‘Unchastity’ explained

Question: You recently referenced Matthew 19, where Jesus forbids divorce. But you said nothing about an exception the Lord makes “for unchastity.” Please explain what the Lord means here.

Name Withheld, Chicago

Answer: The particular verse you reference reads as follows: “I [Jesus] say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another, commits adultery” (Mt 19:9).

The phrase, “unless the marriage is unlawful” is from the Catholic New American Bible, and is a rendering of the Greek, (me epi porneia), which most literally means, “except for illicit sexual union.”

The Greek word in question is porneia. This word refers generally to any illicit sexual union. Depending on the context, it most often means premarital sex, but can also refer to incest, and more rarely to adultery and/or homosexual acts. I say “more rarely” because adultery and homosexual acts have their own proper Greek words and descriptions that are normally used (e.g.,moichao for adultery and paraphysin, etc., for homosexual acts).

Catholic teaching and understanding regarding the word porneia holds it to mean in the context of this verse, “incestuous relationships.” This makes historical sense. The Jewish world had very clear understandings about permissible marital unions, forbidding marriage where the bloodlines ran too close.

But as the Gospel went forth into the Greek and pagan world, there were differing and unacceptable notions about who could marry whom.

Because of these many strange marital practices, the so-called “Matthean exception” seeks to clarify the Lord’s teaching. Thus, the phrase “except for unlawful marriage” (sometimes also rendered “except for unchastity”) clarifies that those who are in marriages that are illicit, due to incestuous and other invalidating factors, should not stay in them. Rather, these are not marriages at all and can and should be set aside in favor of proper marriage.

Gluten-free hosts OK?

Question: Our parish posted the availability of “gluten-free hosts.” Is this not another diminishment of the true presence? How could the Body of Christ make anyone sick?

Susana Gilardi, Poolesville, Md.

Answer: So called “gluten-free hosts” are not utterly free of all gluten. There are still some trace amounts. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops allows the use of very low gluten hosts and urges additional caution by listing three reputable suppliers of them on the USCCB website.

As for the Blessed Sacrament making someone sick, it is not the sacrament that does so, but the “accidents.” While your acknowledgement of the true presence is laudable, it is important to remember that Catholic teaching states that though the bread is transubstantiated, “accidents” remain. The “accidents” are the physical attributes of the bread and wine — that is, what can be seen, touched, tasted or measured. These remain, though the substance of bread and wine change to become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus.

Hence it does not follow that one could not be affected by gluten in a consecrated host, or by alcohol in the consecrated blood, for these attributes remain to our senses.

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 msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.