Expert Answer Forum

The Sanctity of Conception (and a follow up question) QUESTION from Amber Simmons December 30, 1999 Dear Brother John Paul,
In an answer to a previous question on the viriginity issue of Mary, you said, Once something is consecrated for a holy purpose it can never again be used for profane or non-sacred purposes.
Is the conception of a non-Jesus child (any child that is not Jesus) a non-sacred event? I was under the impression that Catholicism held that every conception is sacred, thus the need for marrriage for sexual relations, and thus the prohibition of birth control and abortion.
Aren't all gifts from God sacred gifts? I have never so much felt the presence of God as when I gave birth to my daughter, and I would certainly think that all similar experiences would be considered sacred by the Church. (But as always, do correct me if I am wrong)Conception is a miracle and I thought all miracles were sacred.
One more thing--you dont have to answer this on the public forum if you dont want to, but I would like to address this issue. You said in a previous response to me that it was required for Man and Woman to commit themselves to each other in a physical way (ie marriage) before God. Now I ask, why is a legal ceremony the only way to fulfill this obligation? What about a handfasting ceremony in which a public declaration of commitment and fidelity are still made but not always necessarily followed by legal procedings? Surely nomadic peoples without written law had marriage ceremonies, as you suggested, but were there papers to sign and so on? I doubt it. It seems to me it is the ritual that is of importance, as you yourself suggested. I would just like clarification on this issue.
My sincere gratitude, Amber
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on December 30, 1999 Dear Mrs. Simmons:
The word Sacred has several meanings. The use of the word in my answer was talking about things that are made sacred for holy and religious purposes. Sacred in this sense is something set aside for those holy and religious purposes for which they are intended as opposed to secular, non-religious purposes.
Yes, the birth of children is a sacred event in a common use of the word, because life is sacred (holy part of God’s providence) but it is not sacred in the technical sense I am referring to of a setting aside something for holy and religious purpose. Birth, by the way, is often called a miracle. Again, this word is being used in a non-technical way. Technically, conception and birth are not miracles; they are natural events that take place naturally. A miracle is a suspension of natural laws.
While we may use words like sacred and miracle in a pedestrian way, we must be careful in thinking that our sacred gift of a child or the miracle of conception is on equal standing with the true miracle of the Virginal conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. The conception of your child is not equal to her in that respect. Your child was not conceived of a virgin. Nor is the birth of any child a sacred event as was the sacred event of the birth of Jesus who is God Incarnate.
The need for sex to be within marriage is directed to the issue of pro-creation and the rearing and training and protecting of children. The reason for marriage is the family, not for sex or merely companionship.
This is evidenced in Canon Law. If a single person is permanently impotent as to make intercourse imposible then an attempted marriage is not valid. Marriage is by nature ordered to the good of children. If a single person is permanently impotent, then he can never enter a valid marriage in the eyes of the Church and of God.
As for the legal ceremony of marriage issue, I am puzzled as to why this issue is such as issue for you. If a couple loves each other and fully intends a permanent commitment to each other, then there should be no hesitation or question about performing whatever constitutes a legal recognition of their marriage before law and the society. What is there to be afraid of by signing the papers, or whatever must be done according to a particular culture, if one is truly committed?
Much of our society has tried to depreciate the role of marriage. Vast numbers of people live in concubinage and never marry or live in concubinage before eventual marriage. This is an affront to God.
As to the specifics of the legal ceremony, please read my previous answer more carefully. I specifically stated that the Church requires that a couple fulfill all canonical laws, that the marriage is sacramental, and that the couple fulfills WHATEVER the laws and customs are for marriage in the culture in which they live. Only in the rarest of cases would the Church acccept a marriage that did not conform to whatever the local civil laws are.
If some culture in the jungles of the Amazon formalizes marriage by jumping up and down three times, standing on their head for five minutes, and swallowing five grub worms – fine. Whatever formalizes marriage in that culture. And whatever that formalization is constitute legal marriage (regardless of whether the culture uses the word law or not).
You and I, and probably all the people on the Internet, do not live in that culture and this we cannot excuse ourselves to those practices to say we are married.
We must be legally married according to WHATEVER required rules and customs the culture particular culture has.
Failure to formalize a marriage according to however a culture formalizes marriages, constitutes concubinage and the couple are thus fornicating.
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