Catechism of the Council of Trent and Marriage

I am copying a quote below from the Catechism of the Council of Trent. It suggests that the faithful should abstain from sex for * at least * 3 days prior to receiving Communion and during Lent. This contradicts what I understand as current teachings. Is this wrong?

And practically speaking, those who receive Communion daily would never be engaging in the marital act then…?

The Use Of Marriage
Finally, the use of marriage is a subject which pastors should so treat as to avoid any expression that may be unfit to meet the ears of the faithful, that may be calculated to offend the piety of some, or excite the laughter of. others. The words of the Lord are chaste words; and the teacher of a Christian people should make use of the same kind of language, one that is characterised by singular gravity and purity of soul. Two lessons of instruction to the faithful are, then, to be specially insisted upon.

The first is that marriage is not to be used for purposes of lust or sensuality, but that its use is to be restrained within those limits which, as we have already shown, have been fixed by the Lord. It should be remembered that the Apostle admonishes: They that have wives, let them be as though they had them not, and that St. Jerome says: The love which a wise man cherishes towards his wife is the result of judgment, not the impulse of passion; he governs the impetuosity of desire, and is not hurried into indulgence. There is nothing more shameful than that a husband should love his wife as an adulteress.

But as every blessing is to be obtained from God by holy prayer, ** the faithful are also to be taught sometimes to abstain from the marriage debt, in order to devote themselves to prayer. Let the faithful understand that (this religious continence), according to the proper and holy injunction of our predecessors, is particularly to be observed for at least three days before Communion, and oftener during the solemn fast of Lent.***

Thus will they find the blessings of marriage to be daily increased by an abundance of divine grace; and living in the pursuit of piety, they will not only spend this life in peace and tranquillity, but will also repose in the true and firm hope, which confoundeth not, of arriving, through the divine goodness, at the possession of that life which is eternal.

It is saying that it is good to abstain for the sake of prayer, and this is particularly appropriate for the three days prior to communion and during lent. It is not saying there is an obligation to do this, just that these are the particularly appropriate times to abstain.

If there is doubt, the key clue here in the language is the term “oftener during lent”. It is clearly not meaning ALL of lent, but just that abstaining sometimes from sex is appropriate especially during lent and thus recommended more often (oftener).

But why would it suggest it at all? Even the scriptures make an allowance for abstinence, but it doesn’t really encourage it. The wording St. Paul uses sound urgent…he says something like, Don’t deprive one another, except for a time to pray, but then come together again (not a quote, but I know that is similar).

The passage above gives a sense that sex should be abstained from, rather than simply allowed. And why 3 days? Why would a married couple be encouraged to wait 3 days at all, ever? I know some of the Saints had a more negative view of sexuality, but this is coming from a catechism, which holds much more authority.

It just sounds opposite of what is taught now. I see it as either/or. Either marital sex is good and holy and a gift that should be freely given…or it is a necessary evil. This old catechism gives a strong sense the the latter.

It is confusing.

While I have no particular insight into the text, I don’t get any sense from it that sex is portrayed as a necessary evil!

The Church encourages all manner of self-denial. This is no different. We abstain from good things - eg food - as a form of penance and to devote ourselves to higher truths. That is what is being encouraged here and consistent with what St Paul said also.

There is no indication - explicit or implicit -that sex is viewed as evil per se. Rather, it is in sacrificing good things that we do true penance. But there is an implicit warning that a man who does not control his sexual desires can become overwhelmed by lust. Much like a man who enjoys food must control his appetite to avoid gluttony.

In Catholicism, only, the couple has the power, the competence and the authority to decide of not practicing the conjugal act (of abstaining from the marriage debt).

No temporal power has this power, this competence and this authority; no spiritual power and has this power, this competence and this authority. The fact of having another view (the fact of thinking the contrary) is not respectful of the nature, of the supernatural, and thus of the Catholicism. It is non negotiable rule.

The fact of abstaining from the marriage debt for a time for spiritual reasons has to be consented *mutually, bilaterally and reciprocally. *The unilateral decision is morally unacceptable: that is morally wrong.

The conjugal act before mass of Sunday with the reception of Holy communion is totally moral. Each one can request the marital act and each can say yes.

The simple fact of invoking, unilaterally, the Sunday’s Mass with the reception of Holy communion for refusing the conjugal request coming from the other is a misunderstanding concerning the conjugal act and the rules of marriage. This spiritual reason that is used, unilaterally, is not fair.

As the conjugal act is a prayer, a liturgy, a good invention of God, the Holy act, a natural act, a physical act, a spiritual act and an act of conjugal love, why to refuse of practicing it, before the mass with the reception of Holy communion. In the past, some Saints, some Doctors of Church, some Fathers of Church, some Popes had difficulties to think the conjugal act, in the positive way. But, the Official Magisterium is clear: today we have the total teaching in the details with all subtleties.

Well said. In fact, the Church’s suggestions regarding denial or our appetites for food are even more restrictive than those regarding appetites for sexual pleasures. It is the very fact that sex is a good and not an evil that makes it an appropriate focus for self-denial.

Given the over emphasis on sex in our current times, it may be that this would be a appropriate time to once again focus on penitential self denial in the area of sex.

This may be a reason there are fewer people who attend Mass daily. :wink:

I am not sure about this, but I have read that married priests in the Eastern Catholic churches must abstain from sexual relations the day before celebrating Mass. If this is the case, then it would be unlikely for a married priest to be able to celebrate daily Mass. Perhaps an argument against the married priesthood…

It seems that the idea is taken from Tobit 8:4-5 “…for these three nights we are joined to God, and when the third night is over, we will be in our own wedlock. For we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God.”

It’s kind of the right idea that God is first in our lives. It has nothing to do with sex being evil. It’s an exhortation to be chaste within your marriage in order to avoid objectifying your spouse simply for the immediate pleasure. At least that’s what I get from it.

Keep in mind that daily, or even weekly, reception of Communion would have been highly unusual at the time this was written.

Or, alternatively, that the Eastern custom need not become the Latin one.

But of course by its nature this issue doesn’t involve “self” denial - it involves two. As I understand it, the marital embrace per the Church cannot be unilaterally withheld if legitimately requested and there are no extenuating corcumstances such as illness. If one spouse for whatever reason is called to abstain from marital relations prior to Communion, they do perforce impose that abstinence on the other.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit