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being. (11)
To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time. (12)
Each family finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored, and that specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: family become what you are. (17)
All members of the family….have the grace and responsibility of building, day by day, the communion of persons, making the family ‘a school of deeper humanity’: this happens where there is care and love for the little ones, the sick, the aged; where there is mutual service every day; when there is sharing of goods, of joys and of sorrows. (21)
Since the Christian family is a community…the family’s sharing in the Church’s mission should follow a community pattern: the spouses together as a couple, the parents and children as a family, must live their service to the Church and to the world. (50)
Another task for the family is to form persons in love and also to practise love in all its relationships, so that it does not live closed in on itself, but remains open to the community, moved by a sense of justice and concern for others, as well as by a consciousness of its responsibility towards the whole of society. (64)
Every parochial community must become more vividly aware of the grace and responsibility that it receives from the Lord in order that it may promote the pastoral care of the family. No plan for organised pastoral work at any level, must ever fail to take into consideration the pastoral care of the family. (70)
Immediate fruits of the Synod for the worldwide church include the creation of a Pontifical Council for the Family in 1981. In 1983 the publication of a Charter of Rights of the Family by the Holy See, followed up on a promise made in paragraph 46 of Familiaris Consortio to further study the rights of families.
A more local impact was felt in the pastoral visit of Blessed Pope John Paul II to Britain in 1982. The visit was themed around the seven sacraments with Knavesmire racecourse, York being the venue for the Celebration of Marriage and Family Life. In his sermon, the Pope explicitly referred to his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family.
“To the public authorities, and to all men and women of good will, I say: treasure your families. Protect their rights. Support the family by your laws and administration. Allow the voice of the family to be heard in the making of your policies. The future of your society, the future of humanity, passes by the way of the family.” Knavesmire, 31 May 1982
Dr David Thomas
Dr Thomas attended the Synod as a theological adviser, or peritus, to the American bishops. He reflects on the legacy of Familiaris Consortio.
Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter: Pages 12-13
Reactions to the publication of Familiaris Consortio from clerical and lay theologians, authors and practitioners in 1981/82. Newsletter Volume 5, No 2, March 1982.
Pontifical Council for the Family
A description of the duties of this Vatican council established by Pope John Paul II
Charter of Rights of the Family
The complete document from the Vatican