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Christian Marriage

by Irish Hierarchy

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    Christian Marriage is the full text of the 1969 Lenten Pastoral, signed on behalf of the Irish Hierarchy by: His Eminence Cardinal Conway; the Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev. Dr. McQuaid; the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr. Welsh and the Archbishop of Cashel, Most Rev. Dr. Morris. It is perhaps one of the best treatises on marriage according to the theology of St. Paul.
  • Publisher & Date:
    Prow Publishers, USA, 1970

Introduction

When commenting on his Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI said he hoped that scholars especially would be able to discover in the document the genuine thread that connects it with the Christian concept of life. That is exactly what the Bishops of Ireland have done in their 1969 Lenten Pastoral, Christian Marriage. Their statement, for all the people is direct and without ambiguity. It is profound but written with an ease that makes it a pleasure to read. It is poetic but practical.

The Pastoral begins by pointing out that God is love: thus love is from God and "to be like God's love for us, the love of man for woman must be faithful, unchanging, dependable unto death, must be patient, unwearying, forgiving."

The Pastoral is Pauline and perhaps one of the very best treatises on marriage according to the theology of St. Paul; but one does not have to be a theologian to understand the document. Actually, one of the great beauties of the Pastoral is its clarity.

The Bishops make a rather keen observation when comparing Humanae Vitae to the theology of St. Paul. "It would be difficult not to see from these passages (St. Paul is quoted more meaningfully than I've ever seen him quoted in any essay) the kinship between the first Paul and the Pope who bears his name."

This document should be translated into every language and be required reading for every Catholic, starting with eighth graders; for that matter, it might well be read by all people of good will. It is indeed a great pleasure for Scepter to present it here and we hope that once you have read it you too will want to have all your friends in on what I consider a modern masterpiece written in a most propitious time.

William J. Gilligan

Christian Marriage

Dear Brethren In Christ:

1. In his recent Encyclical on Human Life,1 Pope Paul extended an urgent invitation to all the bishops of the Church to give a lead to their priests who assist them in the sacred Ministry and to the faithful of their dioceses and to devote themselves with all zeal and without delay to safeguarding the holiness of marriage, the better to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection.

2. The Holy Father asked bishops to regard this mission as one of their most urgent responsibilities at the present time.

3. As part of our response to this appeal of the Vicar of Christ, we, the archbishops and bishops of Ireland, address to our people this joint pastoral letter on Christian marriage.

Love Is From God

4. There is no word more frequently repeated in modern speech and song than the word love. But overuse has made the word wear thin. To give back to the word love its proper depth, we must raise our thoughts to God, from whom love comes.

5. After all, as St. John tells us, love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love. (1 John, 4: 7-8).

6. Even without God's revelation, we could find from the experience of love itself that it comes from God and points back to God again. The very language of human love is full of words, which belong rightly to religion and can be properly used only about God. People in love cannot help speaking of their loved one as divine and adorable and of their love as undying, everlasting, eternal. They cannot help feeling that love comes from beyond themselves and carries them beyond themselves. It makes them feel that here on earth they are already enjoying something like a foretaste of the happiness of heaven. Someone has truly said that Woman promises to man what God alone can give.

7. The only possible explanation is that, whether we realize it or not, all human love is really a longing for God. Only God can give that timeless happiness, that perfect satisfaction, that unchanging lovableness, that unfailing faithfulness which men and women are seeking in one another's love, but cannot fully find there. Both the joys and the sorrows of human love show that we are made for divine love. As St. Augustine said, our hearts are made for God and cannot rest until they rest in God.

8. It follows that, if human love is to begin to satisfy the heart of man, it must imitate God's love as closely as possible. To be like God's love for us, the love of man for woman must be faithful, unchanging, dependable unto death, must be patient, unwearying, forgiving. And this is just what men and women know love ought to be. Even instinctively they reject as false any love, which makes conditions or permits exceptions or puts time limits. Christian marriage is only taking the words from the lips of human love when it says: I take you to be my wedded spouse, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, and thereto I plight you my troth. Faith and fidelity, vow and pledge, and hope, these are forever part of the language of human love, as they are also part of the language of religion.

9. Never was it so necessary to defend the sacredness of love as it is in our day. What is needed is to restore love to the pattern God intended it to have. To do this, we have to believe in love. And we Christians do believe in love, because we believe in God. St. John says: We ourselves have known and put our faith in God's love towards ourselves. God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God and God lives in him. (1 John, 4:16). One is forced to ask whether, in the end, human love can be saved, or can be kept from destroying itself, except through faith in God. This is why Pope Paul begins the central part of his encyclical with the words:

Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it derives from God and finds its supreme origin in God who 'is Love', the Father 'from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named'.

Love In Christ

10. God puts so much value on the love of the human beings that He has Himself created, that He uses the language of love between man and woman to describe his own relations with men. All through the Bible, God speaks of His love for His people in terms of marriage.

11. But it is in Christ that the place of love and marriage in God's plan becomes most sublime. The union of love between God and man reaches its consummation in the Incarnation, when God becomes flesh. It is when God and man are made one flesh in Jesus Christ that the words of the Bible about the first marriage, between Adam and Eve, are fulfilled. For then they two, God and man, are one flesh.

12. Because of the Incarnation, each man until the end of time is given power to become, through grace, a son of God, for each man can now become one single body with Christ. This is in fact what happens when we are baptized. By baptism we are made, mysteriously but truly, one and the same Body with Christ. This is what the word Christening means. This is what it is to be a Christian.

13. The whole of Christian sexual morality is derived from baptism. Chastity, and the modesty which protects it, is for Christians simply the reverence, respect and admiration we owe to the Body of Christ, which our own baptized bodies are. This is the source of what St. Paul has to say about Christian sexual morality and about Christian marriage. St. Paul says that the evil of fornication is that it is a sin against the Body of Christ. For our bodies are the Body of Christ. Surely you know, he says, that your bodies are members making up the body of Christ. He goes on, in an extraordinary sentence, to ask: Do you think I can take parts of Christ's body and join them to the body of a prostitute? By baptism, we are joined to the Lord: and anyone who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

14. St. Paul, as you see, does not divide man into a body, which is base or evil and a soul which is spirit and good. No, he says the baptized body is body made spiritual. The life of the body, if lived in Christ, is part of what he means by spiritual. He ends by saying: Your body, you know, is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you since you received Him from God . . . That is why you should use your body for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians, 6:20).

In Christ And In The Church

15. When St. Paul speaks of our becoming one body with Christ in Baptism, he recalls the words of the Bible about Adam and Eve becoming one body in marriage. Baptism makes a unity between man and woman. Everyone of us is like Eve, chosen by Christ, the New Adam, as the helpmate, made like to Himself, to be loved forever.

16. St. Paul and the Early Church saw the story of Adam and Eve and the first creation as getting its full meaning only from Christ and the Church and the New Creation which Christ brings about through the Church. According to the Book of Genesis, Eve was taken by God from the side of Adam while he slept. The Early Church, following St. Paul and St. John, saw the Church as the New Eve who was taken from the side of Christ as He slept in death upon the Cross. The Church was signified by the blood and water, which St. John saw flowing from the heart of Christ after the soldier pierced His dead body with the lance. The water and the blood stand for baptism and the Blessed Eucharist and the other sacraments. By these, Christ's love unites the Church to Himself and joins Christians in one body with Himself forever.

17. This is the background to St. Paul's wonderful passage about marriage.

Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her to make her holy. He made her clean by washing her in water with a form of words, so that when he took her to himself she would be glorious, with no speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless. In the same way, husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies; for a man to love his wife is for him to love himself. A man never hates his own body, but he feeds it and looks after it; and that is the way Christ treats the Church, because it is his body — and we are its living parts. For this reason (here St. Paul quotes Genesis), a man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body. This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church. To sum up; you too, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself; and let every wife respect her husband. (Ephesians, 5:25-33).

18. In this passage, marriage is shown, not only to be naturally good and sacred, but to be a sacrament, a great sacrament, in Christ and in the Church. In Christian truth, woman is the New Eve, recreated in baptism in the beauty of the radiant grace with which Christ clothes her. She is brought by Christ to her husband, as Eve was to Adam, to see what name he will give her: and he calls her my wedded wife . . . in Christ and in the Church. But she is no longer for man the temptress and accomplice in sin. Instead she is given to him as grace and as companion in holiness.

19. It is here, in the light of faith, that we must seek the true beauty of love. But this vision of faith is not 'other-worldly' in the sense of either denying the difficulties or ignoring the delights of ordinary human experience. Everything truly human is assumed by Christ and redeemed and transfigured by Him. The attraction between boy and girl, romance, love, sex, motherhood, parental joy, all these are taken up in Christ and made to shine with a new, divine significance.

Baptism And Marriage

20. The beginning of all Christian newness is our baptism. Baptism and Christian marriage are closely connected. The marriage of Christians is not just a two-in-oneness of two personalities growing into one another. It is a three-in-oneness of two personalities growing together into Christ. Each partner has been married already — to Christ; and their marriage to one another is a renewal and deepening of their marriage to Christ. Christian marriage is a deepening of baptism. Each of the partners has been made one body with Christ by baptism before they are both made one body with one another by marriage. This is why St. Paul says: husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies. He means as they love Christ's Body. It is in Christ's Body that Christian man and wife are one.

21. The bridal dress should rightly be seen as a putting on again of the baptismal robe. At baptism, it was put on as the clothing of grace and holiness in Christ, with the words: Take this white garment; wear it still unstained before the judgment-seat of Our Lord Jesus Christ so that you may have eternal life. Along with the white robe was given a lighted candle, with the words: Take this burning light and guard your baptism without reproach. Keep the commandments of God, that when the Lord shall come to the marriage feast you may be ready to meet Him together with all the saints in the court of heaven, to live with Him forever and ever.

22. And now the bride is here, with the robe of grace preserved since baptism or restored by penance, and with the light of faith burning brightly. And Christ is here to meet her, at her marriage feast, as He was at Cana. Her love is given to Christ first, before being given to her husband. It is taken from her by Christ and purified, sanctified, made strong and deathless like His love on the Cross, and then passed on by Christ to her husband. Christ, who dies now no more, is the undying bond between them from this day forward. They themselves, at most, can love till death do them part. But in Christ their love can become eternal charity, which can live in the heart of the Blessed Trinity forever.

23. Christian man and wife love one another in Christ, and through Christ. As they go through life together, Christ is there in the midst of them. Christ Himself said: Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matthew, 18:20). Of whom is this promise more true than of man and wife, joined together in matrimony in Christ and in the Church, and blessed by Christ's priest with the words: I join you in matrimony, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?

24. Blessing the bride's wedding ring, the priest prays that she may observe complete faithfulness to her spouse and live always in the peace of God and in union with His will and spend all her days in mutual charity. He asks this, through Christ, Our Lord. Only the wife who loves Christ first and her husband in Christ, can love her own, as Christ did, till the end.

25. The priest is there to witness the marriage, in the name of the Church. He represents the bishop and the Church, so as to make sure that the inseparable unity between Christ and His Church is reflected in the joining together in marriage of these two Christians. The presence of the bishop, through his priests, at a Christian wedding, is proof of the holiness the Church sees in marriage. Fifteen hundred years ago, one of the questions put to a bishop before his consecration was to make sure that he did not belittle marriage. One of the oldest collections of canon law in the Church declares that it is blasphemous to look with contempt on marriage. In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas asserted that to hold the marriage act to be evil is the most pernicious of heresies.

26. It is true that the Church has always held, and will always hold, that consecrated virginity is in itself a higher form of Christian calling than marriage. Virginity is an immediate union with Christ, a direct and total dedication to His love; whereas marriage is a union with Christ through union with another, a commitment to love Him in partnership with another. But virginity itself was always seen in terms of marriage — marriage with Christ. The theology of marriage was, in fact, developed side by side with the theology of virginity and the liturgy of marriage has close links with the liturgy of the consecration of virgins. A modern theologian has written: Wherever virginity has been denied the right to exist within the Church, the sacramental nature of marriage has also not been recognized.

27. The celibate priest is the great support and stay of Christian marriage. He can be the friend of all Christian couples because he has chosen to be the friend exclusively of the Divine Bridegroom, in whom all Christian wives are wed.

28. He is the continual reminder to Christian couples to lift up their hearts to Christ on the Cross and beyond the Cross to Christ in glory. Priestly celibacy reminds married people that marriages have their origin in heaven and find their fulfillment only in heaven. St. Paul said, and the priest repeats to married people: When Christ is revealed — and he is your life — you too will be revealed in all your glory with him. (Colossians 3:4). It was a Protestant who said recently: When the vocation of celibacy is under-rated, that of marriage is under-rated too.

The Blessed Eucharist And Marriage

29. It is normally during the celebration of the Eucharist that the bride and bridegroom confer the sacrament of marriage on one another. They thus perform, at one and the same time, the two highest exercises of their baptismal priesthood. They minister to one another the grace of redemption and then together they offer to the Father, with and through the priest, the Body and Blood of His Son.

30. It is supremely fitting that it is before the altar of the world's greatest love that human love is turned into grace, while wine is changed into the Blood that was shed for us and for all men so that sins may be forgiven. In the nuptial Mass, Christ is present at each Christian wedding, as He was at Cana. At that wedding feast of Cana, the fact that the wedding couple had no wine was not only a fact but also a symbol. It was a symbol of the poverty and helplessness of man before the coming of Christ. It recalled the words of Isaiah: There is lamentation in the streets: no wine, joy quite gone, gladness banished from the country. (Isaiah 24:11).

31. The water with which Jesus told the waiters to fill the water pots was also a symbol as well as a fact. It symbolized the helplessness and uselessness of the Old Law, the hopelessness of man without Christ.

32. But Christ changes everything. The worthless water becomes wine, exuberant, abundant, unsurpassed. Lamentation is changed into joy and gladness explodes in the land. Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, has come: and the hearts of Christians are full of joy at the sight of Him and that joy no one shall take from them. (John 16:22).

33. The miracle of Cana was worked at the prayer of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. No one knows better than she the difficulties and the needs of married people. It is she who points out these difficulties and these needs to her Son. Son, they have no wine . . . they have no house, no work, no money, no health, no courage, no hope . . . Through Mary's prayers, in any Christian marriage, as at Cana, Our Lord will let his glory be seen and his disciples will believe in him. (John 1:11).

34. Cana refers not only to marriage but also to the Blessed Eucharist. The change of water into wine points to the change of wine into the Blood of the New and Everlasting Covenant. Cana is Christ's pledge to all Christian couples that, through the sacrament of matrimony and through the Blessed Eucharist, the weakness of their human love will be transformed by Him into unconquerable grace and its sorrows turned into joy in the unshakable assurance of His victory.

35. The Blessed Eucharist is at the beginning of marriage; it is also its end and its purpose. The ultimate purpose and the normal effect of Christian marriage is to bring children into the world for the worship of God, in time and in eternity; in other words, the supreme privilege of marriage is to increase the Eucharistic Community.

36. We know that on the Cross Our Lord was praying Psalm 21, whose first line is My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The last verses of this psalm express Our Lord's longing that multitudes would be brought to worship His father through His sacrificial death. All the earth shall remember and return to the Lord, all families of nations worship before him. Christian couples fulfill this longing of the dying Christ when they bring their children to offer Mass in memory of Him. Christian parents can make the concluding words of this psalm their own: My soul shall live for Him, my children serve Him. They shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come, declare His faithfulness to peoples yet unborn.

Love Is Forever

37. The Church is the Virgin Spouse of Christ. Each Christian bride represents the Church herself. Marriage is a sacrament because the Christian bride's union with her husband represents and makes present the union of Christ with his Church. The union of a Christian wife and husband can no more be broken than the union of Christ with His Church.

38. Indeed, God made marriage indissoluble of its very nature from the beginning. When Christ was asked whether divorce was permissible, He quoted the words describing God's creation of man and woman in the Book of Genesis. Have you not read that the Creator from the beginning made them male and female and that He said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body. Our Lord went on to give His own explanation of these words.

39. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then what God has united, man must not divide. (Matthew 19:5).

40. St. Paul in turn explained these words from Genesis as referring also to Christ himself, who becomes one flesh with His Church; and he taught that every Christian becomes, through marriage, one flesh with his wife in Christ. To suppose that that union could be broken, and another union contracted, would be the same as to suppose that Christ could desert His Church or the Church be unfaithful to Christ. In other words, the impossibility of divorce is bound up with the very fundamentals of our faith. A demand for condonation of divorce could only arise among a people who had suffered a fatal loss of faith in Christ. No opinions or speculations of men can ever prevail or will ever avail against the words of Christ. It was after instructing the pastors of the Church to teach all the nations all the things he had commanded them, that Christ promised to be with them always, even to the end of time. (Matthew, 28:20).

41. Even from the human and social point of view, experience has shown that divorce causes widespread injury to the common good. It represents a permanent threat to the peace and harmony of married lives and to the stability of families. Marriage is a lifelong task and nothing less than lifetime is enough to bring out its full potentialities. The greatest joys and deepest satisfactions of marriage often lie on the other side of rifts and crises, which, in a society permitting divorce, might have ended the marriage.

42. Divorce inflicts a great wrong on children. Children need love as much as they need air or food. They need to feel secure in the faithful love their parents have for one another. The first right of the child is that its parents love one another irrevocably. The first duty of parents to their children is to love one another around their children. One of the prime factors in the contemporary problem of maladjusted youth is the instability of marriage in modern secular society. The Second Vatican Council calls divorce a plague and a profanation of marriage. It appeals to public authority to regard it as a sacred duty to recognize, protect and promote the authentic nature of marriage and the family, to shield public morality and to favor the prosperity of domestic life.

43. The doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage is the greatest protection of human love against its own inherent weaknesses. Christ's doctrine gives married people the security of knowing that they have all their years before them to learn to love, to begin over and over again to love. Christian marriage permits them to mature from first love to the second love, which is the genuine married love, the love which forgives more than it demands, which accepts rather than tries to dominate or possess. Christian marriage gives love time to grow. There is no greater uncharity and injustice to married people than to tell them they are free to stop trying to love.

As Christ Loved The Church

44. Married love itself demands and desires everlastingness. But the Christian has the unique privilege of having the example of Christ to inspire his married love and the grace of Christ in the sacrament of matrimony to make it possible.

45. St. Paul, as we saw, calls on husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her. It is from Christ Crucified that married people have to learn how to love one another. Let husband and wife go on their knees before the Crucifix and there ask themselves if they have loved enough, endured enough, given enough, forgiven enough. They will hear only one word from the Crucified: A new commandment I give you: love one another just as I have loved you. (John 13:34). They must not forget that it was on the same night in which He was betrayed that Jesus said: This is my body, which will be given up for you (1 Corinthians 11:23-4).

46. Christian couples should examine themselves again and again by God's own standard of true love, as given in St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.

Love is always patient and kind: it is never jealous; love is never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and is not resentful. Love takes no pleasure in other people's sins but delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. Love does not come to an end . . . There are three things that last: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13).

47. This love of married couples for one another is the basis of the sacrament that sanctifies them. It is the partners themselves who are the ministers of the sacrament of marriage. They begin their married lives by giving Christ's grace to each other through their love. They give themselves each to the other as grace; and no gift they will ever exchange, no joy they will ever share, will equal this gift of grace.

48. That grace is not given only on their wedding day. Their marriage is grace-giving all the days of their lives together. St. Robert Bellarmine compared matrimony with the Blessed Eucharist as a permanent sacrament, a permanent presence of Christ in the home. As priests are exhorted to remember the grace of their ordination and to fan into a flame the gift that God gave them; so can married people be encouraged to remember the abiding grace of their marriage and to accept the strength that comes from the grace of Jesus Christ. (2 Timothy 15:6, 2:1).

49. People who refuse the Sacrament of Christian marriage are to be sincerely pitied. They do not know what they are doing. They do not know the strength and the comfort and the joy of the grace they are missing. Those who do not allow Christ to transfigure their marriage by His grace, His love and His holy presence, will never know marriage as it could be.

50. If it be objected that this Christian teaching is an ideal for saints, not a practical programme for ordinary mortals, then it must be answered that Christianity is precisely a programme for making saints out of ordinary mortals. It is God's programme, not ours; and the power to achieve it is built by God into the programme. Here is the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians, the same letter in which St. Paul gives us the doctrine of Christian marriage:

Blessed be God the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless and to live through love in his presence. (Ephesians 1:3-4).

51. Perhaps the most relevant reading for married people from the whole teaching of the Vatican Council is the chapter from the Constitution on the Church entitled: The call of the whole Church to holiness. Marriage is for Christians nothing less than a call from God to a partnership with one another in holiness. One section in the chapter reads:

Married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path to holiness by faithful love, sustaining one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives . . . By such lives, they signify and share in that very love with which Christ loved His Bride and because of which He delivered Himself up on her behalf.

Love In The Home

52. Love in the home is, therefore, the first fruit of the grace of marriage and the sign by which a Christian family should be recognized. The lesson for the Feast of the Holy Family is from St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians. It reads:

You are God's chosen race, his saints: He loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as a quarrel begins. The Lord has forgiven you; now you must do the same. St. Paul goes on:

Wives, give way to your husbands, as you should in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and treat them with gentleness. Children, be obedient to your parents always, because that is what will please the Lord. Parents, never drive your children to resentment or you will make them feel frustrated. —(Colossians 3:12-13, 18-21).

53. There could be no message more relevant for Christian homes today. Love, forgiveness, tolerance should be first learned in a Christian home. Peace on earth should spread out from Christian homes. It is a terrible thought that violence among modern youth is often an expression of the lovelessness of their homes. There is in many homes a sad lack of tenderness and a gruff avoidance of signs of affection, even in absence of conversation, between husbands and wives. There is often a dismal failure of communication between parents and their children, a sullen lack of trust between children and their parents. Families must constantly check their behavior against the standard of the New Testament and against the example of the Holy Family.

54. A family can become a genuine Christian family only by a lifelong effort on the part of all its members.

The Gift Of Life

55. As a Christian community, we in Ireland must be concerned also about the abnormally high percentage of people who avoid marriage, particularly in rural areas.

56. The attitudes and the conditions and the customs, which contribute to this situation must be radically reviewed. All those who are working to create economic and social conditions more favorable to marriage, particularly in rural Ireland, are performing a Christian and patriotic service of the first importance.

57. The Second Vatican Council has reiterated the constant teaching of the Church, that by their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. But this is no biological view of marriage. St. Thomas Aquinas says that this end of marriage is fulfilled, not only (by) the begetting of offspring, but (by) their education and development until they reach the perfect state of man as man, and that is the state of virtue. The Council of Florence, in the fifteenth century, said that the first good of marriage was the begetting of children and their education to the worship of God. We have said that the supreme purpose of marriage is to gather worshippers around the Eucharistic altar and the Throne of God in Heaven.

58. Everyone knows that Pope Paul's recent encyclical reaffirmed the duty of married couples to respect the God-given openness to the transmission of life of each and every marriage act. This part of the encyclical has, indeed, attracted nearly all the attention of commentators; so much so that the splendid pages devoted to the sublime dignity and beauty of love and of marriage have been largely ignored.

59. Pope Paul felt obliged in conscience, not just as one theologian arguing with others, but by virtue of the mandate entrusted to him by Christ, to reaffirm the Church's traditional condemnation of contraception. This decision was forced on him mainly because four years of the most intensive investigation and discussion had made one thing unmistakably plain, namely, that the entire doctrine of the Church about marriage is a coherent whole and that radical alteration of one part entails dismemberment of the whole. In particular, a change in the teaching on contraception would have repercussions over the whole range of the Church's doctrine of marriage and of human love. The whole of the beautiful and inspiring doctrine we have sketched above would be imperiled.

60. Pope Paul sees an inescapable logical connection between the principles involved in contraception and the principles involved in obvious forms of sexual immorality. He sees that to approve of artificial contraception would leave one with no logical alternative but to approve of other practices always condemned by the Christian conscience. He finds, indeed, that among the arguments advanced by Catholics in favor of contraception, certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the Magisterium of the Church.

61. It is, therefore, nothing less than the entire body of teaching of the Church on marriage and on sexual morality, which is at stake in this discussion. The morality of sterilization, abortion, even of adultery, pre-marital sex and homosexuality, are inevitably involved in the logic of argument about contraception. The question is not just about the immoral consequences of contraception in society. It is about the moral principles whereby we can distinguish what is moral from what is immoral in sexual behavior.

62. Modern theories of sexual freedom all take as their starting point the fact that contraceptives separate the personal relationship or unitive aspect of sex from its procreative aspect. To admit this separation is in fact to be inescapably committed to the very principle, which lies at the root of contemporary sexual permissiveness. Pope Paul affirms that the only alternative to this neo-pagan view of sex is the teaching often expounded by the Magisterium of the Church, based upon the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

63. If we can regard a contraceptive act of sexual relations as a legitimate expression of the meaning and values of sex, it becomes difficult to see why sex must require marriage at all for its lawful exercise. For it is only by viewing sex in its natural integrity, that we come to see marriage as the only adequate expression of sexual love. Respecting the integrity of sex does not mean merely concern for biological or physiological integrity. It means respect for the human wholeness of sex. Love in its sexual expression is a longing for unreserved self-giving by two people who desire to belong to each other completely in life-long love and sharing of life, and who desire to love together into life children who will be the living image of their two-in-oneness. This is why it is only in marriage that sex finds its true personalist meaning and value and its human wholeness. Every form of sexual immorality can be defined by its deliberate exclusion of one or other aspect of this human wholeness of sexual love.

64. Contraception alters the very meaning of sexuality, on which the meaning and value of marriage are based. If we can separate sexual activity from its procreative meaning there is no reason why we could not separate it also from its full unitive meaning. In other words, it would become impossible to find a decisive reason for condemning the use of sex outside of marriage. If the meaning and values of sex can be artificially divided by contraception within marriage, there seems no reason why they cannot be divided from marriage altogether. The words of Christ, What God has united, man must not divide (Matthew 19:6), can be applied to this aspect of marriage too, as well as to divorce.

65. Pope Paul's Encyclical finds its place, therefore, as of an immense effort to save sex and love from the desecration and degradation, which so threaten them in modern times. It is to a work of education, of progress and of love that he invites us all. It is a work of immense labor. But it is also one of inspiring challenge. It is a task in which we can all confidently rely upon the grace and guidance of God. For it is a task of Christian faith and hope and love, the faith, which overcomes the world, the hope, which redeems the time, the love, which never falls away.

66. There are, however, many for whom acceptance of teaching means real hardship. We repeat Pope Paul's appeal to them to deepen their Christian faith and hope; to lean, come what may, on Christ's sacraments for strength and comfort, forgiveness and peace. We assure them that they will find in the Church and in her ministers unfailing sympathy, encouragement and help.

67. Realizing the grave difficulties facing Christian marriage in the modern world, we call upon priests and people for a massive effort of Christian support for married people and for young families. Pre-marriage courses, marriage counselling, both spiritual, psychological and medical, and supportive programmes for over-burdened, ill or under-privileged couples and families, are now urgent priorities of Christian apostolate. They are also, in a Christian society, obvious areas for more generous and enlightened social welfare involvement, at the level of both central and local authority. It can sometimes happen that demands for contraception are made substitutes for more radical social reforms and alibis for deeper and more costing concern. The Vatican Council and Pope Paul in his encyclical invite married people themselves to be the leaders in this family apostolate.

68. The priests, doctors, marriage counsellors and others who are involved in the apostolate of Christian marriage, and all who are concerned with such problems as those of housing, handicapped children, adoption, youth work, school meals, children's nurseries and play centers, are all playing a noble part in the apostolate of the laity, as this is delineated by the Vatican Council. But what has been done has had to be done by too few people and with inadequate resources. One writer has said that what is needed is a spiritual national health service for married people.

69. Among those who have taken an important place in the apostolate of Christian marriage are Catholic doctors. Their work brings them into daily contact with the medical and social problems of married people. We know the heavy pressures to which they are subjected. We realize the dilemmas of conscience they suffer. We trust that discussion between themselves, especially in their Catholic Guild meetings, and discussions between themselves and priests, will help to imbue them with a renewed sense of the Christian vocation of the doctor and of his privileged place in the Christian community. It is true that few know better than the doctor the difficulties caused by observance of the Church's teaching. But also no one knows better than the doctor the gravity of the threat to the sacredness of life and the sacredness of chastity with which modern man is menaced. It is this threat above all that Pope Paul wishes to help us to avert and looks to doctors to help the Church to avert.

70. The respect in which the medical profession is deservedly held is closely linked with its own traditional respect for moral values. We make our own the words of Pope Paul:

We hold in the highest esteem those doctors and members of the nursing profession who, in the exercise of their calling, endeavor to fulfill the demands of their Christian vocation before any merely human interest.

Conscience And Contraception

71. Much has been said, since Pope Paul's encyclical appeared about the rights of conscience. For a true vision of Christian conscience, it is necessary to turn to the Gospels and the inspired teaching of St. Paul. St. Paul constantly reminds his Christian converts that they are entitled to appeal to the rights of conscience because and insofar as it is a truly Christian conscience, formed by Christ within the unity of His Body, the Church and subject to the Lordship of Christ, who alone has authority to govern conduct.

72. The Corinthians were fond of appealing to conscience against St. Paul. They took their ideas of conscience from the sophisticated pagan culture around them. St. Paul keeps saying to them that it is not conscience as such which is supreme, but Christ the Lord, and the duty of charity and unity among His members. When the Corinthians appeal to conscience, St. Paul, in effect, says: I too have a conscience. But it is not by conscience alone that I am justified. My criterion of truth is the revelation of God, of which I am only the servant. Here are his exact words:

People must think of us as Christ's servants, stewards entrusted with the mysteries of God. What is expected of stewards is that each one should be found worthy of his trust. Not that it makes the slightest difference to me whether you, or indeed any human tribunal, find me worthy or not. I will not even pass judgment on myself. True, my conscience does not reproach me at all, but that does not prove that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge. (1 Corinthians 4:4).

73. St. Paul asserted Christian freedom. But when the Galatians interpreted freedom as an invitation to factious dissensions, St. Paul said to them:

My brethren, you were called, as you know, to liberty; but be careful, or this liberty will provide an opening for self-indulgence. . . If you go on snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch, or you will destroy the whole community. (Galatians 5:13-15)

74. It would be difficult not to see from these passages the kinship between the first Paul and the Pope who bears his name.

75. The Vatican Council repeats the same doctrine of the Lordship of Christ over conscience and the obligation of all to form their conscience by the teaching Christ gives through His Church. It is in the great document on Religious Freedom, which so nobly defends the rights of conscience, that the Council teaches:

In the formation of their consciences the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. The Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to and authoritatively to teach, that Truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origin in human nature itself.

76. In its chapter on marriage and the family, the Council declares that husband and wife, in their mutual relations, may not act arbitrarily, but have always to be governed by a conscience which must be conformed to the divine law (and) submissive to the teaching authority of the Church, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the gospel. It goes on:

The faithful may not employ methods of regulating procreation which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law.

77. Finally, Pope Paul, in the encyclical itself, invokes the objective moral order established by God, of which a right conscience is the faithful interpreter.

78. In the light of all these passages, it is clear that the conscience, which is the rule of conduct, must be an informed conscience — that is, a conscience, which is formed by the authoritative moral teaching of the Church and applies this to a particular situation. To interpret conscience as a right of purely private judgment on moral teaching would be completely to distort its meaning in Catholic theology.

79. Pope Paul's Encyclical needs to be read and re-read, studied and discussed and prayed over, if its profound message is to be assimilated. We are convinced that this study and discussion and prayer can and will lead all to understanding of the necessity of the Encyclical and to acceptance with conviction of its doctrine.

Handing On The Faith

80. The procreation of children, as we have said, is not a mere biological process. It is a sharing in the mysterious and loving creative act of God. It is a process, which does not end before the child has been prepared for a personal, loving response to God's creative call. In his great painting of the creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo depicts God as reaching across the infinity of space to draw Adam by the hand out from the night of nothingness towards the light and the life and the love, which He is. Creation and vocation are one, and they are a life-long process. So too procreation is a life-long process whereby parents give back to God the children He gave to them.

81. This means speaking to their children about God. No school or college, no catechetical renewal, no teacher or priest, will ever adequately replace the home as the basic seedbed of religion. The place of the words father and mother in Christian theology itself shows the fundamental importance of parents in the experience of faith. God Himself can find no better name to describe His divine being and His relationship with us than the name Father. He ennobles the name Mother by conferring it on the Blessed Virgin Mary and upon His Holy Church. Every time we say Our Father, we are unconsciously recalling our own earthly father as well as God. Our very thoughts of God are inescapably colored by our relationship with our father and mother.

82. The Vatican Council repeats that parents are the first and foremost educators of their children. The teaching of religion in schools has been greatly advanced by the introduction of new and better catechetical textbooks and methods. But this has created difficulties, at least temporarily, for the teaching of religion in the home. Parents brought up on different texts and methods, may not find it easy to assist their children with their religious lessons. Steps must carefully be planned by priests, teachers and parents together, so that this difficulty in communication may be overcome.

83. Meetings of married couples in one another's homes, for the reading and study of passages of the Bible and the discussion of Christian family life, with the help of a priest, have proved in many places a powerful aid to Christian living.

84. Parents will teach their children more about God by their own lives than by their words. The awareness of God as a living presence, the making of God relevant to daily decisions and to everyday life, the attitude of filial reverence before God, the sense of the supernatural, the spirit of faith, the practice of self-denial, the habit of prayer, the love of Holy Mass, devotion to the Mother of God, — all these are marks of the traditional faith of the Irish people. They were handed on through the centuries by the faith of the homes of Ireland even more than by any formalized religious instruction. This handing on from age to age of the faith once delivered to the saints is the primary duty of every generation of Christians. We are confident that the present generation of Irish parents will fulfill this task just as nobly as their predecessors.

Prayer In The Home

85. They will not be able to do this unless they make prayer a daily reality in the home. The traditional devotion of the daily family Rosary has not been superseded as an ideal form of family prayer. Renewed efforts should be made to preserve or restore this practice in the homes of Ireland. Before each decade, a few sentences from the Gospels could be read, elating to the mystery in question.

86. For the Rosary is in fact a simple form of Bible Service which everyone can follow.

87. The family should also be the first school of the liturgy. Parents should prepare the Mass texts with their children at home before bringing them to Church. The children as a group should, if possible, assist at the baptism of a new baby. Parents must be involved in preparation of their children for the sacraments. The home should have its own liturgy of prayers and sacred gestures, grace before and after meals, religious pictures and other reminders of God's presence.

88. It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of the united prayer of a family and its efficacy. For Christ, in whose name all prayer is efficacious, is there in the midst of them as He promised. To none more than to the Christian family do His words apply:

I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them. (Matthew, 18:19).

89. The Vatican Council sees Christian parents as exercising a real form of baptismal priesthood towards their children. It says: The family is, so to speak, the domestic Church. In it parents should, by their word and example, be the first preachers of the faith to their children. It is at this point that the Council reminds parents also of their duty to foster religious vocations.

90. Much, therefore, is expected of Christian married people and they could well be discouraged at the difficulties of their task. Pope Paul, in his encyclical, says:

We do not at all intend to hide the sometimes-serious difficulties inherent in the life of Christian married persons: for them as for everyone else, the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life. But the hope of that life must illuminate their way, as with courage they strive to live with wisdom, justice and piety in this present time, knowing that the figure of this world passes away.

91. Christian couples and Christian parents know that they could not of themselves fulfill their demanding Christian vocation. But they also know that Christ is with them as the source of grace, through their baptism, through His Real Presence in the Blessed Eucharist, through His permanent presence in their marriage. He lives in them. He loves through them. He draws their little ones to His embrace through them. In this faith, married people can do all things, hope all things, endure all sufferings. Like St. Paul, they can say:

These sufferings bring patience, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope is not deceptive, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us: (Romans 5:4-5).

92. On behalf of the Hierarchy of Ireland, William Cardinal Conway, Archbishop of Armagh; John C. McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin; Joseph Walsh, Archbishop of Tuam; Thomas Morris, Archbishop of Cashel.

Quinquagesima Sunday

February 16, 1969.

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