“I want to explain the Church’s teaching on marriage when it comes up in conversation…but I just don’t know how!”
Has this thought ever crossed your mind? If so, you’re not alone! Articulating what the Catholic Church believes and teaches about marriage can be difficult, especially in a cultural climate where many of its main tenets are rejected.
One strategy is to return to the sources. That is, become knowledgeable about the Church’s authoritative teaching on marriage, as found in major papal and episcopal documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Frequent consultation of these main sources helps us to become ever more fluent in the “language” of the Church when she speaks about marriage. And when difficult questions come up in conversation or surface in the media, it’s helpful to know where to turn for solid answers.
But where to begin? Below, we offer an introduction to a few of the many important documents about marriage. We encourage you to become acquainted (or perhaps re-acquainted) with the Church’s beautiful and timeless teaching on marriage.
*Note: the following is not meant to be an exhaustive list. Additional sources will be highlighted in future posts.
1. USCCB, Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)
- Why it matters: It’s the most recent document on marriage from the entire body of U.S. bishops, approved in 2009.
- Mini-book, 58 pages long
- Part One: Marriage in the Order of Creation (The Natural Institution of Marriage)
- Part Two: Marriage in the Order of the New Creation (The Sacrament of Matrimony)
- Identifies four “fundamental challenges” to marriage: contraception, same-sex unions, divorce, and cohabitation (pp. 17-27).
- Reflects on marriage as a vocation and offers advice to married couples seeking to grow in virtue (pp. 43-45).
- “For all who seek to find meaning in their marriage will do so when they are open to accepting the transcendent meaning of marriage according to God’s plan” (p. 4).
- “Male and female are distinct bodily ways of being human, of being open to God and to one another – two distinct yet harmonizing ways of responding to the vocation to love” (p. 10).
- “The marital vocation is not a private or merely personal affair. Yes, marriage is a deeply personal union and relationship, but it is also for the good of the Church and the entire community” (p. 44).
- Additional Resources:
- Abridged version
- Study version with glossary
- Leader’s guide (excellent for facilitating reflection and discussion)
- Suggested bulletin inserts
2. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (1997)
- Why it matters: The Catechism conveys the essential content of the Catholic faith (including its teaching on marriage) in a complete and summary way. Divided into easy-to-digest paragraphs, the Catechism also provides numerous footnotes for further study.
- Structure and key sections:
- 904 pages, divided into four parts and 2,865 paragraphs
- The sacrament of matrimony: nos. 1601-1606
- See especially “The goods and requirements of conjugal love” – nos. 1643-1654
- Sexual difference: nos. 369-373 and 2331-2336
- The love of husband and wife: nos. 2360-2379
- Offenses against the dignity of marriage: nos. 2380-2391
- “God created man and woman together and willed each for the other” (no. 371).
- “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (no. 1603).
- “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity” (no. 2333).
- “Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful” (no. 2366).
- Additional Resources:
3. Bl. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981)
- English title: On the Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World
- Why it matters: Promulgated in response to the 1980 Synod of Bishops, Familiaris Consortio reads like a “little summa” of the theology of marriage and the family. Its pastoral advice, which touches on a diverse range of topics from women and society to responsible parenthood to mixed marriages to divorce, is grounded on a robust anthropology of the human person and theology of marriage and the family. It calls the family to a simple but profound mission: “Family, become what you are!”
- 86 sections
- Part One: Bright Spots and Shadows for the Family Today
- Part Two: The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family
- Part Three: The Role of the Christian Family
- 1) Forming a Community of Persons
- 2) Serving Life
- 3) Participating in the Development of Society
- 4) Sharing in the Life and Mission of the Church
- Part Four: Pastoral Care of the Family: Stages, Structures, Agents and Situations
- “Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (no. 11).
- “Every act of true love toward a human being bears witness to and perfects the spiritual fecundity of the family, since it is an act of obedience to the deep inner dynamism of love as self-giving to others” (no. 41).
- “The future of the world and of the church passes through the family” (no. 75).
- Additional Resources
- Commentary by Dr. Joseph Atkinson, associate professor of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family: “A Family Manifesto – How to Read Familiaris Consortio” (originally appeared in Crisis Magazine, Dec. 2001)
4. Bl. John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994)
- Why it matters: Promulgated during the Year of the Family, John Paul II addressed this letter “not to families ‘in the abstract’ but to every particular family in every part of the world” (no. 4). A perfect complement to the longer Familiaris Consortio, Letter to Families invites families to reflect on their identity (especially its likeness to the Triune God) and their mission (building a civilization of love).
- 23 sections
- Part One: The Civilization of Love
- Includes: marital covenant and communion, sincere gift of self, and responsible parenthood
- Part Two: The Bridegroom is with You
- Includes: reflections on the wedding at Cana, the sacrament of marriage, and Mary
- “When a man and woman in marriage mutually give and receive each other in the unity of ‘one flesh,’ the logic of the sincere gift of self becomes a part of their life” (no. 11).
- “Freedom cannot be understood as a license to do absolutely anything: it means a gift of self. Even more: it means an interior discipline of the gift” (no. 14).
- “Families are meant to contribute to the transformation of the earth and the renewal of the world, of creation and of all humanity” (no. 18).
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