Question: You said in a previous answer that the Church condemns artificial contraception because it violates our need to safeguard the intrinsic meaning of the conjugal act — namely, both the unitive and procreative dimensions. Then why allow women over 50, for whom there can be no procreative dimension, to be married? Jesus hates legalism.
— Anonymous, Philadelphia
Answer: In speaking of the intrinsic purposes and meaning of human sexuality, the Church looks to what God has set forth, and upholds that.
In our younger years, it is clear that God has joined together for the married couple the desire for sexual union and procreation. His design is both beautiful and reasonable, since the pleasure of the marriage act and the unity it helps foster assist the couple in becoming closer. This very unity in turn helps them to be the effective parents that the marriage act is also designed to bring about through procreation. And so both purposes are linked.
God has also set forth that, as couples age their fertility decreases and, after age 50 for the woman, childbearing becomes rare, if even possible. This makes sense given the kind of stamina needed to carry and raise children. Nevertheless, the couple’s ongoing unity remains important for the sake of their children, as well as grandchildren, and the marital act can continue to assist that.
The key point in speaking of the “intrinsic meaning” of human sexuality, is that the Church reveres what God has set forth. God’s own design is the key element of what “intrinsic meaning” signifies. This is also why the Church permits the use of natural family planning, which respects and makes use of the fact that, by God’s design, a couple’s fertility runs in a recognizable cycle.
As for your note about legalism, it would seem to be exactly 180 degrees out of phase. The legalism Jesus rejected was legalism that sought to set aside God’s law, and what God has clearly established.
In terms of human sexuality, the Church exhorts the Faithful to wholeheartedly accept what God has set forth, and not to engage in legalism and minimalism as a way to set aside what God has established (see Mk 7:13). With this in mind, it would seem that those who seek to justify contraception are more connected with the kind of legalism that Jesus scorned.
Chronology of prayer
Question: Didn’t Mary’s consent occur before she conceived by the Holy Spirit? But in the Angelus prayer “She conceived of the Holy Spirit” comes before “Be it done unto me according to thy word … ”
— Tim, Florida
Answer: Liturgical prayer accesses chronological time with reference to the fullness of time. Thus at Christmas, though referencing Jesus’ infancy, we still gather with him in the Upper Room, at the foot of the cross and celebrate him as the risen, glorified Lord, at Christmas Mass. Though we focus on one aspect of his temporal work, we always have the whole in mind. Content and context trump chronology.
The same can be said for the Angelus. We are not declaring the event of the Incarnation in a strict, chronological way, but in a way that theologically expresses all the components understood wholly: God’s initiative, Mary’s assent and the fact of the Word becoming flesh.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.