by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV
Since this website is all about vocations, it is essential for discerners to know the most fundamental elements of each vocation. Marriage is a vocation. Spousal love is a special way of demonstrating love to another person, and it intimately involves the complementary nature of men and women. It would be remiss not to discuss the role of intercourse in marriage. To start with, let’s take a look at part of what canon law says marriage is:
Can. 1096 §1. For matrimonial consent to exist, the contracting parties must be at least not ignorant that marriage is a permanent partnership between a man and a woman ordered to the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.
§2. This ignorance is not presumed after puberty.
Why is intercourse so important in marriage? It is because marriage reflects the union of Christ and His Church. The crowning glory of human marriage is reserved for the baptized who consummate their marriage, thereby reflecting the Church in her fruitfulness. Unfortunately, there are a lot of popular misconceptions about the role of intercourse in marriage, and what the Church really believes in with respect to NFP.
It goes against being open to children to have marital relations during an infertile time.
Sterile and infertile people can lawfully have marital relations even though it is unlikely they will conceive. The Church has a very clear definition of what openness to life really means. In a nutshell, it means that 1) the act proper to the generation of children is not impeded artificially such that conception deliberately blocked [artificial contraception] 2) that once conceived, the child is not aborted or subject to infanticide after birth 3) that the parents do not deliberately plan to withhold the basic necessities for raising a child once born until they reach emancipation, and 4) intercourse is not limited to infertile days on a consistent and deliberate basis solely to avoid children when a serious reason for avoiding the possibility of conceiving a child is lacking.
It is wrong for a married couple to completely abstain from intercourse because God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply.
There is nothing against a married couple mutually deciding to forgo the conjugal embrace permanently, indefinitely, or even for a limited amount of time to devote themselves to prayer or good works. The first and most important parenthood each man and woman should foster is spiritual parenthood, spiritual fruitfulness. Such an agreement to remain continent must be mutual and if one spouse decides after a while that they require the marital embrace, the other must comply (unless there is a serious reason otherwise; a private vow of continence or agreement is not binding nor serious cause to refuse).
I have the right to have children if I get married.
This is incorrect. Each spouse gives the other spouse the right to “acts proper to the generation of children” (intercourse). In other words, nobody has the right to have children. But Sue may ask Joe to render the “marital debt” and he may not refuse without serious reason. Likewise Joe may require Sue to render the “debt” and she may not refuse without serious reason. But Sue cannot expect or demand “children” like she can expect and require the conjugal act. Why? Because conception is not a spousal right. The right that is exchanged in marriage is the right to the act that is “apt” for generating children. This act must be reasonable, free (the opposite of free would be marital rape), and done without artificial contraception, without intention of abortion/infanticide, and without intention of depriving a child from the basic necessities.
The marital act, done freely, reasonably, in a human manner, and without intention of future abortion/infanticide or depriving a potential child of basic necessities is by its nature both unitive and open to life. Neither sterility nor infertility preclude this basic openness to life.
To be continued.
(c) 2014 by Therese Ivers, JCL, OCV