ARLINGTON, Va. — Hundreds of local couples celebrated their long-running marriages at a special Mass on Sunday sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.

The church’s annual Marriage Jubilee Mass is being held Sunday afternoon at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More in Arlington. The diocese’s retiring bishop, Paul Loverde, presided over the Mass.

Among those participating were 150 couples celebrating their 25th anniversary, and 109 couples celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Doing the math, that’s more than 9,000 years of marriage combined.

While marriage and family have life have always been a major pastoral priority of the Catholic Church, they’ve taken on a new significance during the past three years under Pope Francis. The pontiff convened two summits of Catholic bishops from around the world devoted to the family, called “synods,” and also issued an apostolic exhortation titled Amoris Laetitia devoted to family.

While the resulting debate over Amoris focused mostly on its language about the possibility of readmitting divorced and remarried Catholics to Communion, long stretches call for greater pastoral attention to strengthening already flourishing marriages and families.

Loverde, 76, has served as the bishop of Arlington since 1999. He was recently replaced by Bishop Michael Burbidge, formerly of the diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.

In his homily, Loverde recounted visiting the home of a family whose husband and father was aboard Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11. The wife, who was deeply distressed and saddened, nevertheless told Loverde that she couldn’t be angry with God. She explained that 29 years earlier, her husband had been one of only two survivors of a small plane crash.

“God gave me 29 more years of married life with him. I’m so grateful for the gift of those 29 years,” she said. “This story reflects a woman of faith … Love is about giving. Love is other-centered and recognizes the other as a gift,” said Loverde.

“Thank you for taking your vocation seriously…I encourage you to make that love a leaven in our world…to transform the world,” Loverde said.

Loverde invited the couples to join hands, face each other and renew the vows of their wedding day.

First the husbands and then the wives repeated the words, “I, this afternoon before this holy assembly, do joyfully reaffirm my love for you. I rejoice in recalling our wedding day, when I took you as my beloved wife/husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”

At the conclusion of Mass, couples processed to Loverde, who presented them with a certificate from the diocese commemorating the day and bestowing a blessing.

The Catholic Herald in the Diocese of Arlington also contributed to this report.