Marriage and the Eucharist: What We Believe and Problems with Amoris Laetitia


When we say “I do” at the altar, the Church out of respect for our ability to freely choose our vocation, takes us at our word. When we promise before family, friends, and God that we want to enter into marriage “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” we actually create a bond so strong that only death itself can dissolve it.

We believe that marriage is life-long and also that contraception has no place in the marital relationship. Without the possibility of “help” from contraception and divorce, marriage can appear to our modern eyes as an untenable reality. However, because of the grace available to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, we have been given the strength to remain faithful to our promise to God and our spouse, come what may. Christ’s ultimate gift of himself to us in turn allows us to give ourselves to others. His sacrifice on Calvary has restored the original meaning of marriage.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning: permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts. The matrimonial union of a man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it: “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. [In fact the disciples who heard this teaching were surprised and taken aback by it (Mt 19:10).] However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy—heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life (CCC 1614-15).

The Eucharist

We also believe that at every Mass, the bread and wine are turned into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus, to be consumed by us in order to strengthen our love for Him and others. Our reception of the Eucharist signifies our communion with God and His Church. Because we are uniting ourselves to Him in such a radical way, we need to be in a state of grace—free from mortal sin—in order to not “eat and drink judgment” upon ourselves (1 Cor 11).

The Catechism says:

As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life; and this living charity wipes away venial sins. By giving himself to us Christ revives our love and enables us to break our disordered attachments to creatures and root ourselves in him:

Since Christ died for us out of love, when we celebrate the memorial of his death at the moment of sacrifice we ask that love may be granted to us by the coming of the Holy Spirit. We humbly pray that in the strength of this love by which Christ willed to die for us, we, by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit, may be able to consider the world as crucified for us, and to be ourselves as crucified to the world…Having received the gift of love, let us die to sin and live for God.”

By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin. The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins—that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church (CCC 1394-1395).

Amoris Laetitia

Last month Amoris Laetitia was released, in which the Holy Father suggests that the divorced and remarried can receive the help of the sacraments. In Chapter VIII, paragraph 305 the Holy Father writes:

“Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that in an objective situation of sin – which may not be subjectively culpable, or fully such – a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.”

Because the Church’s teaching on marriage and the Eucharist cannot change as it was given to us by Christ himself and reiterated infallibly by the Council of Trent, we must read the Holy Father’s words in light of our faith and Tradition. But first, it is important to note that while divorce “introduces disorder into the family and into society” and often “brings grave harm to the deserted spouse [and]to children traumatized by the separation of their parents,” the Church recognizes that separation and even civil divorce might be necessary in some cases (CCC 2383-2385). However, the fact of divorce alone does not render one unable to receive Holy Communion—as some people mistakenly think. Rather, only when one enters into a manifestly invalid second marriage must they be refused Holy Communion (canon 915).

Therefore, returning to the words of Amoris Laetitia, someone who is in an ongoing and objectively sinful relationship (remarriage), could only receive the help of the sacraments if he or she is in a state of grace. This would be the case, for instance, if he or she has confessed the sin of adultery in the sacrament of Confession and is now living in a continent relationship with the second partner (abstaining from those acts proper to married couples) or if he or she is not morally culpable of individual sexual acts with a second spouse because of having been forced to engage in those acts. Those who have freely chosen to remarry and are freely choosing to engage in sexual acts with a second partner, however, are not free to pursue this pastoral solution to readmittance to the sacrament due to their continued intention to violate the sixth commandment.

In Familiaris Consortio, Saint John Paul II explains the eminently pastoral nature of this discipline of the Church:

However the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage. Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who … are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that … they take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples (FC 84).

Any Catholic can receive the Holy Eucharist today if he or she only makes a good confession and firmly resolves to sin no more. The Good News of Jesus Christ is that not only does he freely offer the gift of his forgiveness to those who repent, confess their sins, and intend to sin no more, but he also promises us the grace to live out this original meaning of marriage!

For an excellent commentary on Amoris Laetitia and the confusion it’s created, I strongly recommend to you this statement from Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer

Photo by Robson Freitas (2015) via Morguefile


Christmas, Marriage, and Joy to the World

51FExJIaC7L._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_-2It took me a year to pick up Scott Hahn’s Joy to the World: How Christ’s Coming Changed Everything (And Still Does) due to an eight-and-a-half pound bundle who arrived at our house shortly after last Christmas. I’d been looking forward to reading it all year, and it did not disappoint. Dr. Hahn’s book is great for everyone, but I’d especially recommend it for those grumpy Catholics (myself included!) who are tempted to look down at Christmas as being less significant than the more austere, grander Lent and Easter. Joy to the World examines the theology behind the very familiar Christmas story and the significance of the Incarnation using scripture and history and makes a compelling case for why joy ought to be the hallmark of a true Christian spirituality.

Most astonishing to me was Dr. Hahn’s section on angels. Angels, we know, feature prominently in the Christmas story. We see the angel Gabriel asking Mary to become the Mother of God, the angels appearing to the shepherds to tell them of Christ’s birth, and possibly also in the Christmas “star” (perhaps another angel?). Dr. Hahn reminds us that Christ’s birth is a moment of “comeuppance” for the bad angels who despised God’s plan for the redemption of mankind through the Incarnation, a moment of glory for the good angels who consented to serve a God-made-man. Before the Incarnation, Dr. Hahn points out, the angels in the Old Testament terrified those to whom they appeared. After, however, the angels offer messages of peace, now our brothers united in the Incarnation. Angels, whose main job it is to worship, now worship God on earth after He deigned to be born here. Hence, we see angels visiting little old Bethlehem.

That was all stunning enough, but Dr. Hahn’s conclusion to that chapter really struck a chord within me. He writes:

Where God abides, the angels worship. Where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, God abides, and the angels worship. Where there is a marriage bond, there is God—within that family sacramentally—and there the angels gather and worship (96).

Dr. Hahn points out that the Christmas story is really a story about a family, about the family. God became man to redeem mankind through the family, and He is really and truly present in the sacramental marriage. This Christmas, the angels remind us of the tremendous glory hidden in our marriages, this powerful force for good, this divine reality which dwells within our homes and can truly spread joy to the world.

Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer

Decreasing with John the Baptist

On Wednesday we celebrate the birthday of St. John the Baptist, the voice calling out in the wilderness, cousin of Jesus, and who was beheaded for daring to speak out again Herod’s unlawful marriage, bequeathed to us the message, “He must increase. I must decrease.”

St. Augustine in one of his sermons pointed out how John’s birthday falls appropriately near the summer solstice–after which the days begin to shorten—as opposed to Christmas, after which the days lengthen, symbolizing the humility that John preached and lived:

So let both their deaths also speak of these two things: ‘It is necessary for him to grow, but for me to diminish.’ The one grew on the Cross, the other was diminished by the sword. Their deaths have spoken of this mystery, let the days do so too. Christ is born, and the days start increasing; John is born, and the days start diminishing. So let man’s honor diminish, God’s honor increase, so that the honor of man may be found in the honor of God.

Humility and marriage are inextricably and seemingly paradoxically bound up in the life of this glorious—and celibate—prophet. One way to honor our great brother’s birth week might be to take a look at how humility and marriage intersect in our lives.

In my marriage: How can I grow in humility in my own marriage? Is there a sore point in our relationship that would improve with humility? Is there some small argument in our marriage that I can “lose” in order to bring about greater peace and to show my spouse sacrificial love?

Others’ marriages: Do I have bad thoughts about another couple’s marriage? Might God be calling me to instead say a prayer for them today?

The Church’s teaching on marriage: Is there an issue regarding the Church’s teaching on marriage that I struggle with? Could I do some research on the topic as an act of love for and trust in God today? (The USCCB might be a helpful place to start.)

May the birthday of St. John the Baptist and the new, shorter days remind us of our call to die to ourselves so that we might live in the glorious love of God.

Copyright Meg Matenaer (2015).
“Sand dunes” by erdenebayar (2014) via Morguefile.

The First Divine Romance

On Wednesday we’ll celebrate the Annunciation, the first of many yeses to come from Joseph and Mary’s marriage, what the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen has referred to as the first “divine romance,” a marriage “such as the stars have whose light unites in the atmosphere, though the stars themselves do not.”

On February 18, 1951 on his radio show The Catholic Hour, Archbishop Sheen spoke of the renunciation of self on both Mary and Joseph’s part for the sake of something greater: a child.

He remarked:

God loves bellowing waterfalls, but I believe He loves them better not when they overflow and drown His flowers, but when they are harnessed and bridled to light a city and to slake the thirst of a child. Not then in Joseph and Mary do we find one pure controlled waterfall and one dried-up lake, but rather two youths who before they knew the beauty of the one, and the handsome strength of the other, willed to surrender it for the ‘passionless passion’ and ‘wild tranquility’ of Jesus.

In this divine romance we can see our own marriages and the light that’s come forth from our unions. In our willingness to bring forth children, we join Joseph and Mary as we harness our freedom and ability for the sake of those little ones entrusted to us, the passionless passion of parenthood.

The monotony and difficulties of family life can make us feel like there’s been some mistake, that God had made us for something more than the drudgery that comes with the upkeep of a family. But in Joseph and Mary’s marriage we have His assurance that this is His divine plan, that He will be with us always, and indeed will be the very light that is sent out into the world when we work to love our spouses and children in our own homes.

[Featured Image: Morguefile]

Two Ideas to Help Prepare Our Kids for Marriage

This past week my husband and I attended a meeting with our bishop and other couples in the diocese who are somehow involved with marriage ministry to talk about the issues regarding the challenges to marriage and family that the bishops will discuss during this fall’s synod.

The bleak state of marriage in our country took center stage. Those involved in marriage prep revealed that the number of couples coming to them was trending downward sharply. Others from areas like adult faith formation, sacramental prep, and the marriage tribunal nodded in agreement. The obvious dangers to a society where marriage is no longer considered important were discussed, and the ultimate catch-22 was brought up: how can we educate and equip our children to form strong marriages when we ourselves are often poorly catechized?

After some discussion, two programs that had been overwhelmingly successful in helping parents educate and prepare their kids to lead a truly Christian life stood out:

Theology of the Body for Teens: This program is still yielding great fruit. A former catechist spoke about her experience of successfully running middle school and high school sessions for teens and their parents at her parish. As a parent, the idea of attending a Theology of the Body workshop struck me as a great solution for how to effectively teach my children about the extraordinary beauty of the body and marriage without having to do all the heavy lifting by myself. The parish setting also would be a great chance to meet other families and share ideas about how to navigate the difficult teenage years.

Catholic youth service programs: In particular, our diocese is extraordinarily blessed to have a vibrant youth service program called Love Begins Here. Several of the people at the meeting had kids who really loved serving others around the diocese with fellow high school students led by on-fire young adults. The program has been extremely successful in encouraging young people to hang on to the faith that they’ve been given through prayer, service, education, and fun. Programs like these make the important connection between our faith and love of neighbor, helping our kids see that they need to truly give of themselves in order to really love those around them. This is a critical lesson that hopefully they can then carry into their own marriages.

Leaving the meeting the tremendous challenges to the Church still lay heavy on my heart. But as a parent these two types of programs in particular gave me real hope for support in handing on our faith to my kids, especially when it comes to preparing them to be a truly Christian spouse should God call them to that vocation.

How about your diocese? Have any programs been particularly successful in educating the youth about our faith and marriage in particular?

[Featured Image: “Wedding rings” by Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – Source]