3. Natural Family Planning: Preparation for Marriage and What Couples Have a Right to Know

2.  A theology of the marriage act that supports Humanae Vitae In today’s context, it is obvious that couples need to hear that Christian marriage is permanent.  That means that they need to see marriage as part of the Divine Covenant, not just a contract that can be broken by mutual consent.  They should also realize that every one of their marriage acts ought to be a reminder of their marriage covenant.

Here I propose that it would be helpful for couples to learn and internalize a simple theological statement about the marriage act:  “Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be, at least implicitly, a renewal of the marriage covenant.”  St. Pope John Paul II used this covenant-renewal concept in his 1994 Letter to Families.  This covenant understanding gives positive meaning to Catholic biblical teaching about the marriage act.   It states first of all what sexual intercourse ought to be—exclusively a marriage act and then, within marriage, a renewal of their marriage covenant.  It also explains why the same anatomical act that is the serious matter of mortal sin outside of marriage can be a serious good within marriage.  Outside of marriage, there is no covenant commitment, and thus sexual union is essentially dishonest.  Within marriage, the marriage act can be and ought to be a true renewal of the faith, love and commitment of their wedding day promises even though some marriage acts are something less than that.

The covenant statement also invites an explanation of the Christian biblical covenant of marriage.  A covenant of God’s making.  A covenant that the Lord Jesus makes clear is binding until death.  A covenant of self-giving love.  All of this is important for engaged couples to understand.

The natural family planning course can affirm the unconditional character of the marriage covenant by pointing out that contraception contradicts instead of affirming the marriage covenant.  The marriage act ought to say, “I take you once again for better and for worse until death do us part.”  The body language of the contraceptive marriage act says instead, “I take you for better but definitely NOT for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.”  It is essentially dishonest and thus immoral.  Couples have a need and a right to know these things.

John F. Kippley
To be continued next week —

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