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Catechesis and the Church’s Commitment to the Family in Our Day

Catechesis and the Church’s Commitment to the Family in Our Day

Timothy P. O’Malley

In Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis addresses challenges to the family in late modern society. He notes:

The family is experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social bonds. In the case of the family, the weakening of these bonds is particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with one another despite our differences and to belong to one another; it is also the place where parents pass on the faith to their children. Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will. But the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple (EG §66).

In this sense, one of the essential missionary tasks for catechesis in the 21st century in the United States is ministry for the renewal of marriage and family life. This renewal is not merely the Church providing outreach for the family but the formation of the domestic church for its unique charism in the New Evangelization.

The Sacramental Structure of Marriage

The 1997 General Directory for Catechesis describes the liturgical task of catechesis not simply as an education into the meaning of the rites, but a formation into a liturgical form of life (GDC §85). Catechesis for marriage, in particular, requires this deeper education into the sacramental structure of marriage.

As John Paul II notes in Familiaris Consortio, the institution of marriage has been established by God as a way for men and women, created in the image of God, to form a  communion of love that is a reflection of the communion of love is the life of the Trinity:

God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love includes the human body, and the body is made a sharer in spiritual love (FC §11).

The marital communion is so integral to the human person that it is taken up in the Old Testament as a privileged way of understanding God’s own solicitous love of Israel and in the New Testament as a symbol of the mystery of the Church. In the Gospel of John, blood and water come forth from the side of Christ upon the cross just as Eve came forth from the side of Adam in the book of Genesis. This blood and water, representing baptism and the Eucharist, signifies that the Church is a nuptial mystery in which men and women are elevated to sharing in the divine life through a relationship with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

This bridal imagery is taken up by St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians. In a passage that has often generated controversy for the modern listener, Paul writes:

Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior for the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handled himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself (Eph. 5:21-28).

Here, the revolutionary nature of the passage is its focus upon mutual subordination of the couple to Christ. The love of the couple is now taken up into another mystery, the love of Christ directed to the Church. Subordination is not a matter of allowing oneself to become an object of the husband or wife’s control. Rather, it is a form of nuptial love taken up into the mystery of Christ’s love for the Church. As St. John Chrysostom writes, the love shared between husband and wife must be conformed to Christ’s own love: “Though she was [a sinner], Christ accepted her and made her beautiful. He washed her, and did not hesitate even to sacrifice Himself for her.”1

The sacrament of marriage builds upon the natural human communion between man and woman, so that their marital communion of love is transformed and elevated, becoming “the living and real image of that unique unity which makes of the Church the indivisible Mystical Body of the Lord Jesus” (FC §19). The couple becomes a sign of Christ’s love for the Church. In the Rite of Matrimony, the couple exchanges consent (what we might normally refer to as the vows). In the Latin Rite, these vows effect the sacrament of marriage itself. And what is effected? In one of the Eucharistic Prefaces for the sacrament of marriage, we hear:

For in him you have made a new covenant with your people,

so that, as you have redeemed man and woman

by the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection,

so in Christ you might make them partakers of divine nature

and joint heirs with him of heavenly glory.

In the union of husband and wife

you give a sign of Christ’s loving gift of grace,

so that the Sacrament we celebrate

might draw us back more deeply

into the wondrous design of your love.

The couple is not married in the sacrament as an expression of their own private love. Instead, the sacrament of marriage manifests to the Church and to the world Christ’s nuptial love. In every dimension of the couple’s life, particularly their life as a family, they serve now as signs of the sacramental life of the Church itself. The family, out of the couple’s consent, takes on a charisma of Eucharistic love in the world.

Thus, the family is a domestic Church precisely because it is a living and efficacious sign in the world of Christ’s nuptial love for all humanity. The family becomes an image of the Trinity in the world, where divine, loving communion is offered as a real possibility even in the mundaneness of the domestic sphere. John Paul II again notes in Familaris Consortio:

The Christian family…is called to experience a new and original communion which confirms and perfects natural and human communion…The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can and should be called ‘the domestic Church'” (FC §21).

The domestic Church, then, is not a rival ecclesial communion to the parish or the diocese. It is the concrete manifestation of Christ’s loving communion given through the Spirit in the domestic sphere itself. The couple’s consent, a gift offered to one another, now bears fruit through the gift of children, who also participate in the sacramentality of marriage through their parents.

Implications of the Sacramental Structure of Marriage for Evangelization in the United States

This sacramental structure of marriage is essential if one is to develop an approach to the New Evangelization through the family in the United States. Three aspects of this approach include: forming families in a broader sense of fruitfulness, fostering the Eucharistic vocation of the family through domestic practices of prayer, and developing an approach to marriage formation and family catechesis based in apprenticeship.

1. A Broader Sense of Fruitfulness

In an American context, the Catholic approach to family life (one that involves an openness to human life) is not always respected. The use of contraception among Americans is ubiquitous, and it is often difficult to convince couples of the perils of this contraceptive mentality. In this sense, the Church will need to address issues of procreation out of this sacramental sense of the marriage bond itself. As John Grabowski notes, the danger of contraception is that it forecloses the possibility of even offering our fertility as a gift to God and to one another:

To choose to eliminate or suppress one’s fertility negates part of the meaning of the gift…This is because fertility is not merely viewed as a biological aspect of the person that can be altered at his or her discretion, but like sexuality itself it is an existential reality (i.e., rooted in the order of existence) and pertains to the person as a whole.2

Fertility is not a marginal dimension of what it means to be a human being, particularly for women who experience the biological reality of this fertility more directly than men. Formation for Natural Family Planning, in the context of marriage, is not an education into a Catholic form of contraception, as it is frequently presented even by well-intentioned catechists. Natural Family Planning is a way of offering every dimension of our sexuality, including our fertility, to one another in Eucharistic love.

As Pope Francis remarks in Amoris Laetitia, however, fruitfulness is not reducible to the biological level. After remarking upon infertile couples’ ability to express marital fruitfulness through adoption and foster care, he writes:

We also do well to remember that procreation and adoption are not the only ways of experiencing the fruitfulness of love. Even large families are called to make their mark on society, finding other expressions of fruitfulness that in some way prolong the love that sustains them. Christian families should never forget that ‘faith does not remove us from the world, but draws us more deeply into it…Each of us, in fact, has a special role in preparing for the coming of God’s kingdom in the world.’

Catechesis for marriage and family life thus cannot be satisfied with teaching responsible use of human sexuality and communication skills. The telos (aim) of marriage formation and family catechesis is forming families to perceive their missionary vocation to renew society. Family life, just as every dimension of American life, can be treated as a form of individualism in which the family lives alone, cares for its own, and rarely engages with society in any significant way. Families are to bring the nuptial love at the heart of their lives into the world. Missionary discipleship for families is not optional if the Church is to carry out the New Evangelization.

Timothy O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy. He is the author of Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love (Liturgical Press, 2014). He is presently working on a monograph entitled On Praise: Worship and the Eschatological Imagination. This book is a work of historical liturgical theology, unfolding the eschatological dimensions of Christian worship in Augustine, John Henry Newman, Joseph Ratzinger, Jean-Yves LaCoste, and others.

He has been published in America Magazine, Liturgical Ministry, Studia Liturgica, Assembly:  A Journal in Liturgical Theology, and Liguorian Magazine.  He is the founding editor of the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s journal: Church Life:  A Journal for the New Evangelization, as well as the NDCL’s blog, Oblation. Recently, he wrote and recorded a mystagogical video for high school students on the Eucharist, entitled The Eucharist as Sacrament of Love, a project supported through the Alliance for Catholic Education.

Dr. O’Malley is a popular speaker both on campus and at a national level on topics ranging from liturgy, culture, vocation, evangelization, and catechetics.  He also serves as an Associate Professional Specialist in the Department of Theology, where he teaches courses on preaching, catechesis, liturgical theology, and the Scriptures.


  1. Are you, or do you know of someone, who has expressed an interest in becoming a Catholic?
  2. Are you, or do you know someone, who was baptized Catholic as a child, but has not celebrated the Sacraments of Confirmation, and Eucharist?

Little Flower Catholic Church offers you or someone you might know an opportunity to come together in a small group to learn more about our faith through our Program of R.C.I.A. (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). This Program, RCIA is how the early Christians joined the Church.

Catechumen and Candidate Documentation Requirement:

Attend to classes every Sunday from 10:00 am through 12:00 pm. We gather as a group at 9:30 am Mass and from there we will walk for our formation time.

We will start our Program on September 24, 2017

  1. Please provide along with this Application, your Baptismal certificate, First Communion certificate and Marriage certificate.
  2. The suggested donation, is $75.00. Checks should be made payable to the Church of the Little Flower. Please add in the check’s memo: “RCIA”.

Sponsor Requirements/documents:

  1. Sponsors must have received the Three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist and be living a life consistent with faith and with the responsibility of a godparent,
  2. Be members of the Catholic Church and canonically free to carry that responsibility.
  3. Please provide along with this Application, your Sponsor’s Baptismal certificate, First Communion, Confirmation and certificates.

Catechumen/Candidate Prior Marriage:

  1. Generally, Catechumen are those who are Non-Baptized and Candidates are those who were previously Baptized and are seeking full Communion and Confirmation. Those who are divorced and are presently re- married without obtaining a formal nullity from the Church from the prior marriage(s) (either the candidate, or their spouses) by the Church may not receive any of the Church’s Sacraments of Initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Communion).
  2. If that is your situation please address it with any of our Priests and the Pastor or his designee during your initial interview will guide you to go over and base in their recommendation you will proceed for registration.

Initial Interview with Pastor or Pastor’s Designee:

  1. All Catechumens and Candidates must meet with and have their application for enrollment in the RCIA Program reviewed and approved by Father Thomas O’Dwyer or his designee before or shortly after classes begin.
  2. You may obtain the application contacting the Office of Religious Education via e-mail: 
  1. Please call the Parish Office at (954) 922-3517 for an appointment.

Updated CCD Information


1st DAY OF

Dear Parents, Grandparents and Parishioners in General:

Systematic catechesis states that our children need to continue their religious education formation up to the completion of confirmation. This means first grade through and including eighth grade.  As an incentive, to pre-register your child/children for the 2017-2018 school year, we are lowering the base cost to $100.00, (1st child), with additional children at $40.00 each, and an additional cost of $25.00 each, for the sacraments.  This is a savings of $25.00, per family.  Pre-registration dates will be August 07-August 25, 2017, Monday thru Friday.

Religious Education Division.