LENTEN PASTORAL OF IRISH HIERARCHY
The following is the full text of the Pastoral, signed on behalf of
the Hierarchy by: His Eminence Cardinal Conway, the Archbishop of
Dublin, Most Rev. Dr. McQuaid, the Archbishop of Tuam, Most Rev. Dr.
Walsh, and the Archbishop of Cashel, Most Rev. Dr. Morris.
Dear Brethren in Christ—In his recent Encyclical on Human Life,
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
The Holy Father asked bishops to regard this mission as one of their
most urgent responsibilities at the present time.
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
There is no word more frequently repeated in modern speech and song
than the word love. But overuse has made the meaning of 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.
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. (I John, 4:7-8).
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.
The only possible explanation is that, whether we realise 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.
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 for ever part of the language of
human love, as they are also part of the language of religion.
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. (I 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 realise 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
Love in Christ
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.
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.
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
baptised. 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 Christ-ian
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 baptised 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, be 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.
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 baptised
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. (I Corinthians, 6:20).
In Christ and in the Church
When St. Paul speaks of our becoming one body with Christ in Baptism,
be 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 for ever.
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 for ever.
This is the background to St. Paul's wonderful passage about
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).
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.
It is here, in the light of faith, that we must seek the true beauty
of love. But this vision of faith is not ‘otherworldly' 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
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-one-ness 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.
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 for ever and ever.
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 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 for ever.
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? 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.
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.
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 recognised.
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.
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 fulfilment 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
THE BLESSED EUCHARIST AND MARRIAGE
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.
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).
The water with which Jesus told the waiters to fill the waterpots was
also a symbol as well as a fact. It symbolised the helplessness and
uselessness of the Old Law, the hopelessness of man without Christ.
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).
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 2:11).
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.
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.
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 the nations
worship before him. Christian couples fulfil 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
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.
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 became one body. Our
Lord went on to give His own explanation of these words.
They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then what God has
united, man must not divide. (Matthew 19:5).
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,
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
life-time 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. 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 recognise, protect and promote the authentic nature
of marriage and the family, to shield public morality and to favour the
prosperity of domestic life.
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
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.
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 (I Corinthians 11:23-4).
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
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. (I Corinthians
This love of married people 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.
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 1:6. 2:1).
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
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).
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 this chapter
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
Love in the home is, therefore, the first fruit of the grace of
marriage and the sign by which a Christian family should be recognised.
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).
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 an 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 behaviour against the standard of the New
Testament and against the example of the Holy Family.
A Family can become a genuine Christian family only by a lifelong
effort on the part of all its members.
The gift of Life
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.
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 favourable to marriage,
particularly in rural Ireland, are performing a Christian and patriotic
service of the first importance.
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 on earth and the Throne of God
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 commmentators; so much so
that the splendid pages devoted to the sublime dignity and beauty of
love and of marriage have been largely ignored.
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
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 favour 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
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 sterilisation, 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 behaviour.
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.
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.
* * *
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 meanings 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
Pope Paul's Encyclical finds its place, therefore, as part 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 labour. 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.
There are, however, many for whom acceptance of this 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.
Realising 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 underprivileged 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.
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
centres, 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
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
realise 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.
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, endeavour to
fulfil the demands of their Christian vocation before any merely human
Conscience and contracepton
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.
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 nor prove
that I am acquitted: the Lord alone is my judge. (1 Corinthians 4:4).
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).
It would be difficult not to see from these passages the kinship
between the first Paul and the Pope who bears his name.
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.
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.
Finally, Pope Paul, in the encyclical itself, invokes
The objective moral order established by God, of which a right
conscience is the faithful interpreter.
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 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.
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
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
his 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, Michaelangelo 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
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 coloured by our relationship with our father and mother.
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.
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.
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 formalised 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 fulfil this task just
as nobly as their predecessors.
Prayer in the home
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, relating to the mystery in question.
For the Rosary is in fact a simple form of Bible Service which
everyone can follow.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Christian couples and Christian parents know that they could not of
themselves fulfil 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).
On behalf of the Hierarchy of Ireland,
WILLIAM Cardinal CONWAY
Archbishop of Armagh
JOHN C. McQUAID
Archbishop of Dublin
Archbishop of Tuam
Archbishop of Cashel
Quinquagesima Sunday, February 16, 1969.