Natural Family Planning: The Covenant Theology

“I read your book Sex and the Marriage Covenant many years ago, and it had a profound effect on my understanding and on my priestly ministry.  I thank you for the wonderful work you have been engaged in over the years on behalf of the dignity of human life, Christian marriage, and human sexuality and the promotion of Natural Family Planning.  God bless you!”  (a priest in WV; August 2019))

That compliment was in response to a blog we ran during NFP Awareness Week, so we running that blog again.  (Also, due to computer problems, we did not have a new blog ready by deadline time.  The idea that the marriage act ought to be a renewal of the marriage covenant was new at the  time; the idea that the marriage act could be compared to Holy Communion was also unheard of at the time and proved controversial.  Some years later St. Pope John Paul II further developed the idea.)

John:  In our first years of marriage, I worked as a lay evangelist in Santa Clara, and one Saturday morning early in 1966 I attended a lecture on birth control by Michael Novak at a parish in Palo Alto.  I can’t remember a thing he said, but what stayed with me was the manner in which he answered questions; it certainly seemed to me that he was undermining faith in the received teaching [about birth control].  I was doing my best to uphold this teaching, and his comments left me angry.

By the time I was home again, I was ready to write a defense and explanation of the received teaching that had been reaffirmed by Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii in 1930.  I began writing that afternoon and concluded my article late Sunday afternoon.  Never before or after have I been able to write like that.    Titled “Holy Communion: Eucharistic and Marital,” it drew a five-fold analogy between the worthy reception of the Holy Eucharist and the worthy marriage act.

I will list them here very briefly and I urge the interested reader to read the article at

  1. Both are the results of sacraments. The first requires the Sacrament of Holy Orders which enables the priest to act in the person of Christ to bring about the changing of the bread and wine into the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus. The lawful marriage act requires that the spouses be married so that their physical union can be a marriage act. The Catholic Church teaches that a valid marriage between two Christians constitutes the Sacrament of Matrimony.
  2. Both are the results of a sacrificial offering: the first by the Lord Jesus on the cross, and the second by the spouses as they promise to love and to remain faithful to each other for better and for worse till death parts them.
  3. Both embody a bodily gift of self. This is quite obvious in the case of the Lord Jesus, but also in marriage the act ought to be a gift of self, at least not in any way opposed to the gift promised in making their marriage covenant.
  4. A renewal of the covenant. In receiving the Holy Eucharist, we implicitly renew our baptismal covenant with the Lord Jesus, both affirming our desire to walk with Him and asking for the strength to do so. In the marriage act, spouses are called to renew, at least implicitly, the faith and love and commitment of their original marriage covenant.
  5. The manner in which each covenant was sealed. The New Covenant announced at the Last Supper was sealed by the total self-giving of the Lord Jesus on the cross the next day. The marriage covenant is sealed by the spouses’ first marriage act which is a symbol of the total gift of the spouses to each other. Does a contracepted act constitute a true marriage act for purposes of Canon Law? That question goes beyond my competence, but the question certainly has been raised.

This is all too brief.  I hope you will read the original article that was published in Ave Maria magazine on February 25, 1967, exactly 17 months before Humanae Vitae.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant



Comments are closed.