Bishop Nulty celebrates Mass for couples who are engaged and renewing their marriage vows

12 Feb 2024

It’s a great joy for me to celebrate Mass once again here in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on Whitefriar Street in Dublin.  I wish to thank the Prior, Father Simon Nolan, and the Carmelite team, here for the warm welcome.

This is the church of the relics of Saint Valentine, but more importantly it is the church just off one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city, where people call into say a quite prayer, to light a candle, to go to Confession or to attend Mass.  I welcome the visitors to this Shrine who are gathering with us for Mass this morning. 

Wednesday is Saint Valentine’s Day, it is also Ash Wednesday.  We have had the clash of dates before, most recently in 2018 and before that in 1945!  So the choice on Wednesday will be ‘romance’ or ‘penance’! 

Immediately after this Mass I will bless the rings of two engaged couples – Sinéad and Darren; Siobhan and Kieran – over at the Shrine of Saint Valentine where the relics have been venerated since the 1950’s.  I have been coming to the Shrine for this particular ceremony for over ten years now.  I am always moved by the number of couples and individuals who call in to spend time at the shrine. 

The couples whose rings I will bless represent the many couples who will celebrate the sacrament of marriage across this island over the coming year.  In our Mass we pray for all of them.  But we also pray for couples who have come here today especially to renew their vows, their love, their commitment to one another.

In today’s first reading, Saint James applauds the gift of patience.  Patience is a critical component in the area of commitment.  In our gospel Saint John reminds us that we are loved by Jesus and our love is to be an imitation of His love for us.  Pope Francis, who is a master of the simple message reminds us that “The name of God is mercy” and so conscious of that, we pray for mercy … 

I have just returned from Rome where I attended an International Conference on the Ongoing Formation of Priests.  A number of the speakers didn’t like the term ‘ongoing formation’ and much preferred the phrase ‘accompaniment’.  Just as we need to accompany our dedicated and committed priests, so too we need to accompany couples on their journey of sacramental marriage preparation and indeed living that sacrament every day. 

There was a particular appeal on the final morning of our Conference to give ‘ongoing formation’ a good image; renewal or formation is not just for those who are experiencing difficulties.  Formation is not just about problems but about grace and beauty.

I welcome the many Ecclesial and Marriage Movements, alongside representatives of Accord CLG and Accord Dublin CLG who are present today.  All are here to offer every support and accompaniment to couples on their marriage journey.  As we later launch the revised and updated Marriage Preparation Programme offered by Accord through its three companies across the island, I will also be launching an information flyer on these movements and the supports they offer couples in today’s challenging context as they live out their marriage promises. 

I love celebrating the marriages of my nephews and nieces.  I think back to 15 December last and the marriage in the Church of the Assumption, Bansha, of my nephew Leo to Shauna.  I look forward to 11 October to the ceremony in the Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow for my niece Eleanor to Alan.  Being a part of their celebration is not something I, in any way, take for granted.  The numbers who choose to celebrate their marriage in a Catholic Church, while lower than the past, remains the most popular form of ceremony in Ireland.

For us guests being a part of any sacramental celebration is always a privilege.  A sacrament that a couple have been in fact preparing for, in the context of their family, from their earliest years.  Nothing beats growing up in a loving, faith-filled home, some might call that ‘privileged marriage preparation’.  We realise many don’t have that experience and the sacrament still speaks massively to those couples.  The importance once again of the role of ecclesial movements in the life of these couples cannot be underestimated.  In the sacrament God promises always to be by the side of the couple.  Saint John reminds us “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you”, the understanding that we are loved by God, held by God, treasured by God is very special.

Pope Francis is very anxious that, like God, we too are by the sides of these young couples.  He calls it accompaniment, walking alongside the couple, at their pace, in their step.  There are many ways we can support couples in their early years of marriage, some of them will appeal to some couples, others may need a very different form of accompaniment.  The key message is don’t presume to leave couples on their own, don’t assume your unobtrusive support, your quiet prayers, your occasional small chat will go unnoticed.  They are deeply appreciated and very much necessary.  We can and should do so much more at the individual parish level. 

Today’s ceremony of the blessing of rings and the launch of the new Accord Marriage Preparation Programme at the Shrine of Saint Valentine are happening on Day 6 of ‘National Marriage Week 2024’.  I think we need to do more to promote this week.  All couples need support. 

The new Accord programme is grounded in the practical lived experience of the married couple as they navigate life’s opportunities as well as its challenges.  I thank the many behind the programme, it’s shape and structure, it’s design and delivery.  I go back to November 2017, when we held the initial meeting, attended by facilitators, counsellors and priest directors from Accord, members of the Irish Episcopal Conference Council for Marriage and the Family and other specialists to reflect on such a review.  Those seven years, interrupted by the Covid pandemic, have passed too quickly, but the end result is so much worth the wait.  How delighted I was torecently join an Accord Preparation Programme in late January to hear couples respond so positively to the new programme and its couple-centred methodology.

The Marriage Preparation Programme, alongside the work of Counselling where couples who are experiencing difficulties receive support, continue to be hugely important and appreciated.  I will let the specialists in their own time speak to the statistics.  I note the highest presenting counselling problems include intimacy, conflict, communication and family issues.  The hope and intention is that the new Marriage Preparation Programme might future proof relationships, helping couples to identify the attitudes, behaviours and values that are key to their future relationship.  Maybe the new programme might be looked on as a ‘primary prevention programme’, knowing that specialised and professional help is there if necessary in the future.  As I was reminded in Rome, Ongoing Formation or Accompaniment is not just for problems or difficulties, but for life.   

There are those of you gathered here who wish to renew your own marriage vows, your own commitment, your own love for one another.  Your renewal of your marriage vows today show it’spossible to live the sacrament, to be that sacrament to one another.  I now invite each of the couples to stand and to hold hands as you renew the promises you made on your wedding day as we anticipate the Feast of Saint Valentine on Wednesday next.


• Bishop Denis Nulty of Kildare & Leighlin is President of Accord CLG. Accord, the Catholic marriage care service, was established in 1962 and today has 54 centres on the island of Ireland.