4. Holy Communion: Eucharistic and Marital

Covenant renewal (continued)

A current [when first written in 1966] emphasis in the theology of Holy Communion is on the disposition of the person receiving the sacrament.  While not negating the minimum requirements for a valid reception of the Eucharist, increasing stress is laid upon the fact that the growth in holiness of the person, which is the intended effect of the sacrament, is not something which Christ will automatically produce even though he is infallibly present to the person in the sacrament.  It is clear that his historic presence during his public life did not automatically create a state of holiness within those about Him—witness Judas, for example.  Likewise today, although the grace of Christ is infinite, personal growth in grace depends not just upon the physical reception of the sacraments, but also upon the degree to which the person has responded to the actual grace of God in opening his heart to God and neighbor. And this is far from a sweet and pietistic desire to want to receive Jesus in one’s heart. The Eucharist was given us at the Last Supper in order to strengthen and nourish us to keep another gift of the Last Supper: the commandment to love one another as Christ loved us.

It would be a shame if today, during a time of development in the theology of marriage, undue emphasis were placed on either a merely valid sexual marital act or on purely subjective considerations, for this would run counter to the well-balanced emphasis now taking place in the other areas of sacramental theology.

The aspect of covenant helps to maintain a balance between the subjective and the objective elements by calling to mind that objectively, the act itself must be free from deliberate and positive exclusion of its natural effects or purposes, just as the original marriage covenant or contract. It also calls to mind that subjectively, the more the act is a renewal of the love that called forth the original marriage promises, the more holy a communion it becomes.

The aspect of covenant also offers an answer to one of the perennial mysteries of married love: How can an act which both parties enjoy so much, out of which each person can gain so much personal satisfaction at the sensual, psychological and deepest levels of being—how can such an act be at the same time one of self-giving love?  How if the persons are “getting” so much can they at the same time be giving of themselves? It should be noted first of all that many mature married people undoubtedly find great satisfaction from the fact that they have contributed to the pleasure of the other. In such cases, it seems that the communion of intercourse is a culmination of the real communion of their lives.

But even deeper than that, it is because their act is a renewal of their marriage covenant that they engage in a simultaneous giving and receiving. As the couple start out upon marriage, it is precisely because they have given of themselves without reservations to the other that they can now receive the beloved.  And throughout their married life, it will be precisely because they have each given of themselves, even denied themselves, on behalf of the other that they will reach that state of personal development which is the immediate goal of human life, a state of true inner freedom in regard both to oneself and to other things, a freedom which frees the person for unselfish service towards God and neighbor.

Thus, just as the truly Holy Communion with Christ in the Eucharist is the result of complete openness to all that the covenant with Him demands, likewise the truly holy communion of marital intercourse is that which is truly a renewal of the marriage covenant, open to all the demands of Christian marriage, an acceptance of each other and the consequences without reservation.

To be continued tomorrow.  (By John Kippley, Ave Maria 1967; Sex and the Marriage Covenant, Ignatius 2005)

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