Dear Father Angelo,
My name is F. and I’m 33 years old. I have been married to G. for seven years now, and we have four children. I’m writing to you because of a problem with my marriage. My entered a group that celebrates latin mass and from that moment problems started to arise in our marriage.
My wife started to attend their catecheses about marital morality, which were kept by a very rigorous priest. We entered a crisis because she was taught by this very priest what he asserts is the right moral way.
So, basically, my wife shouldn’t make love with me if she wants to go to mass the day after, because if we have sex her mind won’t be free to think about Jesus and her body won’t be pure.
Furthermore, that priest affirms that I can have sex with my wife only when she is in her fertile window since for any other period it consists of sinful pleasure.
We have to avoid pleasure, and after sexual intercourse, we must ask forgiveness to Jesus for the sin of pleasure. I can’t go on like this. I do not understand if this is the doctrine of the Church.
Please help me.
The answer from Father Angelo
1- No, this is not the doctrine of the Church.
I’m sorry about the deception your wife fell into; that priest exposes as doctrinal truth what in fact happens to be his erroneous personal belief.
2- Let me review a few points of your letter: the Church professes that married couples can make love even in the infertile periods of the spouse.
This is what the encyclical Humanae Vitae by the Holy Father Paul VI teaches:
“The sexual activity […] does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed.” (HV 11)
Indeed, a conjugal date doesn’t always end with the conception of a new life, as the experience itself attests.
“God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws.” (HV 11)
3- Pleasure in itself isn’t sinful. On the contrary, it’s a gift from God, designed to stimulate the fulfilment of important acts not only for marital life but also for the life of the entire world.
Saint Thomas teaches that the value of temperance does not consist in the ability to repress pleasures, but in the capacity of mastering them.
Virtue can coexist with pleasure, even when pleasure is experienced at its maximum intensity, therefore absorbing the attention of the spirit. Nonetheless, what matters is that man keeps on ruling it and maintains his inner freedom.
Saint Thomas said: “[…]the exceeding pleasure attaching to a venereal act directed according to reason, is not opposed to the mean of virtue. Moreover, virtue is not concerned with the amount of pleasure experienced by the external sense, as this depends on the disposition of the body; what matters is how much the interior appetite is affected by that pleasure.” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, 153,2, ad 2)
4- Hear what Saint Thomas has to say about receiving the Eucharist after conjugal intimacy: “Conjugal intercourse, if it be without sin, (for instance, if it be done for the sake of begetting offspring, or of paying the marriage debt), does not prevent the receiving of this sacrament [the Holy Eucharist]” (Summa Theologiae, III, 80, 7, ad 2).
The Second Vatican Council says that “The actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy ones. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions promote that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with a joyful and a ready will.” (Gaudium et Spes, 49)
Once again, here’s what Saint Thomas says: “For if the motive for the marriage act be a virtue, whether of justice that they may render the debt, or of religion, that they may beget children for the worship of God, it is meritorious.”
(Summa Theologiae, Supplement, 41, 4)
Now how could a meritorious act prevent someone from receiving the Eucharist?
5- In this respect, Saint Thomas knew the restrictive view of Saint Jerome, who said: “If the loaves of Proposition might not be eaten by them who had known their wives carnally, how much less may this bread which has come down from heaven be defiled and touched by them who shortly before have been in conjugal embraces? It is not that we condemn marriages, but that at the time when we are going to eat the flesh of the Lamb, we ought not to indulge in carnal acts.” (Epist. 28)
“However -as Saint Thomas said- this is to be understood in the sense of decency, and not of necessity”.
And he concludes by mentioning Saint Gregory the Great:
“Those who pay the debt of marriage not from lust, but from desire to have children, should be left to their own judgment.” (Summa Theologiae, III, 80, 7, ad 2)
6- All the incorrect interpretation made by that priest, which are presented as if they are expressive of the doctrine of the Church, must constitute an incentive for you and your wife to ascertain the doctrine of the Church itself.
This is what you have done, almost moved by desperation.
This step has to be taken by your wife too.
You must encourage her to trust the magisterium of the Church, to which the Lord promised His spirit of truth (Gv 15,26), and to esteem it more than the sentences of anybody else.
I wish you and your family every good, assure you of remembrance to the Lord and bless you one by one.