Bishop Router blesses engaged couples and launches Accord Marriage Preparation Course in Belfast

14 Feb 2024

Good afternoon.  Today in Saint Mary’s Church we celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day a little early because as you know tomorrow is Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent.  As Vice President of Accord, the Catholic Marriage Preparation and Counselling Service, I offer this Mass for the work of Accord NI, whose headquarters are on these grounds, and for all the couples who are preparing for marriage and who are married and who avail of the services of Accord NI.

I pray especially today for three couples, Megan Neeson and Ben Mc Fetridge, Andrea Tohill and Hugh Corr and Nolan Devlin and Josefa Lasota, who are preparing for marriage in the near future.  I will bless their engagement and wedding rings after Mass in the adjoining grotto as we pray God’s blessing on their preparations and their future lives together.

Blessing of Rings and Launch of New Marriage Preparation Programme Saint Mary’s Belfast 

Today 14 February is normally associated with Saint Valentine but this year as you know it coincides with Ash Wednesday in the Church’s calendar, a day of fast and abstinence to begin the season of Lent. The clash makes it a little bit difficult to celebrate romantic relationships and the importance of marriage on the day itself. Some, however, with a more cynical viewpoint, might think it is very appropriate to dwell on marriage along with sack cloth and ashes on the same day, but we won’t go into that.

According to one of the many stories that surround Saint Valentine, he was a priest who lived and served in Rome in the third century during the reign of Emperor Claudius II.  Claudius was so serious about success in battle that he decided that single men made better soldiers than married men and as a result he outlawed marriage for the young.  Valentine knew that this was wrong and unjust, so he defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young people in secret.  Eventually he was arrested and martyred for defending love and marriage on the 14 February 269AD.  His last note from prison to a female friend was signed with “from your Valentine” a message that has certainly been replicated many times since.

There was obviously a very real threat to love and marriage in Valentine’s ancient Rome, but we also live in a time when the concept of marriage has been devalued.  Young men and women are often subtly encouraged by society to postpone marriage or indeed put it off altogether.

Thankfully, however, it is great to be able to say today that the three Accord Companies, Accord NI, Accord CLG and Accord Dublin prepared 7,265 couples for the Sacrament of Marriage across the island of Ireland in 2023.  Accord makes a remarkable contribution to the continued success and health of sacramental marriage and their work is valued and highly thought of by all those who avail of their preparation courses and indeed the support of their marriage counselling.

Today I as the Vice-President of Accord I officially launch here in the North of Ireland the new and updated Marriage Preparation Course “Marriage is a Journey, not a destination”.  The development of this updated Accord marriage preparation programme is the result of collaboration between vastly experienced marriage facilitators, educators, and counsellors from all over the island.  It has received a warm and enthusiastic approach from couples where it has already been delivered and today three of the couples who have recently completed the course will join us at the Grotto immediately after the Mass to take part in a blessing of rings.  They are Megan Neeson and Ben Mc Fetridge, Andrea Tohill & Hugh Corr, and Nolan Devlin and Josefa Lasota.

This marriage preparation programme that they have just experienced, and which we are officially launching, is the first major revision of the content in twenty years and it takes account of changes in society and in peoples relationship expectations over the past two decades.  It incorporates the most up-to-date psychological understanding of what makes relationships happy and fulfilling.  The Church’s understanding of the nature of Sacramental marriage is clearly laid out and its spirituality is woven through all the programme units.  It guides the participating couples through essential conversations that they may not yet have had, including their family of origin, their values, work life balance, intimacy and sexuality, extended family responsibilities, and parenthood.  They are given an opportunity as well to develop techniques for more effective communication with each other and for the resolution of the inevitable conflict that may occur from time to time.

Pope Francis in his addresses to married couples, and to couples preparing for marriage, over the years has told them to enjoy marriage, to have faith in each other, and to develop a personal spiritual life and relationship with God.  This is actually the most important thing you can do in marriage. God belongs – not on the margins – but in the middle of every relationship and every family.  Data indicates that people of faith have lower marriage breakdown rates because of a strong appreciation for the permanence of marriage, a commitment to family and the positive and long-lasting effect of good marriage preparation – the type of strong marriage preparation provided by Accord NI.

So today as we pray for those preparing for marriage, we pray that they may see the close correlation between success and happiness in marriage and family life, and prayer and worship of God.  Saint Valentine knew the importance of marriage and was prepared to lay down his life for it, so may we recapture our own sense of the importance of married love and relationships in a challenging world and be prepared to do all that we can to promote and protect it.

Prayer for Engaged Couple and Blessing of Rings – Saint Mary’s Belfast

Invitation to Prayer
I wish to invite you all now to please join with me in prayer for:
Megan Neeson and Ben Mc Fetridge, Andrea Tohill & Hugh Corr and Nolan Devlin and Josefa Lasota, and for all engaged couples.

Prayer for Engaged Couples
Heavenly Father, we praise You for your wisdom in arranging that man and woman should not be alone but should unite themselves to each other to form a partnership in love, bringing forth new members for your kingdom.

Bless all couples who have manifested their intention to join their lives in marriage in the future. Keep them close to You and to one another, deepen their spirit of prayer and love, and lead them to receive the Sacrament of marriage with joy and happiness.

We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord.  Amen

Blessings of Rings
bless these rings.
Grant that those who wear them
May always be faithful to each other.
May they do your will and live in peace with you in mutual love.
We ask this through Christ, our Lord. 

Presentation of Saint Brigid’s Cross
Finally, let us remember an important tradition in Ireland. There was, and is, a custom in many places of parents presenting their son or daughter who was getting married with a Saint Brigid’s Cross on the day of the wedding. This year is a very important year as it is the 1500th anniversary of Brigid’s life and ministry and the important role she played in establishing the Christian faith on this island. She gave a powerful example in all that she said and did to the pagan society that surrounded her of the importance of love and respect for human dignity in all human relationships.#

Now I wish to present to:
Megan Neeson and Ben Mc Fetridge, Andrea Tohill & Hugh Corr and Nolan Devlin and Josefa Lasota a Saint Brigid’s Cross.

Saint Brigid is of course the secondary Patron of Ireland and the Marriage Prayer Cross of Saint Brigid, is a specially designed wooden cross which has become a central symbol at significant ACCORD events, and it represents the enduring power of God’s love for all humanity. The love, that hopefully, will inspire, guide and light up the lives that these young couples will share.

Introduction:  Our Lord is great and almighty, so we bring our prayers to him with confidence and trust.

  1. For all married couples and for those preparing for marriage, that the Lord, who has brought them together will keep them forever in fidelity and love.  Lord, hear us.
  2. For God’s Church, the Bride of Christ, that it may be united in faith and love and be an example to the world of unity and fidelity.  Lord, hear us.
  3. For the work of Accord NI that it may continue to guide couples on their journey of love and support them in times of challenge and difficulty.  Lord, hear us.
  4. For all the sick — at home, in hospitals or in nursing homes. That their faith and our prayers will bring them healing this dayLord, hear us.
  5. We pray for peace in our very troubled world especially in Gaza and Ukraine.  May those who wage war and bring misery to millions of people have a change of heart and follow the route of negotiation and peace.  Lord, hear us.
  6. We pray for those who have died especially for all our deceased relatives and friends, that they may savour the sweetness of the Lord in the heavenly Jerusalem.  Lord, hear us.