5 keys to understanding the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary

BY LILIANA MONTES | ACI Prensa 14.08.2019 4.29PM

a4a66a679ec54aa0b3c429811546fa1a.jpg

Every August 15 we celebrate the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary to the Heavens. Here are five keys that will help us to better understand this truth about the Catholic faith.

1. You must know what a dogma means

A dogma is a truth of absolute, definitive, infallible, irrevocable and unquestionable faith revealed by God through the Bible or the Sacred Tradition. After being proclaimed, it cannot be repealed or denied, either by the Pope or by conciliar decision.

For a truth to become dogma, it is necessary that it be proposed directly by the Catholic Church to the faithful as part of their faith and doctrine, through a solemn and infallible definition by the Supreme Magisterium of the Church.

2. “Assumption” does not mean the same as “Ascension”

According to the tradition and theology of the Catholic Church, the Assumption is the celebration of when the body and soul of the Virgin Mary were glorified and taken to Heaven at the end of her earthly life. It should not be confused with Ascension, which refers to Jesus Christ.

It is said that the resurrection of the bodies will occur at the end of time, but in the case of the Virgin Mary this fact was anticipated by a unique and singular privilege.

This dogma is also celebrated by the Orthodox Church.

3. Dogma was proclaimed 170 years ago by Pius XII

From 1849 various requests began to arrive at the Holy See so that the Assumption of the Virgin could be declared a dogma of faith. It was Pope Pius XII who, on November 1, 1950, published the Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus (MD) that proclaimed the dogma with these words:

“For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honour of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” (MD, 44).

4. The Assumption of Mary is anticipation of our own resurrection

This celebration has a double objective: The happy departure of Mary from this life and the Assumption of her body to heaven. The answer as to why it is important for Catholics is found in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says in number 966: “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians.”

The importance of the Assumption of the Virgin for all of us is given in the relationship it has between the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and our resurrection. That Mary is found in body and soul already glorified in Heaven, is the anticipation of our own resurrection, since she is a human being like us.

IMG_20190703_091453_1.jpg

5. The Virgin did not experience corruption in the body at the end of her earthly life

Scripture does not give details about the last years of Mary on earth from Pentecost to the Assumption, we only know that the Virgin was entrusted by Jesus to Saint John. In declaring the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, Pius XII did not want to decide whether the Virgin died and rose again immediately, or if she went straight to heaven. Many theologians think that the Virgin died to be more like Jesus, but others argue that the “Transit of Mary” or Dormition occurred, which has been celebrated in the East since the first centuries.

However, what both positions coincide is that the Virgin Mary, by a special privilege of God, did not experience the corruption of her body and went to heaven, where she reigns alive and glorious, next to Jesus.

@ Translated and edited from its original Spanish version by Valentine Umoh 15.08.2019

THE BOOK OF THE PSALMS TEACHES MAN TRUE WORSHIP

IMG_1559342684242.jpg

The Book of Psalms is an inspired collection of Hebrew poems intended for use in worship. Inspired compilers put them in their present order for several reasons, including authorship and affinity of ideas. The compilers did not organize them in the order in which the psalmists (hagiographers) wrote them. Each psalm is the expression of an inspired writer who responded to God in the light of his circumstances when he wrote. Consequently, there is no argument or logical progression of thought as the reader makes his or her way through the book. There are connecting or contrasting ideas, and words and phrases that sometimes link two or more psalms together, however.

The subject of the Book of Psalms is WORSHIP. Worship is the act of offering to God what is due to Him because of who He is. The Hebrew word translated “worship” (shachah) means to bow oneself down, or to do obeisance. The psalmists used it to describe prostration before God, or some angel, or another human being. It pictures an attitude of submission to a superior person. This word occurs only 15 times in Psalms with God as the object, but the idea of worshipping God is present in every psalm.

In Psalms, the object of worship is God. Its practitioners are people. Its center is Jerusalem: the place of God’s manifest presence. Its primary method is song. The psalmists referred to God as Yahweh, Elohim, or Adonai primarily, though many other titles appear in the book. Those worshipping Him are individuals, kings, nations, and all the earth. His temple (Israel’s central sanctuary) and His holy hill (Mt. Zion) were the central places of worship. Fear, awe, and joy are the primary attitudes prominent in this worship.

God’s people throughout history have loved the Psalter (The Book of Psalms). There are several reasons for its popularity. First, it is a collection of songs that arise out of experiences with which we can all identify. It is very difficult to find any circumstance in life that does not find expression in some psalm or another. Some arose out of prosperity, others out of adversity. Some psalms deal with holiness, and others with sinfulness. Some are laments that bewail the worst of situations, whereas others are triumphant hymns of joy and thanksgiving. Some look back to the past while others look forward to the future.

The psalms are great because their writers composed them out of their most profound experiences. Great poetry arises out of great living. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). They are also great because the writers brought these profound experiences into God’s presence. They show how people behave when they are conscious of God—the only truly realistic way to live. Therefore, the permanent value of the psalms lies in their revelation of worship.

There are three great revelations regarding worship in the Book of Psalms: the object of worship, the attitudes of worship, and the activities of worship.

First, the Psalter reveals the person of God, who is the object of worship. The primary revelation of God’s character in the psalms is His names. The writers employed dozens of titles and figures of speech to describe God, but the three names of God that they used most are Yahweh, Elohim, and Adonai. Simply from understanding these names, we will want to worship God.

 The name “Yahweh” captures the essential being of God. He is who He is (Exod. 3:14). This name occurs more often than any other in the psalms. Essentially it means that God is the eternally self-existent Person who becomes all that His people need. God’s being is never the subject of debate in the psalms; the writers assumed His existence. As Yahweh, God is always an adequate resource for whatever His people need, whenever they have needs. That is because the Name Yahweh describes God in covenant relationship with His people. Translators normally render it LORD in English translations. Psalm 139 is perhaps the greatest exposition of the essential being of God, and Psalm 23 the chief revelation of His becoming all that His people need.

The second great name of God in the Psalter is “Elohim.” Normally this Hebrew word translates as “God” in our English Bibles. It is a plural word in the Hebrew, which does not necessarily signify plurality of number but immensity. God, as He reveals Himself, is so infinite that no singular word can express Him adequately. “Elohim” suggests God’s essential might and the fact that He is extremely powerful. God’s strength is not just potential, but kinetic (i.e., in motion). It is latent, but also active. Such power elicited the awe of the psalmists. Psalm 68 is perhaps the greatest revelation of God’s essential might in the Psalter, and Psalm 46 sets forth His great power at work most impressively.

The title “Adonai” (Lord in the sense of Master) does not occur frequently in the psalms, but the idea it expresses is constantly present. This title expresses the sovereignty of God, the fact that there is no one higher in authority than He. He is the King over the whole universe and the ultimate ruler over Israel. Perhaps Psalm 86 sets forth the sovereignty of God more magnificently than any other psalm. Whenever a person, king, nation, or race conceives of God as Yahweh, Elohim, or Adonai, the result is worship. We can do nothing else but prostrate ourselves before such a One. That is what the writers of these psalms did as they reflected on their experiences in the light of who God is.

The second great revelation of the Psalter is people’s attitudes in worship. Briefly, we see people responding to the revelation of God joyfully, trustfully, and submissively (but occasionally angrily, disappointedly, or quizzically). When we understand that God Himself is an adequate resource for us, regardless of our needs, we should worship by rejoicing. When we appreciate God’s mighty power, we should worship Him by trusting Him. When we learn that God is sovereign, we should respond in worship by submitting to Him. When we appreciate God’s grace in providing all we need, we should rejoice.

In the psalms, we see joy manifesting itself in love and gratitude. Love and gratitude manifest joy in the following way. We have God’s promises of forgiveness if we confess when we sin. Forgiveness for sin is one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind. It is not something that we can earn or deserve. It is a gift of God based ultimately on a work that God has done for us through His Son. The penitential root attitude blossoms into adoration for God’s grace. The sweetest music comes out of hearts broken by sin, hearts aware of their total bankruptcy before God. The most glorious praises spring from the lips of those who most sense the great gifts God has given to them. This is the reason some of the most radiant Christians are those who suffer the most.

Trust in God’s almighty power expresses itself in honesty and courage in the psalms. Fear is the internal response to power, and courage should be its external manifestation. The person who really fears God’s power will be open and honest because he or she believes God will exercise His power to defend him. He will be willing to take risks because he is relying on God’s supernatural power to sustain and uphold him. The psalmists expressed themselves, and behaved honestly before God and people, because they believed in His sovereignty. They also faced danger courageously because they believed God could and would provide adequate help for them.

Submission to the sovereignty of God expresses itself in reverence and obedience in the psalms. Reverence is the external evidence of submission to God, and obedience is the core proof of it. The person who really believes that God is the ultimate authority will respect Him. He or she will also yield to God’s superior authority submissively. We see the psalmists expressing their reverence for God and bowing humbly to His will throughout the Psalter. Their commitment to trust often followed their frustration.

The third major revelation concerning worship in the psalms is the activities of worship. As we have observed, one’s conception of God leads to worship, and one’s attitudes shape worship. One’s activities also demonstrate worship.

The psalms reveal that worship grows out of something God has done for man. Man does not worship because there is something intrinsic within him that must come out. Worship is always a response to something that God has done. God elicits worship. Man does not initiate it on his own. Throughout the psalms, the psalmists responded to God’s dealings with them. God is always the initiator and man the responder. This fact helps us see that God is worthy of worship.

Human response in worship involves opening the soul to God. David’s confession in Psalm 32 is a good example of this (cf. 51). He rejoiced in his open relationship with God, especially when he acknowledged his sin. He also received God’s gift of pardon. Then he offered praise to God. These are the essential human activities of worship: confession, praise, and thanksgiving.

After God initiates worship, and man responds by worshipping, God becomes to the worshipper all that he or she needs. God is true and faithful in His dealings with worshippers. He becomes for us everything we need when we worship Him. Thus, the activities of worship begin and end with God. They begin with His initiating situations in life. They end with His drawing us to Himself. In between we bare our souls, receive His gifts, and offer our praise.

The message of the Psalter then is, “Worship God!” Turn every situation into an occasion for worship. If we are sad, we should worship. If we are glad, we should worship. If we are in the dark, we should worship. If we are in the light, we should worship. The Apostle Paul expressed it this way in Philippians 4:4 and 7: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, Rejoice… And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The Book of Psalms closes with this word of exhortation: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord” (Ps. 150:6).

VU
June 1, 2019

A Day with Saint Valentine of Rome: Patron of young couples

 

Introduction: Who is Saint Valentine?

Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest in the Roman Empire who ministered to Christians, who were persecuted there. He was martyred and buried at a Christian cemetery on the Via Flaminia close to the Ponte Milvio to the north of Rome, on February 14, which has been observed as the Feast of Saint Valentine (Saint Valentine’s Day) since 496 AD. The relics of Saint Valentine were kept in the Church and Catacombs of San Valentino in Rome, which remained an important pilgrim site throughout the Middle Ages until the relics of St. Valentine were transferred to the church of Santa Prassede during the pontificate of Nicholas IV. The flower-crowned skull of Saint Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome; other relics were brought to Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland where they remain to this day; this church continues to be a popular place of pilgrimage, especially on Saint Valentine’s Day, for those seeking love.

In 1969 the Roman Catholic Church removed his name from the General Roman Calendar given the paucity of information about him. The Roman Catholic Church continues to recognize him as a saint, listing him as such in the February 14 entry in the Roman Martyrology, and authorizing liturgical veneration of him on February 14 in any place where that day is not devoted to some other obligatory celebration in accordance with the rule that on such a day the Mass may be that of any saint listed in the Martyrology for that day.

Saint Valentine (Italian: San Valentino, Latin: Valentinus), officially Saint Valentine of Rome, was a widely recognized 3rd-century Roman saint commemorated on February 14 and since the High Middle Ages is associated with a tradition of courtly love.

The apparent confusion

The Catholic Encyclopaedia and other hagiographical sources speak of three Saint Valentines that appear in connection with February 14. One was a Roman priest, another the bishop of Interamna (modern Terni, Italy) both buried along the Via Flaminia outside Rome, at different distances from the city. The third was said to be a saint who suffered on the same day with several companions in the Roman province of Africa, of whom nothing else is known.

According to Professor Jack B. Oruch of the University of Kansas, abstracts of the acts of the first two saints (that is Saint Valentine of Rome and Saint Valentine of Terni) were in nearly every church and monastery of Europe. Although, the extant accounts of the martyrdoms of these saints are of a late date and contain legendary elements, a common nucleus of fact may underlie the two accounts and they may refer to a single person. This is because according to the official biography of the Diocese of Terni, Bishop Valentine was born and lived in Interamna and while on a temporary stay in Rome he was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred there on February 14, 269. His body was hastily buried at a nearby cemetery and a few nights later his disciples retrieved his body and returned him home.

Moreover, the Roman Martyrology, the Catholic Church’s official list of recognized saints, for February 14 gives only one Saint Valentine: a martyr who died on the Via Flaminia.

Saint Vaelntine3

Some stories associated with Saint Valentine: His faith, brilliance, zeal, love for young couples and martyrdom.

A common hagiography describes Saint Valentine as a priest of Rome or as the former Bishop of Terni, an important town of Umbria, in central Italy. The first legend holds that while he was under house arrest of Judge Asterius for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods, he shared his faith with the judge in which Valentinus was discussing the validity of Jesus and of Christianity. He was very brilliant, and his intelligence was widespread in the empire. However, the judge put Valentinus to the test and brought to him the judge’s adopted blind daughter. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl’s sight, Asterius would do whatever he asked. Valentinus, praying to God, laid his hands on her eyes and the child’s vision was restored. Immediately humbled, the judge asked Valentinus what he should do. Valentinus replied that all the idols around the judge’s house should be broken, and that the judge should fast for three days and then undergo the Christian sacrament of baptism. The judge obeyed and, as a result, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family, and his forty-four members household (family members and servants) were baptized. Valentinus was later arrested again for continuing to evangelize and was sent to the prefect of Rome, and later to the emperor Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II) himself. Claudius took a liking to him until Valentinus tried to convince Claudius to embrace Christianity, whereupon Claudius refused and condemned Valentinus to death, commanding that Valentinus either renounce his faith or he would be beaten with clubs, and beheaded. Valentinus refused and Claudius’ command was executed outside the Flaminian Gate February 14, 269. An embellishment to this account states that before his execution, Saint Valentine wrote a note to Asterius’s daughter whom he had healed of blindness and signed “from your Valentine”, which is said to have “inspired today’s romantic missives”.

Another legend is that in the 3rd century AD, it is said that Valentine, who was a priest, defied the order of the emperor Claudius and secretly performed Christian weddings for young couples who were in love. Such marriage would thus exempt their husbands from going to war. This legend claims that soldiers were sparse at this time, so this was a big inconvenience to the emperor. The account mentions that in order to remind these men of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment, giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians. This is a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.

One thing that is clear from all these legends is that Saint Valentine is known to have ministered to the faithful amidst the Persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire in the time of Claudius II. Preaching the gospel using every available means and space, healing the sick and celebrating the Christian sacraments especially of marriage. This earned him the obvious crown of martyrdom.

You might notice that there is a bit of romance missing from these stories. This is because the source of the courtship and love that has been linked into Valentine’s feast day does not come from the saint at all. The proposition that the association of Valentine with romantic rites is due to largely futile efforts of early religious Christian leaders to do away with pagan festivals by substituting a Christian observance is a modern interpolation. According to this theory, February 14 was traditionally the Roman festival of Lupercalia, an important day to honour Juno, the Queen of Heaven and protector of women. The wife of Jupiter, Juno was said to bestow her blessing on courtship rituals or marriages celebrated that day. According to proponents of this theory, Valentine’s Day is more accurately a continuation of Lupercalia shrouded in Catholic appropriation. More so, that Valentine’s February saint day coincides with the slow dawn of spring when birds are said to select mates seems to support this propaganda.

The place of Saint Valentine in the Liturgical Calendar

Saint Valentine remains in the Roman Catholic Church’s official list of saints, the Roman Martyrology, but, in view of the scarcity of information about him, his commemoration was removed from the General Roman Calendar, when this was revised in 1969. It is included in local calendars of places such as Balzan in Malta. Some Traditionalist Catholics observe earlier calendars of the Roman Rite, in which Saint Valentine was celebrated as a Simple Feast until 1955, when Pope Pius XII reduced the mention of him to a commemoration in the Mass of the day, a position it kept in the General Roman Calendar of 1960 incorporated in the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, use of which, as an extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, is still authorized in accordance with Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, St. Valentine is recognized on July 6, in which Saint Valentine, the Roman presbyter, is honoured; in addition, the Eastern Orthodox Church observes the feast of Hieromartyr Valentine, Bishop of Interamna, on July 30. Members of the Greek Orthodox Church named Valentinos (male) or Valentina (female) may observe their name day on the Western ecclesiastical calendar date of February 14. He is also the Patron Saint of Bee Keepers, Plague and Epilepsy.

saint valentine 4 prayer

Summary

While there is some apparent confusion as to which of three possible martyrs named Valentine is the saint that is celebrated on that day, it is now clear that he was either a priest or a bishop in Terni, Italy, and that his love for God and his faithfulness was all-encompassing. Following Jesus’ teachings closely, he also had a great love for mankind. It is believed that he committed the crimes of marrying Christians and helping Christians who were being persecuted by Claudius II, the emperor of Rome. Because he would not renounce his faith and because he tried to convert the emperor, he was sentenced to and suffered a brutal death. Over the years and among other things, he has come to be known as the patron saint of love, young people, engaged couples and happy marriages. Although people can pray to Saint Valentine at any stage in their relationship, he seems to be an ideal saint to turn to for young people in love and engaged couples.

Today we celebrate another feast day of this great Saint. Amidst the confusion in today´s world, this Saint´s life encourages us to love God and love humanity. If we love God, then we will not be shy or afraid to profess this faith publicly and even helping others to understand this faith as well (evangelization); if we love humanity, we will not need to be reminded to reach out to one another especially to those who suffer want, hunger, sickness, depression and persecutions of all sorts and we will be committed to express our love publicly to our soul mate by seeking God´s blessings in Holy Matrimony. “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God” says the author of the First Letter of John Chapter 4 verse 16. “Love is patient and kind” says the Apostle Paul (Cf. 1Cor 13: 4 –8).

Prayer to Saint Valentine

Dear Saint and glorious martyr teach us to love unselfishly and to find great joy in giving. Enable all true lovers to bring out the best in each other. Let them love each other in God and in God in each other.

Love
Love is patient and kind

it does not envy or boast

and it´s never proud,

love is not rude or selfish,

it does not get angry easily,

or keep track of wrongs.

Love does not delight in bad

things but it rejoices in the truth.

Love always protects,

trusts, hopes and perseveres

Love never fails.

Saint Valentine – Pray for us

Valentine Day Message 2019

Valentine Umoh
14.02.2019
vatexs4christ@yahoo.com

YOU TOO CAN BE A SAINT … WE ARE ALL CALLED TO HOLINESS!

All saints day

The first day of November every year, the universal Church celebrates the feast day of all the Saints both known and unknown. The Book of Revelation describes these people in a figurative language thus: “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” (Rev 7: 9 – 14)

The invitation and the call to holiness is a universal call and invitation. Every human being is called to holiness. It is not the reserve of priests, monks, religious men or women. No matter your status, gender or colour. All are called to holiness. From the North to the South, from the East to the West. From every nation, race, people, and tongue the invitation is to all. Through your work, your studies, your daily activities, your sacrifices and your sufferings you are all purified to be saints. This is the meaning of Christ´s words in Matthew 5:48 “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It is unfortunate to witness how so many are so preoccupied with today, and tomorrow yet not aiming at holiness. Everyone is preaching Divine Manifestation, Success and Prosperity but not many people aim at holiness.

A call to sainthood does not mean you should fly from the world, but it means that you should sanctify the world by your life of authentic Christian witnessing. By living a good life, one responds to the call to holiness. The call to holiness does not mean you should live in the Church doing many days of prayers and dry fasting, it means that you should love your brothers and sisters and wish everybody well. A call to holiness can never be minimized nor truncated by the signs of times. We live in society where Satanism and Sexism is gradually becoming the world´s most patronized religion. The call to sainthood thus becomes a call to be the catalyst of positive change in the society. It is a call to reject evil and embrace good. A call to promote everything that is good and worthwhile. A call to stand on the side of justice, the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted and the marginalized of the society. A call to say No to the culture of nudism and the culture of death and violence. A call to work with all men and women of good will to sanitize and collapse all forms of oppressive and inhumane socio-political structures.

The Church´s list or Litany of Saints can never be exhaustive because there are many unknown Saints from every nation, race, people, and tongue. What the Church intends to communicate by her litany is to give us some examples of people whose lives are worth emulating in order that their lives can serve as a guide and compass for us. About the Saints the author of the Book of Revelation says: “Therefore are they before the throne of God and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7: 15-17 RSV). The Saints are at peace and happiness with God. They have received life´s highest reward that is, Eternal Life with God. Let us not forget the warning of Christ: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mk. 8:36 KJV).

Saint Paul gives us the easiest way to respond to this call of love and sainthood, he says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things… and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:8,9 NAB)

When the Saints will be matching on, wont you like to be in the number? If the thief crucified with Jesus could be a Saint, you too are not exempted. When I was in the high school, one of the morning assembly songs that still strikes me went thus: “If you do good, kingdom is waiting for you, if you do bad, there is no more kingdom waiting for you.”

Together with the Church we rejoice with all our brothers and sisters who through sufferings and persecutions of all types have kept themselves holy and spotless and so are now at peace with God. Where they are today, we too will like to be as well. Or wouldn’t you? The choice is yours and the time is now!

May the Saints continually intercede for us in our daily lives and struggles!

Saint Thomas Aquinas – Pray for us!

Saint Anthony of Padua – Pray for us!

Saint Valentine – Pray for us!

All the Saints of God – Pray and intercede for us!

HAPPY ALL SAINTS DAY!

 

Valentine Umoh

01.11.2018

Birth Control: what the Church teaches[1]

Birth control

General Introduction

God blessed the first couple with the words: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). This blessing expresses the conviction that sexuality and marriage serve the propagation of human kind. A wealth of children is considered by Holy Scriptures as favour from God and a reason for joy (cf. Gen 24:60; Ps 127:3[2]). Before now people generally had no problem accepting children as they come. Accepting children as they come became a problem due to some changes that have taken place in society. These changes among others include a rapid demographic development which has created the fear in many that the available resources may not be enough to serve the rapidly growing population. And thus, may result to malnutrition, poor lodging conditions, inadequate education, unemployment, inadequate medical care and unhygienic conditions. This raises the question of the justification or even the necessity of birth control, of its limits and means to achieve it. The Church as the custodian of Truth and Morality does not condemn birth control generally but rather teaches the proper means by which this can be done without violating the natural law as well as the divine law. In what follows we shall give a kind of historical account of the Church’s teaching on birth control.

What is Birth control?

Birth control according to the New Catholic Encyclopaedia (1967) essentially denotes the voluntary control (restriction) of the reproductive effect of sexual intercourse. It refers not only to the intentional limitation of the family size or the spacing of births through any of the several possible means including periodic continence but also to the practice of contraception to achieved desired results. Thomas Pazhayampallil in Pastoral Guide (2004) defines it as the obstruction of either the conjugal act or the biological factors of fertility in the couple in order to ensure that unprogrammed birth will not take place. In concrete terms, the artificial means of birth control are generally referred to as “contraception.”

Types of Birth control

a) Natural Means of Birth control

Also called Natural Family Planning it is defined by Thomas Pazhayampallil’s Pastoral Guide, no. 473 as planning of birth of children based on in-built indicator of fertility and infertility in a woman’s body. Natural Family Planning is based on the biological fact that there is a period of sterility during the menstrual cycle of each woman. This means that there are a number of days during which there is no ripe ovum present in the female genital tract. The menstrual cycle ends with the discharge of the unfertilized eggs. It is about recognising and making use of those periods of infertility when the ripe eggs are beyond shooting range. This method was propounded during the second half of the 19th century. However, in 1929 and 1930 respectively two doctors Knaus (Austria) and Ogino (Japan) carried out a research which resulted in the rhythm/calendar method. According to their research, human conception can occur in a certain limited period between two menses and this period is called the fertile period and the rest of the days are free/infertile/safe period. Since then many methods of the Natural Family planning have been proposed which we shall see later. Pope Paul VI refers to this as “licit” means of regulating birth. The Church’s teaching authority recommends them for those who have just reasons to regulate birth.

b)Artificial Means of Birth control

This means the use in the sexual act of any mechanical instrument, chemical substance or bodily action (withdrawal) which has as its purpose the prevention of conception. Thomas Pazhayampallil lists the artificial means of birth control (contraception) to include: interrupted sexual act (withdrawal), vaginal douche, condom, the diaphragm, the loop (the ring, the spiral, the bow), pills and some spermicidal creams and jellies. Interrupted sexual act is the withdrawal of the penis from the vagina before ejaculation so that the sperm is spilled outside the vagina thus preventing fertilization. Vaginal Douche is a contraceptive device in which a vagina is washed out after sexual intercourse with the addition of some chemicals. Condom is a synthetic rubber sheet placed over an erect penis to retain the sperm at ejaculation and prevent it from being deposited in the vagina. The Diaphragm is a dome-shaped rubberized cup with a metal spring rim which after applying a spermicidal cream or jelly, the user positions it so that the rim spans between the posterior fornix and the pubic bone covering the cervix. Pope Paul VI refers to this as “illicit” means of regulating birth. The morality of the artificial means of birth control stems from the general principle that every conjugal act must remain open to the transmission of life that is, every conjugal act must retain its essential relationship to procreation. Based on the above principle the artificial means of birth control (contraception) has been excluded as licit means of birth control by an unbroken and constant teaching of the Church as follows:

The Church’s teachings on Birth Control

Biblical foundations

The 38th chapter of Genesis tells the story of Judah, his sons and Tamar. One of the sons, Onan, practiced the sin of contraception –coitus interruptus (withdrawal) with Tamar. The Bible tells us that God slew him because he had done this abominable thing (Gen 38:10); that is spilling his semen on the ground. Gen 38:11-26 and Deut 25: 5-10 show that he was not killed for violating the Levirate law but for contraception. (Cf. Lev 18:22-23; 20:13). In the New Testament the Greek “pharmakeia” – sorcery possibly refers to birth control. “pharmakeia” denotes the mixing of various potions for secret purposes, one of which was to prevent pregnancy. In all three of the passages it appears, it is in a context condemning sexual immorality; two of which also condemn murder (cf. Gal 5:19-26; Rev. 19:21; 21:8). These passages condemn the use of the products of “pharmakeia” for birth control purpose and thus by implication, the artificial means of birth control is condemned. On the other hand, 1Cor 7:5 supports the practice of natural family planning.

Patristic voices

Early Church Fathers were undivided in their condemnation of artificial birth control. Among these include: Letter of Barnabas, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus, Lactantius, John Chrysostom, Jerome, St. Ephrem, Epiphanius and Bishop Zeno of Verona. For instance, Origen (2nd C) says that the one who wastes the gifts of God resembles Onan who was put to death. Lactantius (3rd century) observed that the genital organs are for procreation and we must obey this divine law with utmost devotion. St. Ephrem as well as Bishop Zeno of Verona of the 4th Century condemned Onanism as abominable. For St. John Chrysostom, those who do not allow the children to begin their life have mutilated the nature and committed murder. In his Ad Eustochium, St Jerome acknowledged that those women who take and drink drugs of sterility commit murde

The Medieval Fathers

St. Augustine explicitly condemned contraception in his De Conjugiis adulterinis. For him intercourse even within marriage is unlawful and wicked where conception is prevented. Women who take pills to prevent conception commit murder. In his Summa contra Gentiles, the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas condemned contraception as against both the dictates of Natural law and the Divine design for the conjugal act. Ejaculation of sperm contrary to the purpose of procreation is morally disordered and constitutes a sin no less in gravity than murder. St. Albert, the great also wrote extensively against the above immoral practice

Modern Times: Conciliar and Magisterial teachings

Pope Pius XI: In 1930 Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Connubii declared: “Since the conjugal act is destined primarily be nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious…any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of grave sin.”

Pope Pius XII: In his October 29, 1951 address to a convention of Italian Catholic Midwives, Pope Pius XII re-affirmed the teachings of Casti Connubii stating that contraception in all its forms is an intrinsically immoral act and that this precept is an expression of both divine and natural law.

Pope John XXIII: He objected to contraception and birth control in accordance with the Church’s teaching. This led him to establish the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Birth-rate, popularly known as “Birth control commission” in 1963. In his Mater et magistra he further affirmed the teaching of the Church.

The Second Vatican Council: by means of an extraordinary magisterium the Council Fathers in no. 51 of Gaudium et Spes states that when there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, objective standards of morality must be followed. In this regard therefore, it is morally wrong for Christians to employ methods of Birth control which are found to be blameworthy by the magisterium. This means that all artificial methods of birth control (contraception) are excluded as licit means of birth control.

Pope Paul VI: He expanded the commission’s membership to include physicians, psychiatrists, demographers, sociologists, economist and married couples. At the end the commission’s deliberations there were two reports; the majority report which proposed a shift in the Church’s traditional teaching and the minority report which urged the Pope to hold fast to that teaching. After due reflection on the matter, he wrote the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 that was based on the minority report. It is worthwhile to x-ray some of Pope Paul’s teaching in Humane Vitae

The bases of Humanae Vitae’s teachings – The Doctrinal principles:

This includes the principle of Totality of man: a being composite of matter and spirit with a vocation that is not only natural and earthly but also supernatural and eternal. It is also centred on the two coordinates of conjugal love and responsible parenthood. Conjugal love reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God, who is love. Conjugal love is fully human; it is total, faithful and exclusive until death. Conjugal love demands responsible parenthood. Thus, in deciding the number of children to be raised due to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions of the time, couples should not proceed at will but must pay attention to the objective norms of morality. In doing this, they must recognise their own duties towards God, themselves, the family and the society in a correct hierarchy of values. Furthermore, each and every marriage (conjugal) act must remain open to the transmission of life (HV 11). This is because according to the natural law, there is an “inseparable connection willed by God and unable to be broken by the human person on his own initiative between the unitive and procreative purposes of the conjugal act.” Thus, an act of mutual (conjugal) love which impairs the capacity to transmit life contradicts the will of the Author of life of which humans have no authority to counter

Licit and Illicit ways of Birth control

The above doctrinal principles lead to drawing a line of demarcation between the licit and illicit means of birth control. In this regard all direct interruption of the generative process already begun and especially directly willed and procured abortion even if for therapeutic reasons are illicit means of birth control. Included in this list are all direct sterilizations, whether perpetual or temporary, of either man or woman. Lastly, every action, which either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes either as an end or as a means to render procreation impossible are illicit ways of birth control. The licit means include: 1) therapeutic means which are truly necessary to cure diseases of the organism even though impediment to procreation be foreseen but not directly willed; 2) Recourse to the natural rhythm immanent in the generative functions, that is, the use of conjugal act in the infecund periods only. Here birth is regulated without offending the moral principles of life. This is what is referred to as Natural Family Planning

Consequences of Artificial Birth Control

Pope Paul VI justifies the above position by outlining some of the grave consequences of the artificial methods. First, there will suddenly be open an easy road to both conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of the standards of morality in the society. Second, women will lose their human dignity and respect as the employment of contraceptive devices would lead to their becoming mere sexual objects of satisfaction for men.[3] Third, morality and the mission of generating life would be exposed to arbitrary will of individuals and the public authorities

Pastoral directives

The Pope knowing that this teaching on birth control may appear difficult to many or even impossible of actuation gives some pastoral directives. First, the Holy Father holds that the honest practice of birth control demands that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions about the true values of life and family and then tend towards acquiring self-mastery. This self-mastery which is an integral part of the virtue of chastity demands the help of God (grace) with some ascetic practices, some intermittent periods of abstinence on the part of the couple. The advantage of self-mastery/chastity as a tool for birth control is that it gives serenity and peace, facilitates the solution to other problems, favours the attention for one’s partner, helps them drive out selfishness and deepens their sense of responsibility. Pastors and confessors are to teach married couples the indispensable way of prayer and prepare them to have recourse with faith to the sacraments of Eucharist and penance. They are never to be discouraged by their own weaknesses. The Pope calls upon the media and other stakeholders of human society to create an atmosphere favourable for the practice of chastity.

St. Pope John Paul II: he has repeatedly reaffirmed the above teaching of the Church on many occasions. In his address to the Episcopal Conference of the United States on Oct 8, 1979 he declared: “I myself today, with the same conviction of Paul VI, ratify the teaching of this encyclical.” Similarly in his June 7, 1980 Address to a group of Indonesian Bishops he reiterated that contraception is to be judged objectively so illicit that it can never, for any reason be justified. In n.32 of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (1981) he affirmed that contraception leads to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love. In n.80 of the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993) he re-affirmed contraception as an intrinsic evil. He re-iterated this teaching with further clarifications in his “Additional Meditation” before Angelus on July 17, 1994.[4]

Pope Benedict XVI: in 2008, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the traditional Church’s teaching on birth control. He says that birth control (contraception) negates the intimate truth of conjugal love with which the divine gift of life is communicated. Magisterial teachings therefore aim at protecting conjugal love. He reaffirmed the use of natural family planning for couples wanting to space their children.[5] He re-emphasized this stance in 2010 in an interview which was published in the book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.

Pope Francis: in an interview with the Italian daily Newspaper Corriere della Sera on March, 2014, Pope Francis recently reaffirmed the Church’s teachings on contraception and birth control. He acknowledged Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae as being prophetic. He praises his predecessor’s courage to go against the majority, to defend moral discipline as well as oppose present and future neo-Malthusianism. He stressed that there is no need to change that teaching.

The Code of Canon Law:

Canon 1398 of the 1983 code states that a person who actually procures an abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication. This shows the severity of the moral evil of employing an illicit means of regulating birth. Canon 1055 reaffirms the Church’s teaching on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

CCC 2368 acknowledges that for just reasons couples may wish to space births of their children as a demand of responsible parenthood. However, in doing this they should conform to objective criteria of morality. CCC 2399 states clearly that legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means. Furthermore CCC 2370 reiterates that every action that intentionally renders procreation impossible is intrinsically evil. It rather recommends the natural family planning as a moral alternative for birth control.

Natural Family Planning: A moral alternative[6]

The justification for the Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a moral alternative to contraception in birth control according to the teaching authority of the Church (magisterium) is further evident when one understands the essential differences between both means as follows: Contraception is the intentional use of a drug, chemical, device or procedure to prevent pregnancy by acting directly against the fertility of each marriage act (sex). The biological purpose of sex is to reproduce, yet contraception denies the goodness of fertility. It is a lie in “body language” (CCC 2370). It works against our nature, i.e. God’s purpose for creating us. It also helps to promote the sins of adultery (sex outside of marriage) and fornication (sex before marriage) by reducing the chance of “embarrassing” consequences. On the other hand, in NFP, couples do not work directly against the fertility of the conjugal act but regulate birth by periodically abstaining from the conjugal act. The act is periodically avoided and not abused. NFP only gives information to help a couple choose between abstinence and the conjugal act. During the woman’s naturally infertile times, spouses can engage in the conjugal act; whereas, during the fertile periods, they can abstain. Under NFP, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; whereas in contraception, they impede the development of natural processes (Cf. Humanae Vitae 16). Even though the moral intention is to regulate birth by abstinence, NFP still respects the goodness of human fertility. NFP does demand “just reasons”, self-discipline, sacrifice, mutual consent (Cf. 1Cor. 7:5; Casti connubii 53) and openness to new life (CCC 2366) from both spouses.

Some of the Methods of Natural Family Planning include:

Rhythm Method: Conception occurs when the sperm is deposited in the vagina of a woman and unites with the ovum produced by the woman. This union of sperm and ovum (fertilization) can take place only when a mature ovum is present. Since a woman usually produce only one ovum per menstrual cycle and the ovum remains alive from twelve hours to two days (48 hours) unless it is fertilized and a male sperm from a healthy man can normally survive up to 72 hours, so conception can only be possible within four days in a menstrual cycle. 3 to 4 days must be allowed to forestall any possible mistake. Thus, possible fertile period within the entire menstrual period is 8 days. The rest are free days or safe/sterile period. However, the difficulty of this method is that the menstrual cycle is not the same for all women and that a woman’s periods many vary from their previous pattern. The onus lies on the mature woman to study and know her periods and body regulations.

Temperature Method: here, a special fever thermometer may also be used to find out the safe period. After the woman’s egg is released, the temperature rises above normal though only about 0.4°F. The thermal shift to the higher level is caused by progesterone which is only produced after the ovum has left the ovary. The temperature stays at this higher level until just before the start of the next menstruation when it drops again to the normal level. Once the higher temperature level as been recorded for three days, the woman can be sure that her ovum is already broken up and the unsafe period over. The difficulty of this method is that it require a thermometer, charts and regularity in taking the temperature. Besides the temperature may be upset by other causes such as slight illness, time etc.

Ovulation Method: This method is based on the biological fact of mucus as an indication that the ovulation has set in. This mucus must be there to preserve the sperm cells and lead it to the ovum. After ovulation there is a feeling of dryness around the vagina. At about the arrival of ovulation this mucus becomes slippery giving a feeling of lubrication.

Summarily, it is to be noted that NFP does not separate sex from responsibility; it is not just a method based on physiology but is based on virtue. It is based on sexual self-control, which is necessary for a healthy marriage. It respects God’s design of the inseparability of the unitive and procreative ends of the conjugal acts; does not impede the sources of life as well as respects the principle that each and every conjugal act must be open to the transmission of life.

Evaluation and Conclusion

From what has been said above, it is clear the Church is not totally against birth control as such but what the Church is against is offending the moral principles of life in a bid to achieve such.[7] Indeed, the Church through the teachings of Humanae Vitae recognises that certain circumstance could make the regulation of birth a necessity. Such conditions include: Physical (sickness, present or imminent, proximate or remote), Psychological (insanity, depression); and external conditions (Lack of finance, war/ disaster whether natural or artificial and the problem of demography). However, while respecting these genuine conditions (reasons) for birth control, the Church teaches recourse not to the artificial methods (contraception) but the natural methods, that is, the Natural Family Planning. In this way, the Church teaches that the normal and real birth control is self-control or self-mastery.

The advantages of the Natural Family Planning include: it enhances and intensifies the relationship between the spouses, promotes marital harmony and equality, it educates for continence, help build marital spirituality; improves the quality of life, restores dignity to women, and strengthens marriage and family life. Conversely, recourse to contraceptives would widen the road to marital infidelity as well as bring about a general lowering of moral standards. Despite being a ‘sign of contradiction’ in modern society, the Church continues to re-enforce with much intensity her unbroken and constant moral teachings on birth control.

Notes

[1] Originally my B.Th Moral Theology thesis for the Bachelor of Theology Comprehensive Examinations of Seat of Wisdom Seminary Owerri, May 2014. The Church´s teachings on the value of life is eternally valid and it is intimately connected with her teaching on birth control. The Catholic Church believes and teaches that artificial contraception is sinful and immoral and may frustrate a divine plan to bring a new life into the world. Instead of using birth control methods such as pill, IUDs, diaphragms, and condoms, Catholics can use Natural Family Planning (NFP) techniques. While the Church does not judge and condemn persons and individuals who continually advise, promote, propagate and practice these immoral forms of artificial contraception, she calls all to an inner conversion of heart while she remains unwavering in putting forth her true teachings and moral values as a matter of the Divine mandate she has received from Christ.

[2] “Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one´s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate.” RSV.

[3] Today, the prophecy of Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, seems to have come to pass. The contemporary world is sexually charged, men and women are fast becoming mere sexual objects for sexual fantasies and exploration. Was this the plan of God at creation? Because men and women now put so much confidence in artificial means of birth control especially condom are we not witnesses to the widespread of marital infidelity and single parenthood? Was this the plan of God at creation? There is a need to return to the drawing board, if not humanity may be heading towards auto-destruction.

[4] He said: “Unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood…as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. But one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so. Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfil one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God´s co-workers. Precisely for this reason they must have an extremely responsible attitude. In deciding whether or not to have a child, they must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by a prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child. Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary. However, there remains the duty of carrying it out with criteria and methods that respect the total truth of the marital act in its unitive and procreative dimension, as wisely regulated by nature itself in its biological rhythms. One can comply with them and use them to advantage, but they cannot be “violated” by artificial interference.”

[5] The 2008 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith´s instruction Dignitatis Personae: On Certain Bioethical Questions reiterates Church opposition to contraception, mentioning new methods of interception and contragestion, notably female condoms and morning-after pills, which also “fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral.”

[6] The Church permits and encourages married couples to space births and plan how big or small their families will be by using Natural Family Planning (NFP). By using natural science – taking body temperature, checking body fluids, and using some computations – a woman can determine with 95% accuracy when to have sex and not get pregnant. A woman is fertile during approximately seven to ten days per cycle and is infertile the rest of the time. When practiced properly, NFP is as effective as any artificial birth control method. And it is not difficult to learn. Mother Theresa taught poor, illiterate Indian women how to effectively use NFP. In addition, no prescription and no expensive devices are involved, so it is easy on the budget.

[7] For the Church, the worst aspect of birth control pills is that many of them are not true contraceptives; they do not prevent the sperm and egg from conceiving. Instead, they work as an abortifacient, causing the uterus to eject potentially fertilized eggs. Because the Church teaches that life begins at conception, any fertilized egg is an embryo and a human person. Also, artificial contraception is morally wrong because each and every sex act can occur only between husband and wife and must be directed towards two ends: love and life, that is, the intimate unity between the man and woman (love) and possibly procreating another human being (life). Conception and pregnancy do not have to occur each time, but no man-made barriers should prevent what God may intend to happen. When love and life – unity and procreation – are separated, then sex becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Birth control makes sex recreational, and removing what may be perceived as the “danger” of pregnancy means that couples no longer need to communicate about when and when not to have sex and whether they want o can afford another child. Discussions on this topic can strengthen the marriage.

© Valentine Anthony Umoh 2018

Universidad de Navarra
Facultad de Teología
vumoh@alumni.unav.es
vatexs86@gmail.com