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November 13, 2006


reluctant penitent

If the music of the Baltimore Basilica Mass broadcast on EWTN is any indicator of what we would end up with as the standard, the status quo would be better.

dan crawford

If the music of the Daily Mass on EWTN is any indicator of what we would end up with as the standard, the status quo would be better.

Rich Leonardi

Why, Dan? During the handful of times I've tuned in Mass on EWTN, the music has consisted of chant standards, i.e., the sort of thing that either is in Jubilate Deo or likely would be incorporated into a core repertoire.

reluctant penitent


Believe it or not, I agree with you. It is already difficult enough to persuade a parish to attempt Gregorian Chant, even though the relevant Church documents, most importantly the GIRM, require us to give pride of place to chant for the propers and ordinary. Can you imagine how difficult it is going to be if there is an 'approved' set of hymns? The response will be: 'yes, well it's true that these church documents tell us to sing the chant, but these hymns are so jolly, AND THEY ARE APPROVED.'

Unfortunately, EWTN does not use the Gregorian Chant propers either, though they certainly have the means to do it. But at least they chant the ordinary.


Thanks, Amy, from a whole bunch of Europeans who are able to follow the US Bishops' Conference via yr weblog.


FYI - the bishop to the right of Bishop Serratelli at the press conference was Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas.


Oops, I see you figured that out! Just trying to help!


From Canada. Is the music from the Baltimore Mass from your standard "hymnal" ie the US equivalent of our "Gather" books?

Joe Marier

"Gather" is actually used quite widely in the US.

Didn't Canada use to have a standard national hymnal? I've been to parishes (in the US) that used a hymnal with a maple leaf on a cover before.


I have to agree that, with all the things that need to be tended to in the Church in this country, it seems like the putting the publishers of the sappy-mass-music out of business should be at the bottom of the (long) list.

JB the (former) Kairos Guy


One of the difficulties in answering a question about artificial contraception in a context like this is the risk Bishops run when they teach the *entire* teaching. The third to last section of Humanae Vitae reads (in its entirety):
Christian Compassion

29. Now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world, (41) was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?

Husbands and wives, therefore, when deeply distressed by reason of the difficulties of their life, must find stamped in the heart and voice of their priest the likeness of the voice and the love of our Redeemer.

So speak with full confidence, beloved sons, convinced that while the Holy Spirit of God is present to the magisterium proclaiming sound doctrine, He also illumines from within the hearts of the faithful and invites their assent. Teach married couples the necessary way of prayer and prepare them to approach more often with great faith the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance. Let them never lose heart because of their weakness.

None of this says, "Go ahead, contracept!" But it does say, "Make sure to struggle with the question, and hand your failures over to God in His mercy!" Which can very easily be read, by a willing mind, "Go ahead, contracept!" A reporter looking for a "gotcha!" moment would have no trouble thinking they'd found a big scoop if the bishop ever answered the question about communion for contracepting families with a version of this.


Patrick Rothwell

"There was a lot that was said here, and since there will be more discussion on this later, I won't spend too much time on it, but the startling thing was that the gist of the concerns of Bishop Trautman and the other committee bishop represented were how any culling down of acceptable music would hurt music publishers and Catholic composers."

Oh, how my heart bleeds for Oregon Catholic Press. Maybe there's just enough time for them to get into another line of business, like selling Precious Moments figurines and baseball-playing Jesus paintings.



Perhaps we should take to heart Bishop Skystad's remarks about the coarsening of public discourse. A disclaimer: I love chant. I loathe a lot of 'new music.' But I also personally know a number of published church musicians and those who work for publishers. They are (for the most part) committed Christians who strive to use their talents for the good of the church. We could all make a list of songs that they have written that we personally hate, but it is often a matter of taste and style. (I have personally banned some heterodox hymns from my programs, so that isn't what I'm talking about.)

What I am talking about is having charity toward people who are in the community of faith and trying to make an honest living. And what is wrong with the bishops being concerned for them? Isn't that what a bishop is - a pastor? And doing something draconian (and perhaps unnecessary) and depriving people of their income (while slapping them down) does not seem like the task of the bishops to me.

Susan Peterson

Somehow I must have missed it, but I don't see where you say what was actually said about contraception, either in the documents or in the discussion (except about whether a contracepting couple should go to communion.)
Can you say more? I mean, from what I hear around me, and from what I read, most Catholics of childbearing age do contracept and do go to communion, and would be absolutely shocked if anyone suggested this was wrong. And in my nearly 35 years as a Catholic (since I was 21) I have never heard a sermon against contraception, or even heard it mentioned in a sermon. Well, yes, once, a young African priest mentioned it at a daily mass...where everyone there was clearly too old for this to be an issue for them. But that is the only exception in 35 years, in two dioceses. So if the American bishops speaking together are going to say something against contraception, that is quite amazing, as far as I am concerned, and I wish you would say more about it.

Susan Peterson

Anon in the South

Having listened to the Bishop's discussion on music, I was appalled at how much the publishers are still driving this train. They turn out stuff at a phenomenal rate and make a killing off of it. The discussions today indicate that we will continue to groove along with just enough oversight to make sure a few hymns are in every hymnal when what we really need is a serious overhaul and a brake on the publishers. Then we will get some reform.



The document is described here, in a news story I believe I blogged at the time, about 3 weeks ago.


I hope that the new document on contraception is boldly proclaimed in premarital preparation classes and retreats, as well as to the already-married. And to the teenagers and twenty-somethings who hear only "Don't do it" and none of the truth that supports that pronouncement. Heck, just tell it to everyone!

But honestly, until I see more than just the occasional priest taking a firm stand on cohabitation, I don't think the ground is fertile for this document. Most of the couples on our Engaged Encounter retreat were cohabiting. All of my cousins who are my age did or are. Even those who don't formally cohabit don't see anything wrong or inappropriate with sharing hotel rooms and beds on trips. And I only know one priest who will lovingly and firmly say to a cohabiting couple who comes to him for premarital preparation that he will not begin to prepare them for the sacrament until they are no longer living together.

If the Church can't get people to respect marriage enough not to abuse it by playing house, I just don't see how the bishops expect to see a sea change in the average American Catholic's viewpoint on contraception's permissability.

Radical Catholic Mom

I don't get the feeling the Bishops really care about contraception. They may get together, have a discussion, but when they get home that is the last we hear of it.

I agree with you, Susan & Scherza. It is a rare moment when the priest deals with the reality in their pews.


Maybe they are really changing their thinking on the issue. They may have come to grips with the fact that it isn't going to go away. They may even be starting to realize their current policy makes them look like fools. They claim to believe something but are embarassed to talk about it. If you are stuck with the doctrine why not articulate the best defense of it that you can?

M.Z. Forrest

Not to be a downer here, but it would be nice if we could get Catholics marrying in the Church again. While contraception is a major issue, the biggest issue today is the number of Catholics marrying outside the Church. Of the last dozen wedding invitations I've received over the past 5 years, only 1 was a wedding in the Church. (Almost all the weddings involved a Catholic.)

Stephen Joseph

Re: priests speaking out on artificial contraception and the reactions in the pews - Last year in our Chicago suburban parish, a JPII priest gave a homily on NFP. Now this priest personifies humility and has a gift for speaking the Truth with a huge dose of charity. He even softened the homily by not saying that this was the only moral way to regulate births. Well, in the middle of the homily, a parishoner, whom I know, stood up and started screaming at the priest, something along the lines of, "It's not that easy!" and "Shut up." He eventually sat down and the priest finished his homily. After Mass, the parishoner confronted the priest and threatened to "come up on the altar" if the priest ever spoke about IVF. According to the description of onlookers and the priest, he was shaking with rage and thrusting his finger in the priest's face. The pastor stood by and did nothing. Note that the priest NEVER mentioned IVF in the homily. The priest has since been transferred to another parish (regularly scheduled transfer) but the parishoner remains.

Now, we live in a contracepting parish. How do I know? Because everyone talks about it without shame - vasectomies, "are you done?" etc. But the priests rarely, if ever, address contraception or the Church's teaching on sexuality. In fact, the pastor has stated that on these issues he does not want to "alienate" anyone. I don't recall Christ being concerned about alienating anyone.

If a priest is unwilling to speak the Truth from the safety of the pulpit, how can we as laypeople be expected to live the Truth in a hostile world?

Jane M

Interesting comment, Mr. Joseph, but it doesn't seem as if the pulpit turned out to be such a safe place to proclaim the Truth from, no?

Dave Wells


While I would agree that many/most of the composers of contemporary liturgical music are well-intentioned and merely seeking to use their talents in the service of the Lord, that really isn't the issue here. The issue isn't "traditional" versus "contemporary" music: rather, it's an issue of faithful music versus ambiguous, misleading, or downright heretical music.

On the website of the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy, there is a PowerPoint presentation that reveals the depth of the problem. Of the twenty most popular liturgial songs used at Mass in America, only 35% refer specifically to Christ and only 10% (2 songs) have any specific reference to God as our Father. The Holy Trinity, the "central mystery of Christian faith and life" (CCC, 234) is not mentioned in any of the Top Twenty. And while over half of the songs refer to the individual or the community, only 10% (again, 2 songs) are centered exclusively in praise of God: in other words, it truly is all about us and how wonderful we are, rather than God.

Moreover, many of those who have written these popular hymns give no evidence that they believe what the Church teaches. Next time you're at Mass, try this experiment. Look at all of the songs in the "Eucharist" section of the hymnal. How many of them refer to the Real Presence of Christ - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity - in the Mass? How many of them instead simply encourage people to "eat the bread, and drink the wine"?

St Augustine once said, "He who sings, prays twice." The words of our hymns, no less than the words of our prayers, should proclaim the truth of our Catholic Faith.


In the Arlington VA diocese are a number of priests who will speak about contraception, IVF and so on. Some were at our parish and have been regularly transferred elsewhwere, so the lessons are being taught around the diocese.

Kyle D

Instead of following the disedifying discussions of the American bishops, I went to daily Mass and prayed for them. Is it a stretch to see this Gospel passage from today's Mass as prophetic?

"Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin."

Many of the bishops will know, off the tops of their mitred heads, that Jesus spoke those words. Now, of course, the bishops would then have to debate about the magisterial weight to be given them, or perhaps whether they "really came straight from" Jesus.

Mary, ora pro nobis et pro eis.

Catholic Mom

Actually, both our pastor and our parochial vicar have directly addressed the issue of contraception from the pulpit at a Sunday Mass. They courageously proclaim the Church's teaching and tell the congregation they are not in a state of grace if they are using contraception and they should not present themselves for communion if they are using contraception.

Fr. M

Those who haven't heard artificial contraception condemned from the pulpit must not live in the Arlington Diocese. The bishop and priests here mention it frequently from the pulpit and actively promote NFP for those who have a valid reason. Bishop Loverde's newspaper columns have vehemently condemned artificial contraception, abortafacients, abortion, human cloning and embrionic stem cell research. I don't know where Radical Catholic Mom lives, but move here and you will hear the gamut of pro-life issues addressed from almost every pulpit, from the Bishop on down. Even in his Confirmation homily the Bishop condemns premarital sex, abortion, partial-birth abortion and embrionic stem cell research.


Moreover, many of those who have written these popular hymns give no evidence that they believe what the Church teaches. Next time you're at Mass, try this experiment. Look at all of the songs in the "Eucharist" section of the hymnal. How many of them refer to the Real Presence of Christ - Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity - in the Mass? How many of them instead simply encourage people to "eat the bread, and drink the wine"?

Well, "When we eat this bread and drink this cup...." is St. Paul in I Corinthians 11. Also, look at the Bread of Life discourse.

I don't have a problem with orthodoxy in texts. I asked our music minister to please not use the idiotic lyrics "I myself am the Bread of Life; You and I are the Bread of Life...." anytime that children were around because I know that they absorb that stuff like the oxygen around them. And that is not what I want them to hear. But we do use "Take and Eat" from Taize (although neither the music minister nor I think that this is the apogee of liturgical music) because I get six year olds quoting it back to me. "This is my Body, given up for you." So, I am not disputing the importance of orthodoxy.

I do have two quibbles: 1) those who don't want any reference to "Bread" and "cup" when that is how the New Testament refers to the Eucharist. "Body, blood, soul and divinity" is obviously true, but a much later development in theological discourse. And, to be honest, it is a theological formulation and not a very good song lyric. 2) Not everything horizontal is bad. I agree that the point is not self-congratulation, but turning one's heart to look at the person next to one - that is precisely the point that Paul was making about the Eucharist in I Cor 11. The two are inextricably linked and hearing that exhortation in song is not a bad thing. Obviously we need a horizontal/vertical balance, but we need a balance. Not an exclusion of one over the other.

I am actually not at all against the idea of a common repetoire. (In fact, they can save themselves a lot of trouble and just use my favorite 60 songs. :) ) But I am against railing at song writers and publishers as if they are evil itself and not members of this one Body.


I, too, have never heard a sermon on contraception. If my husband and I hadn't been given Janet Smith's tape "Contraception - Why Not?" we'd still be going against Church teaching, receiving Communion and probably only have two kids (currently we're expecting number 5). And I have to admit, when I finally heard the FULL teaching of the Church, I wasn't outraged or offended, but I felt cheated that no one had spoke about it before. Not in marriage prep, not during our wedding, not in Mass. Now I know many people are not in the position to receive the teaching, but many are and the Bishops have to start somewhere. Yes, some people will be upset to hear the Truth, but with prayer and grace they can have a conversion of hearts and minds. As for me, I am so thankful to have been given the gift of faith in this particularly challenging, but beautiful Church teaching.

Stephen Joseph

Father M,

As a 40 year old Catholic who attends Sunday Mass and often daily Mass, I can count the number of times that I've heard a homily on NFP, IVF or contraception: Once. I wish I lived in the Arlington Diocese, but I'm not so lucky.

Thanks to all the priests and laypeople who speak the Truth on this issue.

Stephen Joseph


My wife and I had the exact same reaction - we felt cheated of the beauty and the Truth. I don't know how I got the Smith tape, but it just blew us away. We're also expecting our 5th in late December. Congratulations on #5!

Fr. S

I read with some interest the remarks concerning priests preaching/teaching or not preaching/teaching on contraception. I am reminded of the scene in the film "Mass Appeal" where Jack Lemon addresses his parishoners in tears trying to explain why he did not always preach the truth to them. He said, "I just wanted you to like me!" A great temptation, especially for a man who has given up intimacy of marriage in order to serve the People of God.

I preach the truth of Humanae Vitae at least twice a year. I would prefer not to. I would prefer that people like me. I do so in as gentle and understanding a way as I can manage. People are always angry. The first time I preached on this subject was the first year I was ordained. I was gentle and told them that my love for them required that I share with them the truth. I was physically assaulted after Mass. Fortunately some teenagers were present and restrained the two gentlemen. Afterwards the teens asked me why people were so angry. My only response was that they had been lied to for a very long time.

I would say that if you preach the Gospel and no one ever gets angry then you're probably not doing it right. That thought doesn't make it any easier. I do not condemn my brothers for being silent. It's not commendable but I certainly undertand where it comes from.

I also find it interesting that some who criticize their priests seem to think that if only someone would preach the truth then everyone would believe. If that were true then my work would have been done some years ago. Yes, priests and bishops are sometimes cowardly. Quess what? Sometimes, so are the faithful.

Joe Marier

I've heard anti-contraception homilies. I've never been really satisfied by one, though, and I say that as someone who's always opposed contraception. Not sure why... it's always seemed kind of hectoring, coming from a priest. I'm sorry, but the best witness on the issue comes from married couples and laypeople!


FWIW, here's my take on the "bread and wine" issue:

I propose the following principle:

No hymn should speak of the Eucharist as "bread" and "wine" without some clear, immediate qualification that indicates that bread and wine have been changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Examples of acceptable usages include: Bread of angels, living Bread, Bread of life, the One Cup. Examples of unacceptable usages include broken bread, bread broken for us, wine poured out for us, bread (simply), wine (simply).

This leaves out one of my favorite hymns, Father We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted, whose expression "broken bread" is (arguably, and imho) not sufficiently clear regarding the Real Presence. It's misleading on this one point alone. I know, I know, it's from the Didache. But, it's from the Eucharistic prayer of the Didache. First of all, what are we doing singing a Eucharistic prayer as a hymn? Secondly, when would we sing it? It's neither pre-consecrational, nor post-consecrational. It's neither fish nor fowl for us; it doesn't "go" with our current rite.

To my thinking, a single corrupt or potentially misleading expression makes a corrupt hymn. If it can be fixed or reworked, why not? But then again, with all the music at large, why bother? Rare is the hymn that would be such a great loss to humanity, that we cannot simply let it disappear. And most of those are so consonant with Catholic sensibilities that they contain no errors anyhow.

In some cases, just one verse might be problematic, but perhaps not the entire hymn. I say, let it go.

Joe Marier

I have a principle!

Any hymn that refers to "the dark of buildings confining," or "some Heaven, light years away" is banned forthwith. Along with the rest of the composer/lyricists' works; sorry, can't be too careful with THAT sort of thing.


Thanks so much for you courage Fr S. You are right. Preaching on contraception is not the end of the struggle. It is the beginning. Still it would be nice to get to a point where you expect a Catholic priest to teach this. Yes, he is celibate. That is another falsehood that celibate men cannot discern or teach the truth about sex, marriage, and procreation. We need to encourage our priests and bishops. For too long we have left the Vicar of Christ as the lone voice defending this.


I just thought of a new principle, inspired by I Received the Living God.

Texts that take the form of a direct quotation of God's words must be actual scriptural words from God.

Stephen Joseph

Father S,

Thanks for having the courage to speak the Truth under such difficult circumstances. Don't give up and do not be afraid!

We'll pray for you.



Dear Fr. S,

Thank you for your courage. The first time I heard a homily on contraception, I was shocked and thought the priest off his rocker. Somehow, it seems pretty quickly, I became used to such topics and accepted the teachings. We're in a desert now, no longer in the Arlington diocese, to be near family. Oh, the price we're paying.

I recall a news story where Rep. Moran (D-Alex) practically attacked his pastor after a Mass in which the priest talked about abortion.


One small correction: the bishop who asked why "inclination" instead of "orientation" was Peter Rosazza, Auxiliary of Hartford, not George Rassas, Auxiliary of Chicago.

Fr Martin Fox

This may shock some here, but:

That a couple is cohabiting is reason to:

1. Counsel and urge them to change their housing arrangements.

2. Counsel them to maintain a separation in the same housing.

3. Remind them of what integrity and their faith asks of them in their relationship before being married.

4. Urge them to make use of the sacrament of reconciliation.

But it is not grounds for refusing to marry the couple. If you can cite something in church law that says otherwise, I'd be very interested.


To the numerous posters on the Arlington diocese:

I too lived in the Arlington Diocese for a time. I've lived in several American dioceses as well as one European one. I can tell you from personal experience...What Arlington has, NO ONE ELSE does. You are truly in a blessed place, from which I'm sure numerous vocations (religious and married) come. Thank God...and pray for the rest of us. And when you hear complaining about wacky priests/ineffectual bishops you can be sure that the reference is not your diocese. (From what I understand, I can extend this to Denver too.)

Father Elijah

I am all for the 'prophetic' role of the priest to 'teach in season and out of season' [meaning when the truth is accepted and not accepted] I have had my share of individuals walking out; even for simply stating marriage is between man and woman BUT

Let me ask this....if you were at a Mass and a priest is preaching the Gospel truth, the teachings of the Church, and a parishioner got up and started screaming at the priest [as was told in one of the above responses] and then later was taking him on after Mass-----would you as a lay person ask/tell him or her to please sit down-that what was being stated was simply the truth?

I always have wondered about the monks present for Vespers (evening prayer) with Archbishop Thomas Becket when those four soldiers came in with swords drawn.... did they simply continue their prayers lol?


I was disappointed that the Bishops Committee on the Liturgy Powerpoint did not list the top ten or twenty hymns that they were critiquing. My parish has never sung any of the three mentioned in the PP.
My parish has two types of music. The first is done at the 5:30, 6:30 and 11:30 Masses and bisically consists of songs from Breaking Bread. Our Music minister prefers songs written before 1900, so we get many fairly old hymns. The 9:30 Mass is a youth Mass and uses Spirit and Song.
I find that more of the music form Spirit and Song meets the criteria of the Powerpoint presentation than the traditional songs from Breaking Bread, in that they are taken directly from scripture, Mention the dual nature of Christ explicitly, use the word "Father" and "Holy Spirit" along with Jesus, illustrating the Triune nature of God and tie bread and wine to Body and Blood.
I fear that the songs in Spirit and Song are closer to the chopping block than those in Breaking Bread, despite this.
Surely there are songs in Spirit and Song which are not appropriate for Mass, but then Mass is not the only time Hymns are sung, at least not in my parish.


To answer Father Elijah, if a parishioner got up and started yelling at the priest, at my parish a number of members of the Knights of Columbus, of which I am one, would move to defend the priest. Were it a youth Mass we might be hard prssed to prevent the numerous football players who are participants in the Youth Group from attempting to physically remove the person. (Violence not the answer, but they're young and are not likely to allow a priest to be accosted in his own church.)


Hey, what Arlington has, we have in Lincoln, too. I've only been Catholic for 3.5 years, and I've heard at least 8 homilies that address artificial contraception directly and dozens more that refer to it in passing (as an example of sin that is culturaly acceptable or something like that). Our RCIA class included a session on NFP (we were already using it ourselves, but it was an eye-opener for others and a deal-breaker for some). Our priests are not allowed to marry co-habitating couples, and our Engaged Encounter includes extensive discussions on NFP as well as premarital sex, plus opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and a chance to start anew without the blot of premarital sex. Furthermore, engaged couples are required to take NFP training -- I think it's a minimum of three classes. I personally know two female converts who recently married in the Catholic Church, one age 30 and one age 25, and both waited for the wedding night and are not using contraception now. One is already expecting.

Are their contracepting couples in the Diocese of Lincoln. I'm sure there are. Are they going up for Communion? I imagine at least a portion of them are. Are they uneducated about the Church's position on their choice? I find it extremely doubtful.

P.S. Our Catholic schools also teach abstinence until marriage and chastity forever. The W.A.I.T. Training people were just at our local Catholic high school today, as a matter of fact.


"But [cohabitating] is not grounds for refusing to marry the couple."

With respect to Canon Law, this is true, but don't you see that as a problem? Could not an argument be made that those who blithely cohabitate, even in the face of being counseled against it by the priests that are preparing them, do not properly understand the responsibilities of married life? This is a matter of Canon Law, and that, like all human law, can change (and has changed). Why mayn't Canon Law change to address the very serious problem of cohabitating engaged couples and the pastoral disasters it is causing? Couples cohabitating prior to marriage have far higher divorce rates than those that do not cohabitate.

Fr Martin Fox


In some cases, the cohabiting couple has children. Would you insist they separate in that situation?

I agree, it creates problems, and I always tell cohabiting couples about the higher incidence of divorce.

May I also point out that the couple could easily list two different addresses, and I would be none the wiser.

Additionally, it is not cohabiting that is sinful, although it is all but certainly an occasion of sin, and it gives scandal (I say these things to couples), but sex outside of marriage that is sinful. And don't kid yourself: many couples not actually cohabiting are having relations. So if they have two addresses, but sleep over a night or two a week, is that cohabiting?

I have had cohabiting couples who told me they had resolved to abstain from sexual relations till marriage.

You may laugh at me, but when I talk to a couple that acknowledges cohabiting, I cannot assume they are having sex; although I'm not stupid, I am not free to assume someone is committing mortal sin.

Certainly, Canon Law can be changed, and if it is, then I will apply the new canon. But current Canon law says that one not prohibited from a sacrament has a right to it, properly disposed. Some would say that cohabiting = not properly disposed, but another principle of canon law is to interpret restrictions and prohibitions narrowly.

I am not certain I'm right on this, but my practice is to counsel and exhort, not deny the sacrament on the basis of cohabiting alone.


Dear Fr. S,

After reading your post, the first thing that came to my mind was Luke 4:28-29. The people in Nazareth were so angry with Jesus' preaching they tried to throw him headlong off the top of a hill! As Jesus said, "No prophet is accepted in his own native place." How true that is! How sad that a priest has a hard time preaching the truth in a Catholic church. It seems like our Protestant evangelical brothers and sisters are sometimes more receptive to this truth than are Catholics.

You must be doing it right Fr. S! Take courage!


Fr. Fox, I would suggest that the requirement of "the proper disposition" to receive a sacrament comes into play here. If a couple is (unrepentantly) having sex before marriage, whether or not they are cohabitating, do they have the proper dispositions towards marriage? If not, then it seems to me that a delay of the sacrament might be appropriate, until they can get their heads around the idea of the marriage bond.

Tim Ferguson

As a canonist, I would agree with Fr. Martin for the most part. Cohabitation, in and of itself is not an impediment to marriage (and the Law makes it clear that no new impediment can be established by any authority beneath the Supreme Authority in the Church, i.e. the Pope acting alone or acting with the college of bishops cc. 1075, 1076). A priest would be remiss if he were to introduce a new impediment by refusing to marry couples merely on the basis of the fact that they are cohabitating.

However, a prudent and pastoral priest would certainly counsel and exhort, but also draw legitimate conclusions from the facts at hand. I disagree with Fr. Martin that it would be wrong of him to assume that a couple living together are engaging in carnal relations. That would be a legitimate presumption, which is why such a living arrangement is scandalous (scandal is not defined as something which "shocks" people, but as an external act which causes another's spiritual ruin). The law and the Church do not decry all presumptions - Father certainly shouldn't presume that the couple is committing mortal sin, since he does not know their interior state unless they confess it to him, but he is free to presume that they are committing objective sin. In a similar manner, the Church presumes that a married couple who have spent more than a half hour together, alone, have consummated their union, and the burden of proof in non-consummation cases then becomes theirs to prove non-consummation.

When there are children involved, or when economic circumstances make it difficult or impossible to separate, asking the couple to promise to remain chaste during the course of the marriage preparation can be a solution.

Still, in the end, a priest would need strong reasons for denying the sacrament of matrimony to a couple who asked for it. On a practical level too, if one priest denied a couple marriage, chances are that, without too much difficulty, they could find a priest who would marry them.


If a cohabiting couple actually wants to get married these days, instead of just living together forever while the woman deludes herself that someday she'll get a ring -- I think the couple's wish to marry and make the relationship right should be honored.

Obviously the situation needs counseling, but people trying to do the right thing should not be discouraged by harsh treatment.


Fr. Fox:

There may or may not be a real difference between those that are cohabitating and those that are having sex without cohabitating. A couple that start cohabitating (leaving out of consideration the occasional case of dire financial need, which still doesn't justify cohabitation) are making a sort of public declaration about their status as an unmarried yet sexually active couple. And yes, of course it's possible for a couple to cohabitate without having sex, but that never--or as Capt. Corcoran of the Pinafore would say, hardly ever--happens. Cohabitation means, for all practical purposes, sharing the same bed and having regular sex.

Those who are having sex without cohabitating, on the other hand, are doing wrong as well, but at least have not had the cheek to declare to the world that they're anticipating already the sexual joys of marriage. They may even feel rather guilty about it, and fall into that occasionally out of weakness rather than some agreement that they are a sexually active couple. Their sin can be forgiven in the confessional if they are truly sorry and mean to amend. A cohabitating couple cannnot have a firm purpose of amendment as long as they're cohabitating. That's the difference. I would not give absolution to a cohabitating couple if they had no intention of separating, or, where that is physically or financially impossible, at least promising me they'd make some good faith attempt to live chastely by using separate rooms.

The presence of children in the relationship of course makes things different, but even then it is sometimes possible to enlist the help of families and avoid cohabitating during the engagement period.

I know some priests who refuse to allow a grand ceremony in the Church for a cohabitating couple. They are given the sacrament, but only in the Church rectory and in the presence of the witnesses. Harsh? I don't think so. I consider it a very fine way of teaching the seriousness of marriage and that God will not be mocked.


God bless you, Fr. Fox.

A difficult call and one that, IMHO, you handle well and in a good, holy and pastoral way. I thank you for your service to these couples, to the Church and expressing your experience here at this blog.



What of couples married only civilly?


"What of couples married only civilly?"

If they're Catholics, then it is not a valid marriage, and their status is tantamount to that of cohabitators. But in such cases--especially where there are children--the Church is eager to perform a convalidation.


The status of Catholics married only civilly is not "tantamount to that of cohabitators." If the validity of the marriage is never called into question, the marriage exists and is presumed valid Such couples may receive communion because they are not adulterers. True, Catholics are bound to canonical form, but the very term convalidation is very telling on this point.

Eileen R

I've heard several sermons mentioning or about contraception but only in a Ukrainian rite church. In my diocese, I've never heard one, even from very orthodox priests.

Mrs. Corcoran

"And yes, of course it's possible for a couple to cohabitate without having sex, but that never--or as Capt. Corcoran of the Pinafore would say, hardly ever--happens."

My husband and I shared a residence before we were married, for 8 months, (for various reasons into which I shall not go here, but which I shared with the four different priests who had a part in counseling us,) and we did not have sexual relations, I was a virgin on my wedding night.
I was concerned about giving scandal so I made the situation and the reasons very clear to my four neices who were old enough to understand (and was pleasantly surprised to learn in these four conversation that none of them, even the college senior, was sexually active, nor had nay intention of being so outside of marriage.)
I was, frankly, shocked because none of the priests seemed much interested, and one told me that that, as well as any birth control choice we might make were "none of his business."


Clarification on my previous post: Catholic couples married civilly may receive communion only if they have no previous marriages that have not been annulled.



A merely civil marriage is no marriage at all for a Catholic. It is not valid. Thus, Catholics who are married civilly but not sacramentally may have legal status according to the state, but in the eyes of the Church, it is no marriage. Thus, they are indeed committing adultery. I don't know where you are getting your information, but what I'm stating here is straight Church teaching.

Mrs. Corcoran:



PS: See Code of Canon Law, 1108-1123 on the form of marriage.

Big Tom

Fr Fox:

You're right on with your judgement and actions regarding cohabitation. Some commenters have indicated they feel this is a problem in Canon Law and/or in church practice. I posit that unless they feel qualified to assume the role of parish pharisee we need to exercise a little caution in assuming that people are genitally sexually involved because they are living together. Is the temptation much greater? Yes! Is it a far from ideal arrangement with dire statistical implications for their divorce prospects? Yes! Does it show remarkably poor judgement in most cases? Yes! However, we cannot presume to know the actions of these individuals. That is a judgement the church does not make, even about Judas who betrayed our Lord and Savior. We simply cannot go around forcing people to reveal those parts of their internal lives, we have no right nor any need to do so.

Furthermore - the ministers in the sacrament of marriage are in fact the two individuals to be married. The priest or deacon is simply the ecclesial witness who blesses the marriage rather than the actual minister that marries the bride and bridegroom to be. There is an implicit right to the sacraments for all believers and it is an incredibly presumptuous attitude to start censoring the sacraments. Only when it causes great scandal should they be withheld (e.g. politicians with abortion support or also the former husband of Terri Schiavo when he married his new wife).

Teaching, preaching, fraternal correction - to these things we are called. Judging is however something we are explicitly warned against doing. So, I again encourage us all to teach the truth insomuch as we are capable but to leave the judgements to those more qualified and with proper authority (pastors and bishops).

Lastly - pray for those you may feel are in danger. Don't sit here and bemoan the bishops and the couples getting married. Pray and fast for them to be better spouses and better shepherds always!

God bless,



Gee, Big Tom, that's just keen. "Parish pharisees"? "Censoring the sacraments"? I don't suppose it has occurred to you that a priest is in fact called on to be judge in some cases (especially the confessional)? And that some couples are clearly unready for marriage?

There is a case to be for both a more relaxed take on this issue (Fr. Fox's) and a more rigorist (what I articulated above). Neither the strengths nor the weaknesses of either position should be tut-tutted. Fr. Fox has a very clear understanding of what he's doing, and he is certainly thinking with the CIC on this one, but there are also other problems to be considered, which I tried to bring out. I don't pretend to have all the answers.

One thing that clearly needs explanation is what it means for someone to have a "right" to the sacraments. No creature has any rights by nature before God. What this generally means, for the Church, is that no one may be deprived by another human being (especially ministers) of the means of grace needed for salvation. This is meant to be a check on clerical capriciousness, among other things. But there are clearly cases in which some intervention and special instruction is necessary. It often happens--very frequently these days--that some steps are needed to bring someone to an understanding of the grave sin he is in, precisely for that person's salvation (being a good shepherd, as you would say). No one enjoys doing this; no priest wants to appear to be a "cop."

Some cases warrant excommunication, yet there are other cases in which so drastic a measure is not needed, and yet something more than pastoral counseling. Those who are getting married in the Catholic Church today who are not cohabitating, and do not intend to contracept, or even receive the sacraments regularly after getting married, is very small. The status quo cannot last.

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