Catholic media (especially the outlets of a more liberal persuasion) are whipped into a frenzy about the upcoming Synod of the Family. As we draw closer to October 5, there is growing speculation and rumor-mongering by the day about what is purported to be the central question to be addressed by the synod. Namely, whether to reverse the longstanding Catholic teachings on the complementary, exclusive, and indissoluble nature of marriage. This is foolish, and that is being charitable. People are free to disagree with the Catholic Church, but the Church’s teaching cannot be changed, because it follows from the Word made flesh Himself in the Gospel:
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But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.
Matrimony is the first of all the sacraments and was instituted by God Himself from the creation of the universe. Furthermore, marriage is expressed not only in the sacrament of matrimony, but in the very essence of what it means to be alive down to the core of our being. It is literally in our DNA. Marriage is a complementary union, because every single one of us exists as the joining of man and woman. We are what God hath joined together in the moment of conception–the living, breathing, feeling, and aspiring manifestation of God’s will at the creation itself!
Marriage is defined as indissoluble, because we are indissoluble. When man and woman consummate their union in the nuptial bed, they become one flesh. Jesus is not using a delicate or poetic euphemism to avoid mention of sexual intercourse. He is speaking quite literally: a child is the complementary, exclusive, and indissoluble union of man and woman and the three great evils of our society each seek to destroy some aspect of this union: abortion destroys the child, divorce harms the connections between the parents and with their child, and same-sex relations can never conceive a child in the first place.
In the marriage vow, we assent to exercise our life-giving potential as actors in God’s divine plan. In the sacrament of matrimony, we are obeying God’s command to be fruitful, and to multiply. Marriage is an exclusive union, because a child can only have one mother and one father. The bonds of family go beyond mere living arrangements, legal privileges, and favored tax status. A child belongs to the mother and the father and the mother and father belong to the child. Each has a natural right to the other. Even if a parent must be separated from the child for his or her safety, this reality of this bond can never be erased. A growing body of evidence on children of surrogate mothers shows the same negative trends that are already well observed in children of divorced parents. Biology matters.
Marriage then, is not only the union of man and woman, but also the union of one generation to the next. Of the Ten Commandments, the first three regard our obligations to God. The next three are essential components of marriage: the fourth is to honor our parents, the fifth is against murder (including abortion), and the sixth is against adultery. The indissoluble and exclusive union of man and woman which is open to life and sanctified by matrimony is the only way to be obedient to all of these commandments. The institution of marriage is not merely some contract between two consenting adults (or more than two, if that’s what you fancy). Marriage is an inter-generational contract between a man, a woman, and their children yet to be born. When that contract is violated in divorce, same-sex marriage, or abortion, children are deprived of their right to have and to know parents worthy and deserving of their respect.Christ and the Woman of Samaria by Giovanni Lanfranco, c. 1625-8
As to the question of receiving the most precious body and blood of our Lord for someone who enters into civil marriage while his or her natural spouse is still alive, the language and imagery of marriage are at the center of our understanding. We are God’s children. We, as members of Christ’s body, are His bride, the Church. In the Eucharist, we are united in one flesh. Just as matrimony is indissoluble in this life, the communion of saints is indissoluble in the next. Once we are joined to God, we cannot be separated from Him. The spiritual and physical realities of marriage are also expressed in the Eucharist. If someone rejects the reality of marriage in such a manifest and public way, it is impossible for that person to accept the reality of the Blessed Sacrament, much less be properly disposed to receive it.
To change the definition of marriage is to disobey the direct commandments of God. Of course, we are fallen creatures. It is in our nature to disobey. Indeed, the Devil and all the forces of evil are defined by their disobedience to God’s commands. However, Jesus also promised the apostles–and us–that the forces of Hell will never prevail against His Church. Although we are all sinners, the Church cannot succumb to evil. On this question, the Church cannot change her teachings. The evils of divorce, of abortion, and of same-sex marriage are the diabolical trinity of this age and worshiped by many, but they shall never prevail.