Renewing or Imperiling our Understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage?

In a recent essay, the canonist Fr. John Alesandro makes the bold claim that for hundreds of years “the Catholic church has simplistically “canonized” marriage, stripping down its sacred character as a covenant and likening it to a secular contract.”1

He calls for a renewed understanding of marriage which would recognize the sacramental uniqueness that Christ gave to marriage on all levels and thereby free it from its severe identification with natural marriage. Alesandro argues that the fullness of the mystery of Christian marriage comes to be through the interpersonal growth of the couple rather than in an instant. He proposes that “the church should be open to the idea that sacramental marriages pass through varied stages apart from sexual intercourse before absolute indissolubility emerges.”2

Consummation would still be understood as necessary for the completion of the marriage bond and for indissolubility but it would not be fulfilled by “a single physical act.”3 Rather consummation, which requires true interpersonal self-giving and growth would be understood only to emerge over time. On a related and important point, Alexandro’s call for a renewed understanding of the sacramentality of marriage also entails the understanding that the personal faith of the couple is required for the valid marital consent to sacramental marriage.

I believe, however, that this view of the role of personal faith in martial consent and this proposal for understanding consummation would work against a renewed understanding of the sacramentality of marriage. A careful review of the speeches to the Roman Rota of popes John Paul, Benedict, and Francis show that it is the consistent teaching of the papal magisterium that the faith of the couple, whatever its stage or apparent absence, is not required for the making of the sacrament of marriage. Secondly, I contend that the completion and enactment of marital consent in consummation, likewise, should not be understood to depend on the subjective interpersonal growth of the couple. To claim otherwise cannot reconciled with the church’s teaching that the power of Christ and the Spirit act in and through the celebration of the sacrament independently of the holiness of the ministers. Furthermore, the identification of consummation with marital intercourse should be understood as Christ and the Spirit acting through the bodily self-donation of the couple and so giving them a fuller participation in the Christ’s one flesh union with the church. Before explaining this any further, it will be helpful to review the main points of Alesandro’s proposal about consummation as occurring in successive stages and his view of the role of faith in marital consent.

Alesandro says that while the indissolubility of sacramental marriage is central to the church’s teaching on marriage, nevertheless, it has generated a very intense, polarized debate as of late. He thinks that there is an underlying and unresolved doctrinal point in the debate even in Amoris Laetitia and the synodal documents. The principal problem, in Alesandro’s view, “is the tendency to canonize the propositions of the church’s teaching on sacramentality and indissolubility whereby every single conclusion about sacramental marriage is given the same weight and finality.”4 He believes that the sacramentality of marriage– which explains and gives meaning to indissolubility–has not received the theological and canonical development that is urgently needed for those who are living out the marital sacrament today. Often enough, he believes, the sacrament of marriage is presented and treated for all practical purposes as if it were little more than natural marriage with a special firmness added.

Alessandro says that many people today sense that the personal faith of the spouses should be connected to the sacramentality of marriage. In other words, that there needs to be more than the infused virtue of faith given at baptism. However, Alesandro argues, the current canonical construct of pastoral practice creates a dilemma.5 If personal faith is necessary for sacramentality and if no marriage can exist between two validly baptized spouses without being a sacrament, then the absence of faith on the part of one or both of the spouses invalidates their exchange of consent. But his would mean, according to Alesandro, that the baptized who have an absence of personal faith lose the natural right to marry. If it is claimed that the absence of faith does not invalidate the exchange of consent, then this would lead to the problematic affirmation, in Alesandro’s view, that the couple are sacramentally and indissolubly married even though they may not believe in the sacramentality of marriage.

Citing words from St. Pope John Paul in Familiaris consortio, Alesandro observes that everything about sacramental marriage should be understood as elevated, greater, and radically new. Marriage is given a new significance given by Jesus calls which calls for a new standard of judgment for every essential aspect of the sacramental marriage covenant. Alesandro applies this perspective to a constitutive element of sacramentality and indissolubility—consummation. He believes our understanding of consummation which is identified with sexual intercourse needs to be updated in a way that does justice to the newness of sacramental marriage. Alessandro argues that the church’s current understanding was put into place in 12th century to settle a dispute about marriage. Pope Alexander III taught that marriage comes into existence by the free mutual exchange of consent, however, it does not become absolutely indissoluble until it is physically consummated. This identification of consummation with intercourse is a cultural addition to the teaching of Christ. It may have been appropriate for its time but it needs to be rethought because the sacramental role of consummation needs a fuller interpretation. Alesandro proposes the church ought to be open to the understanding that before indissolubility can emerge sacramental marriage must pass through varied stages apart from marital intercourse. “In other words, the sacramental marriage bond must be ‘consummated’ before the indissoluble sacramental marriage is ‘completed,’ but this ‘consummation may not be in most cases be fulfilled simply by a single physical act. Successive of stages of completion, yes; a single physical act, no.”6

Before we can conclude that the mutual consent of the spouses is consummated and therefore absolutely indissoluble what is required is “the actuation of true personal self-giving”7 The fullness of the mystery of the sacrament of marriage, Alesandro claims “comes about not in an instant but through a couple’s interpersonal growth into the “one flesh” of Genesis”8 He admits that “[a]s with declarations of nullity, hindsight may be the only way to determine whether such completion has occurred.”9

There are numerous problems with Alesandro’s proposal for understanding consummation and with his understanding of the role of faith in the exchange of consent for the sacrament of marriage. If consummation takes place in stages how would a married couple ever really know whether their marriage was absolutely indissoluble and when would they know it? For all intents and purposes would not the absolute indissolubility of many sacramental marriage be uncertain? But would not this also amount to an uncertainty about the church’s worship if marriage as sacrament is a part of the church’s worship?

Dismissing the identification of consummation with sexual intercourse as a cultural addition to the teaching of Christ is open to the charge of historicism. It cannot be reduced simply to something that was put into place to resolve a 12th century dispute about when marriage begins. Rather, this 900-year understanding should be understood as being the fruit of the church’s discernment about the meaning of marital intercourse in the light of the teaching of Christ. The Savior’s elevation of marriage to a sacramental state illuminates something about the very nature of marriage itself. The church’s understanding of consummation through marital intercourse has been fruitfully received theologically over many centuries. It is fully operative St. Thomas’ theology of marriage to cite just one example.10

Simply because this doctrine of the church has been “conditioned” by historical factors (which is true of all doctrines) says nothing about whether it is true, even if the truth of it has been poorly understood or expressed by later juridical constructs. Furthermore, consummation through marital intercourse is not simply a physical act. It is a spiritual act of an embodied person(s).

Nevertheless, Alesandro is right to call for a deeper understanding of the place of consummation in the sacramentality of marriage. He is also right to draw attention to the question of the role of faith for the sacramentality of marriage. These are important things for theology and for pastors and all those who prepare couples for marriage today. But there are resources in the theological tradition that allow us to uphold the traditional understanding of consummation and at the same time come to a fuller understanding of its sacramental role. It is also possible to arrive at fuller and better understanding of the importance of the role of the faith of the couple for the sacrament of marriage without denying the traditional understanding expressed in that catechism that: “[F]rom the moment a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it independently of the personal holiness of the minister.”11

Above all, it is important to keep in mind the context for thinking more deeply about the constitutive elements of the sacrament of marriage. It may seem basic, but it is easy to lose sight of it. The sacrament of Marriage signifies the union of Christ with the Church. The Savior’s unity with the church is not just a spiritual unity. It is an embodied spiritual unity, a unity of one flesh. Therefore, marriage must be an embodied spiritual unity fully and completely if it is to fully signify the union of Christ with his church. To be sure, the exchange of marital consent between the spouses makes the marriage. The marriage and the bond that arises between the spouses sacramentally signifies the union between Christ and the Church. However, it is not until consummation through intercourse by which there is a bodily enactment of martial consent in the joining together of the bodies spouses, that there is the full and complete sacramental signification of the embodied spiritual unity of Christ and the Church.

Marriage, like the other sacraments, makes the recipients, by the power of the Holy Spirit, conformed to Christ and therefore partakers of the divine nature. The marital sacrament makes the bride and bridegroom really and personally participate in the life of Christ but in a special way. It makes the married couple participants in Christ’s personal and corporeal unity with the Church. The grace of marriage, just as with all the sacraments, is not a generic. For grace is not a product or a kind of thing. Sacraments are precision instruments of grace. The grace proper to the sacrament of marriage is given to perfect the love of the spouses in Christ and to empower them to live the truth of their indissoluble unity in Christ.

It is stated in Sacrosanctum Concilium 59 that sacraments “not only presuppose faith, but by words and objects they also nourish, strengthen, and express it; that is why they are called ‘sacraments of faith.’” Does this mean that if the couple has a weak or absent faith then their exchange of consent for marriage is invalid? The brief answer is no, unless the couple does not intend to exchange consent for a marriage union that is exclusive, permanent and open to new life. If the power of Christ and the Spirit, which acts in the sacrament, does not depend on the holiness of the minister(s), and if marriage, like all sacraments, is a sacrament of faith, then two things are needed: the intention to do what the church does, and the faith of the church in which the couple participates in through baptism. Furthermore, to say that the sacramentality of marriage, and the conferral of grace, does not depend on the subjective faith of the couple, does not mean that the couple’s faith is unnecessary for a worthy and fruitful reception of the sacrament.

Popes John Paul, Benedict, and Francis all have addressed this question of the role of faith in the consent to marriage in a way that is very helpful. These teachings are often overlooked or not well-known, but they are important for theologians, catechists, and those preparing couples for marriage. A recent speech of Pope Francis, for example, to the Roman Rota, in which he upholds the teachings of his predecessor, while adding his own contribution in terms of the mysterious working of the grace of baptism, has received little attention. Briefly, I want to review the teachings of these three popes before turning to the question concerning the situating of consummation within the sacramentality of marriage.

Recent Papal Teaching on the Role of Faith in Consent for Marriage

In Familiaris consortio 68, Pope John Paul responded to the question about those couples who request marriage in the church based on social motives, rather than motives of faith. He pointed out that the baptized, who already share in Christ’s covenant of marriage with the Church through the grace of baptism, have at least an implicit faith when they approach marriage with the right intention:

Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that these engaged couples, by virtue of their Baptism, are already really sharers in Christ’s marriage Covenant with the Church, and that, by their right intention, they have accepted God’s plan regarding marriage and, therefore, at least implicitly consent to what the Church intends to do when she celebrates marriage. Thus, the fact that motives of a social nature also enter into the request is not enough to justify refusal on the part of pastors. Moreover, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, the sacraments “by words and ritual elements nourish and strengthen faith”: that faith towards which the married couple are already journeying by reason of the uprightness of their intention, which Christ’s grace certainly does not fail to favor and support.

The Pope went on to warn against requiring standards concerning the level of the faith of those seeking marriage because they would inevitably entail the risk of making arbitrary and discriminating judgments against many Christians. This would also involve calling into question the validity of marriages of those Christians who are not in full communion with the Church. The Catholic Church has always recognized these marriages as sacramental according to her doctrine and pastoral practice provided they were entered into with the right intention. It is Christ and the Spirit who acts in the sacrament, even if the ministers do not have a correct understanding of the sacrament, and an awareness of the graces it offers.12

Pope John Paul returned to the subject at least two more times in important speeches he gave to the Roman Rota in 2001 and 2003. In his speech in 2001, the Pope spoke out again against requiring subjective faith as a prerequisite for marriage. He furthered explained that the sacramental sign in marriage cannot consist in the couple’s response of faith and their Christian life because then the sacrament “would lack an objective consistency allowing it to be numbered among the true Christian sacraments.” There would be lacking a consistent, stable objectivity that makes marriage capable of being raised to a sacrament. Rather than being the subjective faith of the couple, the sacramental sign of marriage is the natural reality—the mutual exchange of consent of man and woman for the consortium totius vitae. The Pope spoke of the “simplicity of true consent.” All that is needed of the couple is that they freely intend the essential natural dimension of marriage which requires fidelity, permanency, and the openness to parenthood. He cautioned that “[T]o obscure the natural dimension of marriage, therefore, with its reduction to a mere subjective experience, also entails the implicit denial of its sacramentality.”

This understanding, however, does not turn the mutual exchange of consent for marriage into a kind of thoughtless automatism in which the attitude of the couple does not really matter. In his 2003 speech, the Pope explained that “an attitude on the part of those getting married that does not take into account the supernatural dimension of marriage, can render it null and void only if it undermines its validity on the natural level on which the sacramental sign itself takes place.” Consider the following example: a couple, owing to their lack of faith, attempt marriage with the mutual understanding that if one of the partners became incapacitated by serious illness, the marriage would then be understood to be no longer exclusive. In such a case, there would be absent the very reality (the faithfulness of exclusivity—an essential property of marriage and, therefore, natural marriage itself) necessary to be raised to the level of a sacrament. It is the natural reality of the covenant in marriage that is elevated, and comes into the supernatural, sacramental dimension. In this case, the baptized parties, because of their defective intention, consent to something other than natural marriage and, therefore, make their relationship unable to be elevated, or be a sign that signifies the union of Christ with his Church.

Pope Benedict reflected on several aspects of the relationship of faith and marriage in his last speech to the Roman Rota in 2013. He recalled the teachings of Pope John Paul, stating: “The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does.” Pope Benedict said there is a distinction between the problem of intention and that of the personal faith of the couple. Nevertheless, it is not possible to separate them completely. He then cites John Paul II’s 2003 address to the Roman Rota, and observes that the Polish Pope had clarified that a lack of faith can only render the supernatural dimension of marriage void if it undermines validity, on the natural level, as an irrevocable covenant, and calls for further reflection on this matter.

Pope Benedict did not limit himself to this reaffirmation of his predecessor. He also spent a good part of his speech discussing the importance of faith for living out the truth of marriage. After recalling how Jesus taught his disciples about the essential inability of human beings to find their true good, and how the rejection of this divine teaching leads to an imbalance in all human relations, including martial relations, Pope Benedict then observed:

The acceptance of faith, on the contrary, makes the person capable of self-giving, in which “only by opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family… by letting himself be changed to suffering, does he discover the breath of his humanity”…. faith in God, sustained by divine grace, is thus a very important element for living mutual dedication and conjugal fidelity…Yet, closure to God, or the rejection of the sacred dimension of the conjugal union, and of its value in the order of grace, certainly makes arduous the practical embodiment of the most lofty model of marriage conceived by the Church according to God’s plan, and can even undermine the actual validity of the pact, should it be expressed…in a rejection of the principle of the conjugal obligation of fidelity itself, that is, of the other essential elements or properties of matrimony.

The Pontiff goes on to say that faith without charity is not fruitful, and charity absent of faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. In the context of community life, faith and charity require each other, and this is even truer in marriage. Pope Benedict’s entire speech to the Rota shows the crucial importance of distinguishing between the role of faith in matrimonial consent, and the role of faith in the fruitfulness of the sacrament.

The merciful love of God, and the mysterious influence of the habitus fidei

In his 2016 speech to the Roman Rota, Pope Francis reaffirmed the teaching of his predecessors situating it in the context of God’s merciful love towards families, and the mysterious influence of the grace of baptism. He says that the church can show this merciful love particularly to those who have been wounded by sin and the trials of life, proclaiming to them “the irrevocable truth of marriage according to God’s plan.” Recalling the 2014 extraordinary Synod on the family, Pope Francis said that it was out of the wise discernment, and true collegiality of the Synod that the church asserted to the world that “there can be no confusion between the family desired by God and other kinds of union.” The Pontiff reminded the Rota that the church always takes into consideration those who live in an objective state of error—whether by free choice, or whether by the unfortunate circumstances of life. They always remain recipients of the merciful love of Christ and, therefore, of the Church herself. Because the Church, as a merciful mother and teacher, is thus aware that among the baptized, some of her members are of a strong faith—formed in love, well-catechized, and well-nourished by prayer and the sacraments; while there are others who are weak in their faith, poorly educated, and unformed. It is after recalling these situations, and insisting that the Church does not abandon those who may be weak in faith, that Pope Francis repeats the teaching of his predecessors, but with his own distinctive emphasis:

It is worth clearly reiterating that the essential component of marital consent is not the quality of one’s faith, which according to unchanging doctrine can be undermined only on the plane of the natural (cf. CIC c. 1055 §§ 1,2). Indeed, the habitus fidei is infused at the moment of Baptism, and continues to have a mysterious influence in the soul, even when faith has not been developed and, psychologically speaking, seems to be absent. It is not uncommon that couples are led to true marriage by the instinctus naturae, and at the moment of its celebration, they have a limited awareness of the fullness of God’s plan. Only later in the life of the family do they come to discover all that God, the Creator and Redeemer, has established for them. A lack of formation in the faith, and error with respect to the unity, indissolubility, and sacramental dignity of marriage, invalidate marital consent only if they influence the person’s will (cf. CIC c. 1099). It is for this reason that errors regarding the sacramentality of marriage must be evaluated very attentively.

Pope Francis goes on to insist that the church proposes, with a renewed sense of responsibility, that marriage, in all its essential elements, is not an ideal meant for a few. Marriage is a reality that can be lived out by all the baptized faithful in the grace of Christ. Speaking on the practical level, the Pope says there is a pastoral urgency for the church to provide adequate marriage preparation. He emphasized that it should be “a kind of new catechumenate,” and observes that this was something that many of the Synod Fathers had hoped for.

In this remarkable speech to the Rota, Pope Francis reaffirms the teaching of his predecessors, and situates it in the wider context of God’s merciful love that comes to the weak and sinful baptized people of God in the sacrament of marriage. This includes those who are on the periphery and whose faith is unformed, and who may not yet have an intense life of faith because they are wounded by the trials of life. The Pope calls us not to overlook the powerful instinct of nature in a couple seeking marriage, but he reminds us, even more, not to overlook the mysterious working of the grace of the habitus fidei in the souls of those couples whose faith has not been developed. In effect, what the Pope warns against is a rationalistic approach to the question of martial consent. The Pontiff does not deny the freedom of the couple to be closed to God’s plan for marriage, but also requiring any level of subjective faith, beyond the faith implicit in the intention to contract the natural covenant of marriage, would run the risk of denying weak and sinful couples—which are all couples—the opportunity to receive the grace that Christ wants to bestow upon them in the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Consummation: The bodily enactment of consent, and the full sacramental signification of the one-flesh unity of Christ and the Church

What the popes have taught about the role of faith in the consent for marriage is important for understanding the place and role of consummation in the sacrament of marriage. The meaning of consummation cannot be interpreted apart from the exchange of consent. Consummation is the bodily enactment of consent, and it brings about the perfection, and full reality, of the sacramentality of marriage. As St. John Paul expressed it: “As ministers of a sacrament that is constituted through consent, and perfected by conjugal union, man and woman are called to express the mysterious “language” of their bodies, in all truth, that properly belongs to it.”13

Understood sacramentally, consummation is the bodily enactment of the exchange of consent between two members of the Body of Christ and, therefore, the marital union of the couple now signifies the corporal, one-flesh union of Christ and the Church. In other words, consummation makes the sexual union of the couple part of the sacramentality of marriage. It might be said to bring about the sacramentalization of the sexual union of the couple. The couple shares in the union of Christ and the Church, in a deeper and more profound ways, than they did prior to consummation. Therefore, we can speak of the perfection of the sacrament. It is because of this new participation in the one-flesh of Christ and the Church that the marital bond of the couple is made absolutely indissoluble. With the perfection of the sacramental marital union in consummation, precise graces are given for marital chastity, and for the attainment of conjugal charity in the totality of married life.

Obviously, consummation supposes the true interpersonal self-giving of the spouses, all of whom are sinners, each with their own weaknesses, and as such, in need of the grace of the sacrament. To demand something more of the couple—who are the ministers of the sacrament in consummation—than the language of the body that speaks a gift of self that is exclusive, permanent, and open to new life, makes the administration of the sacrament dependent on the subjectivity and holiness of the ministers. This is something the Church has always rejected. We saw that Pope John Paul spoke of the simplicity of true consent. We might also speak of the simplicity of consummation. Just as there cannot be required a certain criterion measuring the level of faith of the couple exchanging consent, so a certain criterion measuring the level of self-giving cannot be required for consummation. Making these kinds of requirements—whether for the validity (to use the juridical term) of consent, or for the coming into being of the full reality of the sacrament in consummation—involves setting the bar too high for the ministers of the sacrament, all of whom are sinners. It is Christ, by the power of his Holy Spirit, who acts in and through the couple as the ministers of the sacrament. The couple provides the consent, and the consummation; but it is Christ, by the power of the Spirit, that makes their one-flesh union participate in His one-flesh union with the Church. Perhaps it is easy to overlook this reality because, in marriage, the ministers are also the recipients, but the distinction between the validity of the sacraments, and the fruitfulness of the sacraments, must be maintained.

There are serious problems if consummation is understood to be as an ever-evolving process. If, on the one hand, we think of consummation in this way, then it would not only mean that the full reality of the sacrament would not exist for a time for some couples, but also that the graces that flow from the fullness of the sacrament would not be available to them, possibly for years. If on the other hand, we were to think that for some other couples, consummation may ensue immediately through marital intercourse, then the fullness of the sacrament would be present immediately for them, but not for many other married couples. This would create a sort of sacramental elitism, as well as a kind of neo-Pelagianism. A neo-Pelagianism would be operative because the fullness of the sacrament would be thought to be dependent on a certain level of personal growth in the self-giving of the couple. Pope Francis reminds us, however, that the merciful love of God is not limited by the weaknesses that sinners—both as ministers and as recipients—bring to the sacraments, including the sacrament of marriage.

  1. “Renewing Our Understanding of Marriage: A Sacrament in Peril,America, (February 5, 2018): 34
  2. Ibid., 37
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., 35
  5. Ibid., 36. (Alesandro articulates the canonical construct of pastoral practice in terms of five basic statements found in canon law that flow from the church’s teachings that explain the newness that the teachings of Jesus proclaimed about marriage.)
  6. Ibid., 37
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. For an example see ST. Suppl. q 61, a.2; cf.ad.2. In his Commentary on Ephesians chapter 5, Lecture 10, St. Thomas understands Spouses being one flesh in three ways 1) by love per afffectum dilectionis, 2) by shared lives per conversationem 3) by sexual union, per carnalem coniunctionem. He also uses the word coniunctio to describe the union between Christ and the Church. For St. Thomas the consummation of the marital union in sexual intercourse fully signifies the one flesh union of the Christ with his Spouse, the Church.
  11. CCC 1128
  12. CIC, c. 1096. “For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman, ordered to the procreation of offspring, by means of some sexual co-operation.” CIC 1099 further specifies: “Error concerning the unity, or indissolubility, or sacramental dignity of marriage does not vitiate matrimonial consent provided that it does not determine the will.”
  13. General Audience, August 22, 1984 in Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, ed. Michael Waldstein, (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006), 632.
Lawrence J. Welch, Ph.D. About Lawrence J. Welch, Ph.D.

Lawrence J Welch, Ph.D., is Professor of Systematic Theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis Missouri where he has taught since 1994. He teaches courses on the Sacrament of Marriage, Theological Anthropology and Ecclesiology.

Comments

  1. Maria- Manuela Gotia says:

    Please be so kind and remove the ambiguous photo illustrating this article and replace it with one representing clearly a husband (man) and a wife (woman) with their children.
    Thank you so much!
    Gratefully, M. Gotia

    • Ted Heywood says:

      M. Gotia — Excellent point! Must admit that something about the picture caused me pause but I didn’t realize what it was until I read your comment.

  2. Tom McGuire says:

    This very thoughtful commentary on the Sacrament of Marriage makes an important contribution to the dialogue long overdue on the meaning of the Sacrament of Marriage. From a Catholic Theological point of view, it makes sense. This point of view made sense in the cultural understanding of Catholics of years past. Today, from a cultural point of view: what does permanent mean? what does exclusive mean? what does openness to parenthood mean? Even with great catechesis what is the meaning couples carry with them, grounded in their cultural understanding? Contraception plays a role in openness to life. It is no secret that most Catholics accept as moral the use of artificial contraception. How does the intention to use artificial contraception influence the openness to parenthood?

    As Catholic people, we are far from the unity of faith on the meaning of the Sacrament of Marriage.

  3. If after consummation, a marriage still needed to be evolved enough later to become a sacrament, we’d have lots of babies conceived out of wedlock to a woman who never would conceive unless married, or a man, or both. This would be cruel to the babies who have a natural right to a common home with both Mom and Dad.

  4. Sharelle Temaat says:

    Marriage is in crisis because arguments like Alesandro’s are used to “help” people leave one marriage and enter another.
    The other side of every moral issue is totally ignored, namely, that the Church has taught consistently that breaking vows, using contraception, sodomy, abortion, to list a few, are mortal sins and lead souls to hell.

    The Church is about teaching the way to save one’s soul and avoid the pains of eternal damnation. Any priest, including Msgr. Alesandro, who has NO history of preaching/teaching death, judgement, heaven, hell, should be ignored.

  5. Ted Heywood says:

    In the final analysis ‘the merciful love of God’ can only be applied by God. This mixing of ‘the merciful love of God’ and the need for the Church to teach a clear and unambiguous set of Doctrines can only lead to confusion and error. The Church (following Christ’s lead) defines and clarifies many actions as morally corrupt and deserving of capital punishment (Hell). This is done recognizing that all circumstances cannot be known by human means and therefore it is in the judgement of God that ultimate Justice is served. The Church can inform, lead and guide. God, only, can judge the culpability of the individual, with all its attending conditions, knowable and unknowable to humans, that determine a just judgement. Ergo – The often misunderstood reality …’Who are we to judge?’.

  6. Brian Robertson says:

    The opening of this Pandora’s Box has been a long time in coming..It’s a pity that in spite of this article being unduly long that no mention was made of the need to consult the laity.That was a significant oversight. Otherwise a good start.

    • Ted Heywood says:

      If “consulting the laity” is the equivalent of going with what the majority opinion is then you don’t get ‘Catholicism’.

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  1. […] In a recent essay, the canonist Fr. John Alesandro makes the bold claim that for hundreds of years “the Catholic church has simplistically “canonized” marriage, stripping down its sacred character as a covenant and likening it to a secular contract.”1 […]

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