Marriage and "Consummation"

Greetings!

I’m a candidate in RCIA and as of now, the probability of me converting is
9.9999999999 x 10^(-1).

Prior to tonight, I had yet to run into any church teaching that had “troubled” me.

I’ve come to learn that the Catholic Church does not offer sacramental marriage for the perpetually impotent. Seeing as marriage (even stated by the church) is much more than just sex, how on earth can the church deny this sacrament to those who have no fault in the matter?

The church marries sterile people for crying out loud! Why not the impotent?

I don’t mean to come off as condescending or even virulent to church teaching, but this REALLY makes no sense to me. I’ve prayed about it, and am trying to find some scriptural and/or traditional defenses to this teaching as to ease my worry, however so far I’ve found nothing in scripture that validates this church teaching, and the only “tradition” I can find, is tradition marred by historical prejudice against people during a time in which nobody knew about biology.

Please, this is a serious question, and the last thing I want is to start questioning everything else I’ve come to accept.

How can I conform my conscience to this teaching when it is completely contradictory to OTHER church teaching?

I’m fuzzy right now - I should be in bed at this hour.

I think there are two reasons. One is that the marriage isn’t properly a marriage unless it is consummated. AFAIK, the Church takes a wide view of this - if it is only managed once, the marriage is valid. That’s the one I’m sure about.

The second one is just a thought I had, that may be behind this. Marriage has to be open to new life, and how can you be open to new life unless you can “do the deed”?

I hope you can get the gist of that. Like I say, I’m fuzzy, and I’m going to bed right now!

:yawn::sleep:

Ruthie

I’m no expert on this, but until someone who is can chime in, let me share a thought.

In a less promiscuous time, sexual intercourse was called ‘the marital act’ because it was assumed only married people would engage. Originally, it was the deciding factor in a ‘common law’ marriage: if a couple was having sex, they were considered married even if they hadn’t stood before the priest or judge.

The marriage ceremony completes the spiritual union, the signing of the documents completes the legal union, and the ‘marital act’ completes the physical union.

If a physical union isn’t going to take place, there’s no need for the spiritual. You don’t need a sacrament to be best friends for life with someone.

It isn’t a case of the Church ‘denying’ the grace of the sacrament-- biology has already done so.

It is fundamentally different than when one partner is sterile. But like sterility, the situation is in constant flux-- I’m told viagra has changed life in the nursing home in ways I’d rather not think about.

But in an earlier age, allowing people to exit a marriage that couldn’t be consumated was a generous, humane decision.

Hi there!

When I went through RCIA, I was pretty much straight in line with the Church’s teachings-- until it got to the teachings on sex. Christopher West’s explanations of the Theology of the Body really helped me-- I’d really recommend them if you haven’t come across them already!

Here’s the reality: Marriage ends when one of the spouses dies. Marriage is not eternal-- it’s a sacrament, and it’s a vocation, but it’s not Heaven.

Just as a priest is called to forgo an earthly marriage through his vocation, trusting that it is the means which God is going to bring the most grace in to his life, so that his sanctification might be brought about through that vocation; so is the call to be married the means which God will most directly bring about the sanctification of the couple involved.

But marriage is not what we are called to first. We are called to holiness-- union with God-- first.

If someone is not able to consummate a marriage, for whatever the reason (say, he was in an accident and paralysed…), then however unfortunate it is that he may not become married, we must trust that God did not desire for him to be married, and that the means for his salvation is through the single state of life.

It is a difficult teaching, especially when “naturally,” one is configured towards marital union, but if the marital act could not fulfill its two ends-- that of unity and procreation-- then the marriage would not be able to sacramentally confer the graces offered anyways.

Really, it’s a safeguard for the people involved that they might be able to receive all of the graces necessary in order to get to Heaven.

Hope that helps!
Chris

I am not sure you were given correct information. There are Josephite marriages where husband and wife remain celibate.

The parents of Saint Therese were celibate for some years after they married until they were convinced by a priest to have children, if I recall.

Can the people who gave this information to you point to some canon law or something in the Catechism or any Church document as a reference to support it?

Permanent impotence is an impediment to marriage per Canon Law

Can. 1084 §1. Antecedent and perpetual impotence to have intercourse, whether on the part of the man or the woman, whether absolute or relative, nullifies marriage by its very nature.

§2. If the impediment of impotence is doubtful, whether by a doubt about the law or a doubt about a fact, a marriage must not be impeded nor, while the doubt remains, declared null.

So in the case of impotence, would it be okay for the couple to have a civil marriage, and live together? Since there could be no sex involved, it wouldn’t be fornication.

Not if they are Catholics.

There is no such thing as a “civil marriage.” Catholics are all the time doing this “civil marriage” thing, and then having it “blessed” after the six months period that the Church requires. In reality, this is a sin. At worst, if they are having sex, then the marriage is not yet consummated until the marriage has been made valid by the Church, and they are living in mortal sin. At best, they are committing the sin of scandal in the life they are living and their example to others.

If they are intent upon being “together,” they Church would recommend that they live together as brother and sister, such as in the case of those who find out they have HIV or other circumstances that would cause the spouse, or would-be spouse, harm.

The reality is, if the female is the one who is fertile, and feels called to a vocation of marriage and family life, then the infertile male should do the most loving thing and let her go, so that she can pursue God’s will in her life for a husband.

I’m not saying this should all be done lightly! There should be a discernment process. Perhaps the woman is not called to marriage after all, but a life of continence and a life-long friendship that can mutually help each other strive for holiness.

But in NO way is that considered a marriage, and it should never be put across as one.

GBu

I do not have anything to offer the OP, but the above statement is in error (chalk it up to [user]Ruthie[/user]'s fuzziness).

Consummation renders a marriage indissoluable, but even prior to that act (other things being equal) a marriage is “proper”, true, real, valid, sacramental, and any other applicable adjective.

tee
Who Is Not, However, A Canon Lawyer

The *purpose *of marriage is procreation. If one is incapable of performing the marital act, one cannot marry because one is incapable of carrying out its purpose.

That does not mean that every couple who marries procreates. One must be capable of completing the act that objectively leads to procreation.

In a Josephite marriage, both partners are **capable **of intercourse. They refrain from it by mutual consent-- for a time or permanently.

If either of them decides to ask for their marital rights, the other is obligated to begin the conjugal life and the Josephite marriage ceases.

The canon law item you are looking for is Canon 1084.

Where did you ever get the notion that if a male is infertile he should do the loving thing. First you said the female is the one who is fertile. Then how can a male be infertile?

Infertility is certainly not a reason for a decree of nullity. If one spouse is infertile (unable to conceive) the Church does not say the marriage is null even if both want to “do the loving thing”.

If sexual intercourse is required for a marriage to be a marriage then Mary and Joseph were not married, husband and wife, and they most certainly were.

First, let’s clarify that we are speaking about the ability to consummate the marriage soley. Not infertility after entering in to marriage, and having consummated it.

I got the notion in discussing these issues in a Catholic Sexual Ethics course, as part of an MA in Theology. One cannot be married if they are unable to consummate it! My response of what the “loving thing” is came from asking the question of “what to do if…” to one of the top canon lawyers and moral theologians at Regina Apostolorum in Rome. It is a hard teaching, but it makes sense.

Also, it’s a funny rule, because it’s rather one-sided, isn’t it? A woman would not fall under this rule, because she can presumably always be open to the marital act. So it’s the one instance in the whole Church where men are discriminated against.

But you do bring up an interesting question… Mary and Joseph.

There is no way they were sacramentally married, which is what we are speaking of. And I’m not even talking about what makes marriage a sacrament-- I’m talking about the fact that sacraments did not exist before the Church, and the Church did not exist until 50 days after Christ was resurrected, long after Joseph had died.

In order to speak of Mary and Joseph’s marriage, we would have to look at Jewish tradition, which I don’t know a thing about.

GBu!

Without, I hope, derailing the thread

Is that true? Is the institution of each sacrament not an instance of the sacrament itself? :confused:

:twocents: To my mind, if the sacrament of marriage could be said to exist prior to Pentecost, the question of the sacramentality of Mary and Joseph’s marriage would hinge on the question of whether or not Joseph was baptized? (I think the Immaculate Virgin would get a pass, though there is no reason she too could not have been baptized, if sacramental baptism existed) But it certainly would not hinge upon the marriage being consummated, which it was not. :twocents:

tee

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. So if this teaching falls under “Theology of the Body”, I’ll look for apologetics concerning it.

Just as a priest is called to forgo an earthly marriage through his vocation, trusting that it is the means which God is going to bring the most grace in to his life, so that his sanctification might be brought about through that vocation; so is the call to be married the means which God will most directly bring about the sanctification of the couple involved.

So what is an impotent man called to if he feels called to marriage and not the priesthood, yet the church tells him he cannot marry?

If someone is not able to consummate a marriage, for whatever the reason (say, he was in an accident and paralysed…), then however unfortunate it is that he may not become married, we must trust that God did not desire for him to be married, and that the means for his salvation is through the single state of life.

But why? I understand that the church teachings consummation “seals the deal”, but I’ve yet to see why that’s the case (other than possibly an outdated understanding of reproduction and love).

Really, it’s a safeguard for the people involved that they might be able to receive all of the graces necessary in order to get to Heaven.

I’m a little confused by what you mean by this. Could you clarify please?

So if an impotent man is called to marriage and family life, and decides to marry civilly so that he and his wife may adopt children (or so he can raise, as father, the biological children the woman already had) he is sinning? That doesn’t seem right.

If they are intent upon being “together,” they Church would recommend that they live together as brother and sister, such as in the case of those who find out they have HIV or other circumstances that would cause the spouse, or would-be spouse, harm.

May they adopt children in this state? I still haven’t been shown how impotence renders a man an unfit father or spouse.

The reality is, if the female is the one who is fertile, and feels called to a vocation of marriage and family life, then the infertile male should do the most loving thing and let her go, so that she can pursue God’s will in her life for a husband.

Remember we’re talking about impotence not fertility. The Church DOES marry infertile couples, but not impotent couples, and this is the contradiction I’m trying to work out, yet your post still makes a good point. If an impotent man is unfit to be a father or spouse simply because he cannot have biological children, then likewise a sterile man should be denied marriage as well, otherwise the church is being either:

  1. Completely unfair and discriminatory with no sound reason.
  2. Completely obsessed with sex to such an extent that the inability to have sex ALONE is the reason for denying the marriage.

Again, I don’t see how inability to consummate a marriage means the couple is incapable of being fit parents, or of even loving each other. Does the church actually believe that sex alone is the glue that holds marriages together? What of the Holy Family and Mary’s perpetual virginity?

I’m not saying this should all be done lightly! There should be a discernment process. Perhaps the woman is not called to marriage after all, but a life of continence and a life-long friendship that can mutually help each other strive for holiness.

OK to be friends, but not OK to extend that life-long friendship to the domain of child rearing?

But in NO way is that considered a marriage, and it should never be put across as one.

Why? A marriage is only a “real” marriage if there’s sex involved? That’s a rather carnal way of looking at things.

Then indeed the church should immediately stop marrying sterile couples. We now know that it isn’t sex that directly leads to procreation, rather the fusion of gametes and if ANYTHING hinders that fusion (be it impotence, chemical sterility, age, etc) than the couple is not fit to be married. Now if this were the case in Canon Law, I’d see no contradition. I would find it to be cruel and possibly strange, but at least not contradictory.

That does not mean that every couple who marries procreates. One must be capable of completing the act that objectively leads to procreation.

Exactly. Every couple who marries must be capable of having their sperm and ova fuse to create zygotes. That is what objectively leads to procreation and proved by fertility clinics (NOTE: I’m not advocating the use of fertility clinics, merely using their existence and efficacy of treatments to demonstrate that it is cell fusion that directly leads to child birth and not sex).

So my question seems to stand. How does one reconcile the contradiction without concluding that the Church is either stuck in the past (with respect to reproductive knowledge) and/or overly obsessed with sex to a point that sex makes or breaks our state in life?

Follow up question:

Is this considered an infallible teaching, in the domain of the deposit of faith?

Or is this merely an issue of canon law that can at some point be rescinded, reformed, etc?

If it is the latter, then are there any Eastern Catholic Churches (with their own canon law) that marry impotent couples?

Check Humanae Vitae… it is the impotent, not the infertile, who are impeded.

Pope John Paul II wrote (see here):

The Son of Mary is also Joseph’s Son by virtue of the marriage bond that unites them: “By reason of their faithful marriage both of them deserve to be called Christ’s parents, not only his mother, but also his father, who was a parent in the same way that he was the mother’s spouse: in mind, not in the flesh.”[13] In this marriage none of the requisites of marriage were lacking: “In Christ’s parents all the goods of marriage were realized—offspring, fidelity, the sacrament: the offspring being the Lord Jesus himself; fidelity, since there was no adultery: the sacrament, since there was no divorce.”

The rule applies to women as well as men. In practice, I think vaginismus is the main way women are considered impotent.

The canon law rule also invalidates marriage where relative impotence is present. In relative impotence, both the man and the woman are capable of intercourse, just not with each other.

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