Archbishop Nichols has said that the Church has much more work to do in order to prepare couples for marriage

The Archbishop of Westminster has said that the Church needs to do more to prepare and support married couples.

On the eve of being made a cardinal, Archbishop Vincent Nichols told The Catholic Herald that “there was much more to do” to better prepare Catholics for marriage, and said that the extraordinary synod on the family in October would be a chance to “examine our consciences” to see how well “we in our parishes” were responding to married life.

Highlighting the gaps in marriage formation for couples in England and Wales, the cardinal-elect said: “What’s missing is the bit that actually says to the couple ‘in marrying you’re entering more deeply into the life of God. In marrying, you will have available to you grace to help you to live this love together and to make it a firm building block of society in God’s plan.”

He said: “We do a lot about relationships and we do a lot of problem solving and we do a lot about the human side of it, but I think we also need to be much more attentive to how that human is open to the divine and how efforts must be accompanied by grace. How at the end of the day you say ‘it’s Christ that lives in this marriage not just me’. There’s much more to do by way of marriage preparation over a longer term and by way of support of marriage, especially in the first couple of years.”

Archbishop Nichols is due to be made a cardinal on Saturday, along with 18 other archbishops. He is also due to attend the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family later this year, and thanked the thousands of people who had responded to the survey on marriage and family life.

When asked how he as cardinal would address the gulf between the Church’s teaching and the way in which Catholic couples were living, Archbishop Nichols said that the Church had to understand why basic truths were misunderstood. He said: “We have to say ‘how is it that we’ve got into a situation where … God given truths, are so distant from experience and so hard to understand?”

“The vision that people have is for a steady life-long faithful marriage which will be the foundation of their family life and that’s what they aspire to, so it’s not the vision that’s the difficulty, it’s how we help each other to live it out.

“And there are people who have written in and who have said ‘I started a relationship with a girlfriend and it was a sexual relationship from the very beginning but after a bit when we began to think more seriously about our relationship we actually stopped that and we said OK now, we’ll wait until we’re married.’”

The cardinal-designate said that the question of whether re-married and divorced Catholics should receive Communion was a dilemma between “the truth of the compassion of Christ to be faithful” and “the truth of the permanence of marriage which Jesus taught very unambiguously to be faithful to”. He said: “It’s not easy to hold those two things together … that’s what these discussions over the next two years are going to be about … there are many different things that we can look at and listen to people about without pushing too quickly to the black and white questions and answers.”

For an extended version of this report see this week’s print edition of The Catholic Herald, out on Friday.