Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holy Orders and Matrimony

Explain the doctrine of Catholic priestly celibacy and its limits.

Priests in the Latin Rite are normatively bound by obligatory celibacy. This obligation is frequently mistaken for a vow of chastity, which is taken by religious and some lay people, or continence, which is obligatory for all Christians who are not married. In contradistinction to these, a priest in the Roman rite is obligated to permanent continence, which practically speaking necessitates celibacy (CIC 277). According to Joseph Martos, the discipline of celibacy grew out of an ever increasing encouragement for priests and deacons to practice continence on days when they presided over the liturgy. This obligation has been customary in Western Christianity since the 6th century for all priests, becoming a legal requirement for both priests and bishops in the 11th century. In the East, celibacy has been a requirement for bishops since the 5th century, while married men can be ordained into the priesthood and diaconate.

The practice of priestly celibacy in the West developed over several centuries. While most, if not all, of the Apostles were married and married bishops and presbyters were common in the early Church, the Church showed a preference for celibacy in general, as attested in scripture. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of those “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (19:12). In Luke, Jesus refers to those who have “left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God” (18:29). In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul notes this preference for celibacy (7:8), explaining that “[t]he unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord” (7:32).

Despite the clear precedent for celibacy in the Latin Church and the common practice of celibacy in the Eastern Church, celibacy is a disciplinary practice, one that could be changed if the Church determined that such a change would be beneficial. However, the Church teaches, in light of St. Paul’s words, that celibacy frees men to serve the Lord and the Church more fully:

Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to “the affairs of the Lord,” they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God. (CCC 1579)


While relaxing the discipline of celibacy might allow more ordinations, married ordained ministers would be bound by obligations to wives and children and would not be as free to serve the Church. In some instances (for example, for Anglican priests who convert to the Church), the obligation of celibacy is waived. However, these men have tremendous challenges facing them, juggling the duties of a parish priest while also supporting a wife and children.

Explain the fruits of the sacrament of the priestly Order.

Like the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, the sacrament of Holy Orders “confers an indelible spiritual character” on the recipient (CCC 1582). Ordination changes the ordinand permanently, configuring him to Christ through a “special grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1581). While all baptized and confirmed Christians share in the priesthood of Christ, those who receive Holy Orders share in the office of Christ to act in persona Christi as priest, prophet, and king. At the Council of Trent, the Church confirmed that this sacrament conveys a permanent power, after which the ordinand can never again become a lay person (CF 1710; CCC 1583). While the priesthood common to all the faithful allows us each to offer spiritual sacrifice to God, the ordained priesthood grants the priest the ability to act as a representative for Christ, the Head of the Church, to offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist, to grant absolution, and to give anointing of the sick. Priests are dependent upon their bishop for the exercise of these powers, while the bishop exercises the priesthood of Christ in its fullness, also having the power to ordain priests and to exercise their apostolic authority (CF 1711, 1720, 1739). This character is no guarantee of the personal sanctity of the priest. However, because the power is ultimately that of Christ, the sacramental work of the priest is in no way dependent upon the priest’s personal holiness. As St. Augustine noted, “[W]hat flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains clear and reaches the fertile earth” (CCC 1584).

In addition to this indelible character, ordination confers the grace of the Holy Spirit proper to the sacrament and necessary for the exercise of this ministry. Through ordination, the priest receives the spiritual gift to proclaim the gospel and fulfill the ministry of the word, to offer spiritual gifts and sacrifices, and to act as an ordinary minister of baptism (CCC 1587; CF 1733). Bishops are granted strength and prudence to guide the Church as father and pastor, to proclaim the gospel, to be models for those under their care, and to identify themselves with Christ and the Eucharist as priest and victim, even to the point of death to defend their flock (CCC 1586).

Explain the doctrine of indissolubility in Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament, God is portrayed as a husband who is faithful to his bride, the People of Israel, who rebuff Him and “play the harlot.” This image is most pronounced in the book of the prophet Hosea but is frequently referenced in the book of Judges to represent Israel’s unfaithfulness. However, the emphasis in these passages is on the covenant relationship between God and Israel, a covenant that God honors regardless. The marriage imagery promotes an ideal of marriage as perpetual and indissoluble, even in the face of unfaithfulness.

In each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus speaks of the indissoluble bond of matrimony in response to the questions of the Pharisees and scribes. In Mark, Jesus notes that Moses permitted divorce only because of the hardness of men’s hearts (10:5). Instead, Jesus refers them back to Genesis 2:24 and adds, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (10:9). In both Mark 10:11–12 and Luke 16:18, Jesus declares divorce and remarriage to be adultery. Only in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 does Jesus note any exception in the case of porneia, which is frequently translated as “unchastity” but more likely refers to degrees of consanguinity within which Jewish law forbade marriage. St. Paul also taught the indissolubility of marriage, noting that this law comes not from him but from God: “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10–11). Furthermore, Paul teaches that marriage is a great mystery, one that points as a sign to Christ’s fidelity to the Church: “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church” (Ephesians 5:29).

The Church teaches that conjugal love “requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses; community of persons, which embraces their entire life: ‘so they are no longer two, but one flesh’” (CCC 1644). Unity and indissolubility, according to the Code of Canon Law, are essential properties of marriage given special firmness by the sacrament (1056). The implication, then, is that indissolubility is not due to the sacrament (although enhanced by it) but is an essential property of the natural institution. Jesus raises that indissoluble bond to a supernatural bond in the sacrament (CIC 1055). In addition, the sacramental bond is in itself a sign of Christ and His relationship to the Church (CF 1831).

What is the Pauline Privilege?

The Church has always taught, in line with Christ’s words in the gospels, that marriage is indissoluble (CCC 1644; CIC 1055–1056). As such, the Church is bound to respect this indissolubility as a natural and essential property of marriage. Canon 1141 notes that a marriage that is “‘ratum et consummatum’ [established and consummated] can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause, except death.” The free consent of both parties and the consummation of the marriage in the conjugal act together establish and finalize this bond (CCC 1624).

However, there are narrow circumstances in which a natural marital bond can be dissolved, specifically in the case of disparity of cult (CCC 1634) in which a believer is married to an unbeliever who desires to separate. St. Paul makes note of such a condition in 1 Corinthians 7:15. In such a case, the baptized party is free to marry. Because this circumstance is specifically noted by St. Paul in scripture, it is known as the pauline privilege. However, St. Paul also notes that a marriage in such circumstances can be a means of sanctification for the unbaptized party: “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:14).

The Code of Canon Law stipulates that a marriage is “dissolved by means of the pauline privilege in favor of the faith of the party who has received baptism by the very fact that a new marriage is contracted by the same party, provided that the non-baptized party departs” (CIC 1143). However, before the baptized person can validly enter into a new marriage, the nonbaptized person must be “interrogated” as to whether he or she wishes to be baptized and wishes to remain peacefully married (1144§1). The baptized party can only enter into a new marriage if the unbaptized party responds negatively to the interrogation, if the interrogation is “legitimately omitted,” or if the unbaptized party departs without just cause (CIC 1146).

What is the meaning of Catholic marriage?

A Catholic marriage is a matrimonial covenant, which by its nature, is ordered to the good of both spouses (CIC 1055). Established by God, “the author of marriage” (GS 48), it was raised to the level of a sacrament by Jesus Christ. Between two baptized people, a valid marriage is by necessity a sacramental marriage (CIC 1155§2). The Church recognizes this institution as one critical to the continuation of the human race and notes, “By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory” (GS 48). A Catholic marriage is one that is aimed toward the sanctification of the two spouses through sacramental grace and the begetting and education of children.

While marriage in the ancient pagan world was viewed primarily as a contract, God reveals it, through His own covenant relationship with Israel, to be a covenant to which God is a witness (Malachi 2:14). In Ezekiel, God describes His relationship to Israel in precisely the covenant language of marriage (16:8). God’s revelation of marriage in this way is sometimes called the divine pedagogy. When Jesus, then, condemns divorce in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, He is restoring marriage as it was originally intended and divinizing it through the grace of the Holy Spirit. While marriage is a natural good (as recognized by the Protestant reformers), it is supernaturalized through the words of Christ in the gospels, who said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:9).

The Church has long recognized that marriage involves more than just the two individuals who consent to be married. Therefore, since the earliest days, bishops have sought to guide, encourage, and bless marriages. Today, marriage for Catholics is bound by canonical form, which requires that Catholics adhere to norms established by the conference of bishops (CIC 1059, 1067), or in the case of mixed marriages or disparity of cult, seek a dispensation from their bishop to do so (CIC 1124). In most cases, a bishop, local pastor, priest, or deacon must preside for a marriage to be considered valid (CIC 1108).

Who are the ministers of the marriage in the Catholic Church?

The proper minister for the sacrament of Matrimony in the Catholic Church depends on the rite of the participants. In the Latin rite, the ministers of marriage are the two consenting parties who are to be married. In most cases, a bishop, local pastor, priest, or deacon must preside for a marriage to be considered valid (CIC 1108). However, in some circumstances, when one of the ordinary ministers cannot be present, the bishop can delegate a lay person to preside (CIC 1112). The Catechism notes, “According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church” (CCC 1623). The priest or deacon receives the consent of the two parties and gives the blessing of the Church. The presence of the priest or deacon as well as the two required witnesses makes the marriage a visible, “ecclesial reality” (1630). In the Eastern Churches, the priests (Bishop or presbyter) are witnesses to the consent given by the two parties. However, for the marriage to be valid, they must also give a blessing (1623).

In the Latin rite, weddings typically take place in the context of the Mass (1621). However, when a deacon presides, the rite of marriage may be accompanied by a communion service. The Catechism notes the obligation of faithful Catholics to marry according to the proper ecclesiastical form, noting the appropriateness of the rite of marriage as a liturgical act, the rights and obligations of Catholics when they enter the “ecclesial order” of marriage, the need for the community as witnesses to the event, and the public character of the consent given by the parties as a means of strengthening that consent (CCC 1631).

Explain the meaning of the three goods of the marriage.

In the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote The Advantage of Marriage in response to a challenge mounted by Jovinian concerning the merits of the state of consecrated virginity as compared to marriage. In that work, Augustine proposes three goods of marriage, which are cited by Pius IX in his encyclical Casti Connubii (CF 1826–1830).

The first good is the begetting and education of children. The procreation of children is one of the two ends to which marriage is ordered (CCC 1601). Gaudium et Spes refers to children as “the supreme gift of marriage” who contribute to the good of the parents themselves (GS 50). In the procreative act, a married couple is taking their proper place in the order of creation: “Married couples should regard it as their proper mission to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and are, in a certain sense, its interpreters” (GS 50). However, in addition to the act of begetting children, parents are also the primary educators of their children in the faith and have both the right and obligation to teach the faith, constituting, as it were, an ecclesia domestica (CCC 1656). Parents educate their children in their faith by, first and foremost, receiving the sacraments regularly and providing a Christian witness through self denial and acts of charity (CCC 1657).

A second good is the partnership and fidelity of the spouses. The unity and indissolubility of marriage provides an environment in which both children and parents can flourish spiritually. Only in a relationship of trust and fidelity can this take place (CCC 1646). In addition, this fidelity allows the two to assist each other in the process of sanctification. As Pius IX wrote in Casti Connubii,

This mutual interior conformation of husband and wife, this persevering endeavor to bring each other to the state of perfection, may in a true sense be called, as the Roman Catechism calls it, the primary cause and reason of matrimony, so long as marriage is considered, not in its stricter sense as the institution destined for the procreation and education of children, but in the wider sense as a complete and intimate life-partnership and association. (CF 1829)


This faithful partnership gives both parties an environment most suited to perfecting charity toward another and to putting oneself sacrificially at the service of another. As John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio, “In this sacrifice there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation; the marriage of baptized persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ” (FC 13).

A third good of marriage, the “complement and crown of all,” is the sacramental bond that signifies the bond between Christ and the Church. As a sacrament, it is a cause of grace (CF 1830). In this bond, we can see a similitude of the indissoluble bond between Christ and the Church. Pius IX notes, “If we seek with reverence to discover the intrinsic reason of this divine ordinance… we shall easily find it in the mystical signification of Christian marriage, the full perfection of which is realised in consummated marriage between the faithful” (CF 1831). John Paul II calls it “the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross” (FC 13).

Explain the effect of the sacrament of Marriage.

In addition to the three goods of sacramental marriage, there are effects of the sacrament as well. While marriage is a natural good even among pagans, a sacramental marriage is supernaturalized, or divinized, as it integrates the marriage covenant “into God’s covenant with man” (CCC 1639). Because this marriage bond is established by God Himself, a marriage established and consummated is an irrevocable reality (CCC 1640). This bond is rooted, as John Paul II notes, in the self-giving of spouses and the good of the children and manifested in God’s revelation: “[H]e wills and he communicates the indissolubility of marriage as a fruit, a sign and a requirement of the absolutely faithful love that God has for humankind and that the Lord Jesus has for the Church” (FC 20; CF 1844).

The grace of this sacrament enables couples to live together in fidelity, growing in perfection by the practice of mutual charity and cooperation. In the sacrament the natural bond of marriage “is strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for the duties and the dignity of their state” (CCC 1638). This grace helps them to persist in the face of the natural challenges of matrimony, to submit to each other in humility, to forgive when forgiveness is necessary, and to set aside natural inclinations that would not be ordered to the matrimonial state. These graces enable the married couple to develop virtues of selflessness, egoism, and pursuit of personal pleasure. While religious life had always been seen as a shortcut to heaven, the married state also provides a means to developing virtues and personal sanctity. Through the sacrament, married couples assist each other in this process of attaining holiness (CCC 1641).

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