Apostolic Exhortation FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO (On the Family) of His Holiness, Pope John Paul
(On the Family)
of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II
to the Episcopate, to the Clergy and to the Faithful
of the Whole Catholic Church Regarding the Role
of the Christian Family in the Modern World
December 15, 1981.
1. The Church at the Service of the Family.
The family in the modern world, as much as and perhaps more than
any other institution, has been beset by the many profound and
rapid changes that have affected society and culture. Many
families are living this situation in fidelity to those values that
constitute the foundation of the institution of the family. Others
have become uncertain and bewildered over their role or even
doubtful and almost unaware of the ultimate meaning and truth of
conjugal and family life. Finally, there are others who are
hindered by various situations of injustice in the realization of
their fundamental rights.
Knowing that marriage and the family constitute one of the most
precious of human values, the church wishes to speak and offer her
help to those who are already aware of the value of marriage and
the family and seek to live it faithfully, to those who are
uncertain and anxious and searching for the truth, and to those who
are unjustly impeded from living freely their family lives.
Supporting the first, illumination the second and assisting the
others, the church offers her services to every person who wonders
about the destiny of marriage and the family .
In a particular way the church addresses the young, who are
beginning their journey toward marriage and family life, for the
purpose of presenting them with new horizons, helping them to
discover the beauty and grandeur of the vocation to love and the
service of life.
2. The Synod of 1980 in Continuity with Preceding Synods
A Sign of this profound interest of the church in the family was
the last Synod of Bishops, held in Rome from Sept. 26 to Oct. 25,
1980. This was a natural continuation of the two preceding synods
: The Christian family, in fact, is the first community called
to announce the Gospel to the human person during growth and to
bring him or her, through a progressive education and catechesis,
to full human and Christian maturity.
Furthermore, the recent synod is logically connected in some way
as well with that on the ministerial priesthood and on justice in
the modern world. In fact, as an educating community, the family
must help man to discern his own vocation and to accept
responsibility in the search for greater justice, educating him
from the beginning in interpersonal relationships, rich in justice
and in love.
At the close of their assembly, the synod fathers presented me
with a long list of proposals in which they had gathered the fruits
of their reflections, which had matured over intense days of work,
and they asked me unanimously to be a spokesman before humanity of
the church's lively care for the family and to give suitable
indications for renewed pastoral effort in this fundamental sector
of the life of man and of the church.
As I fulfill that mission with this exhortation, thus actuating
in a particular matter the apostolic ministry with which I am
entrusted, I wish to thank all the members of the synod for the
very valuable contribution of teaching and experience that they
made, especially through the *propositiones*, the text of which I
am entrusting to the Pontifical Council for the Family with
instructions to study it so as to bring out every aspect of its
3. The Precious Value of Marriage and of the Family.
Illuminated by the faith that gives her an understanding of all
the truth concerning the great value of marriage and the family and
their deepest meaning, the church once again feels the pressing
need to proclaim the Gospel, that is the "good news," to all people
without exception, in particular to those who are called to
marriage and are preparing for it, to all married couples and
parents in the world.
The church is deeply convinced that only by the acceptance of the
Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and
in the family capable of being fulfilled.
Willed by God in the very act of creation , marriage and the
family are interiorly ordained to fulfillment in Christ  and
have need of his graces in order to be healed from the wounds of
sin  and restored to their "beginning" , that is, to full
understanding and the full realization of God's plan.
At a moment of history in which the family is the object of
numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform
it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are
intimately tied to the good of the family , the church perceives
in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to
all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring
their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus
contributing to the renewal of society and of the people of God.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council GAUDIUM ET SPES, 52.
 Cf. John Paul II, Homily for the Opening of the Sixth Synod of
Bishops (Sept. 26, 1980), 2: AAS 72 (1980), 1008.
 Cf. Gn. 1-2.
 Cf. Eph. 5.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 47; Pope John Paul
II, Letter APOPROPINQUAT IAM (Aug 15, 1980), 1: AAS 72 (1980), 791.
 Cf. Mt. 19:4.
BRIGHT SPOTS AND SHADOWS FOR THE FAMILY TODAY
4. The Need to Understand the Situation.
Since God's plan for marriage and the family touches men and
women in the concreteness of their daily existence in specific
social and cultural situations, the church ought to apply herself
to understanding the situations within which marriage and the
family are lived today, in order to fulfill her task of serving
This understanding is therefore an inescapable requirement of the
work of evangelization. It is, in fact, to the families of our
times that the church must bring the unchangeable and ever new
gospel of Jesus Christ, just as it is the families involved in the
present conditions of the world that are called to accept and to
live the plan of God that pertains to them. Moreover, the call and
demands of the spirit resound in the very events of history, and so
the church can also be guided to a more profound understanding of
the inexhaustible mystery of marriage and the family by the
circumstances, the questions and the anxieties and hopes of the
young people, married couples and parents of today .
To this ought to be added a further reflection of particular
importance at the present time. Not infrequently ideas and
solutions which are very appealing, but which obscure in varying
degrees the truth and the dignity of the human person, are offered
to men and women of today in their sincere and deep search for a
response to the important daily problems that affect their married
and family life. These views are often supported by the powerful
and pervasive organization of the means of social communication,
which subtly endangers freedom and the means of objective
Many are already aware of this danger to the human person and are
working for the truth. The church, with her evangelical
discernment, joins with them, offering her own service to the
truth, to freedom and to the dignity of every man and every woman.
8. Evangelical Discernment.
The discernment effected by the church becomes the offering of an
orientation in order that the entire truth and the full dignity of
marriage and the family may be preserved and realized.
This discernment is accomplished through the sense of faith ,
which is a gift that the Spirit gives to all the faithful , and
is therefore the work of the whole church according to the
diversity of the various gifts and charisms that, together with and
according to the responsibility proper to each one, work together
for a more profound understanding and activation of the word of
God. The church, therefore, does not accomplish this discernment
only through the pastors, who teach in the name and with the power
of Christ, but also through the laity: Christ "made them his
witnesses and gave them understanding of the faith and the grace of
speech (Acts 2:17-18; Rv. 19:10), so that the power of the Gospel
might shine forth in their daily social and family life" . The
laity, moreover, by reason of their particular vocation have the
specific role of interpreting the history of the world in the light
of Christ, inasmuch as they are called to illuminate and organize
temporal realities according to the plan of God, creator and
The "supernatural sense of faith" , however, does not consist
solely or necessarily in the consensus of the faithful. Following
Christ, the church seeks the truth, which is not always the same as
the majority opinion. She listens to conscience and not to power,
and in this way she defends the poor and downtrodden. The church
values sociological and statistical research when it proves helpful
in understanding the historical context in which pastoral action
has to be developed and when it leads to a better understanding of
the truth. Such research alone, however, is not to be considered
in itself an expression of the sense of faith.
Because it is the task of the apostolic ministry to ensure that
the church remains in the truth of Christ and to lead her ever more
deeply into that truth, the pastors must promote the sense of faith
in all the faithful, examine and authoratively judge the
genuineness of its expressions and educate the faithful in an ever
more mature evangelical discernment .
Christian spouses and parents can and should offer their unique
and irreplaceable contribution to the elaboration of an authentic
evangelical discernment in the various situations and cultures in
which men and women live their marriage and their family life.
They are qualified for this role by their charism or special gift,
the gift of the sacrament of matrimony .
6. The Situation of the Family in the World Today.
The situation in which the family finds itself presents positive
and negative aspects: The first is a sign of the salvation of
Christ operating in the world; the second, a sign of the refusal
that man gives to the love of God.
On the one hand, in fact, there is a more lively awareness of
personal freedom and greater attention to the quality of
interpersonal relationships in marriage, in promoting the dignity
of women, to responsible procreation, to the education of children.
There is also an awareness of the need for the development of
interfamily relationships, for reciprocal spiritual and material
assistance, the rediscovery of the ecclesial mission proper to the
family and its responsibility for the building of a more just
society. On the other hand, however, signs are not lacking of a
disturbing degradation of some fundamental values: a mistaken
theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the
spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding
the relationship of authority between parents and children; the
concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the
transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge
of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the
appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.
At the root of these negative phenomena there frequently lies a
corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not
as a capacity for realizing the truth of God's plan for marriage
and the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation,
often against others, for one's own selfish well-being.
Worthy of our attention also is the fact in the countries of the
so-called Third World, families often lack both the means necessary
for survival, such as food, work, housing and medicine, and the
most elementary freedoms. In the richer countries, on the
contrary, excessive prosperity and the consumer mentality,
paradoxically joined to a certain anguish and uncertainty about the
future, deprive married couples of the generosity and courage
needed for raising up new human life: Thus life is often perceived
not as a blessing but as a danger from which to defend oneself.
The historical situation in which the family lives therefore
appears as an interplay of light and darkness.
This shows that history is not simply a fixed progression toward
what is better, but rather an event of freedom, and even a struggle
between freedoms that are in mutual conflict, that is, according to
the wellknown expression of St. Augustine, a conflict between two
loves: the love of God to the point of disregarding self, and the
love of self to the point of disregarding God .
It follows that only an education for love rooted in faith can
lead to the capacity of interpreting "the signs of the times,"
which are the historical expression of this twofold love.
7. The Influence of Circumstances on the Consciences of the ------
Living in such a world, under the pressures coming above all from
the mass media, the faithful do not always remain immune from the
obscuring of certain fundamental values, nor set themselves up as
the critical conscience of the family culture and as active agents
in the building of an authentic family humanism.
Among the more troubling signs of this phenomenon, the synod
fathers stressed the following in particular: the spread of divorce
and of recourse to a new union, even on the part of the faithful;
the acceptance of purely civil marriage in contradiction of the
vocation of the baptized to "be married in the Lord"; the
celebration of the marriage sacrament without living faith, but for
other motives; the rejection of moral norms that guide and promote
human and Christian exercise of sexuality in marriage.
8. Our Age Needs Wisdom.
The whole church is obliged to a deep reflection and commitment,
so that the new culture now emerging may be evangelized in depth,
true values acknowledged, the rights of men and women defended and
justice promoted in the very structures of society. In this way
the "new humanism" will not distract people from their relationship
with God, but will lead them to it more fully.
Science and its technical applications offer new and immense
possibilities in the construction of such a humanism. Still, as a
consequence of political choices that decide the direction of
research and its applications, science is often used against its
original purpose, which is the advancement of the human person.
It becomes necessary, therefore, on the part of all to recover an
awareness of the primacy of moral values, which are the values of
the human person as such. The great task that has to be faced
today for the renewal of society is that of recapturing the
ultimate meaning of life and its fundamental values. Only an
awareness of the primacy of these values enables man to use the
immense possibilities given him by science in such a way as to
bring about the true advancement of the human person in his or her
whole truth, in his or her freedom and dignity. Science is called
to ally itself with wisdom.
The following words of the Second Vatican Council can therefore
be applied to the problems of the family: "Our era needs such
wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to
be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril
unless wiser people are forthcoming" .
The education of the moral conscience, which makes every human
being capable of judging and of discerning the proper ways to
achieve self-realization according to his or her original truth,
thus becomes a pressing requirement that cannot be renounced.
Modern culture must be led to a more profoundly restored covenant
with divine wisdom. Every man is given a share of such wisdom
through the creating action of God. And it is only in faithfulness
to this covenant that the families of today will be in a position
to influence positively the building of a more just and fraternal
9. Gradualness and Conversion.
To the injustice originating from sin -- which has profoundly
penetrated the structures of today's world -- and often hindering
the family's full realization of itself and of its fundamental
rights, we must all set ourselves in opposition through a
conversion of mind and heart, following Christ crucified by denying
our own selfishness: Such a conversion cannot fail to have a
beneficial and renewing influence even on the structures of
What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while
requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence
to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which
leads us gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of
God and the demands of his definitive and absolute love in the
entire personal and social life of man. Therefore an educational
growth process is necessary in order that individual believers,
families and peoples, even civilization itself, by beginning from
what they have already received of the mystery of Christ, may
patiently be led forward, arriving at a richer understanding and a
fuller integration of this mystery in their lives.
In conformity with her constant tradition, the church receives
from the various cultures everything that is able to express better
the unsearchable riches of Christ . Only with the help of all
the cultures will it be possible for these riches to be manifested
ever more clearly and for the church to progress toward a daily,
more complete and profound awareness of the truth, which has
already been given to her in its entirety by the Lord.
Holding fast to the two principles of the compatibility with the
Gospel of the various cultures to be taken up and of communion with
the universal church, there must be further study, particularly by
the episcopal conferences and the appropriate departments of the
Roman Curia, and greater pastoral diligence so that this
"inculturation" of the Christian faith may come about ever more
extensively in the context of marriage and the family as well as in
It is by means of "inculturation" that one proceeds toward the
full restoration of the covenant with the wisdom of God, which is
Christ himself. The whole church will be enriched also by the
cultures which, though lacking technology, abound in human wisdom
and are enlivened by profound moral values.
So that the goal of this journey might be clear and consequently
the way plainly indicated, the synod was right to begin by
considering in depth the original design of God for marriage and
the family: It "went back to the beginning," in deference to the
teaching of Christ .
 Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Council of the General
Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops (Feb. 23, 1980): INSEGNAMENTI
DI GIOVANNI PAOLO II,) III, 1 (1980), 472-476.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 4.
 Cf. Cf. Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 12.
 Cf. 1 Jn. 2:20.
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 35.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 12; Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration MYSTERIUM ECCLESIAE, 2:
AAS 65 (1973), 398-400.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 12; DEI VERBUM, 10.
 Cf. John Paul II, Homily for the Opening of the Sixth Synod of
 Cf. St. Augustine, DE CIVITATE DEI, XIV, 28; CSEL 40, II, 56-
 GAUDIUM ET SPES, 15.
 Cf. Eph. 3:8; Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 44; AD
GENTES, 15, 22.
 Cf. Mt. 19:4-6.
THE PLAN OF GOD FOR MARRIAGE AND THE FAMILY
11. Man, the Image of the God Who Is Love.
God created man in his own image and likeness ; calling him
to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love.
God is love  and in himself he lives a mystery of personal
loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and
continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of
man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and
responsibility, of love and communion . Love is therefore the
fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.
As an incarnate spirit, that is, a soul which expresses itself in
a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit, man is called to
love in his unified totality. Love includes the human body, and
the body is made a sharer in spiritual love.
Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing
the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love:
marriage and virginity or celibacy. Either one is in its proper
form an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being
"created in the image of God."
Consequently sexuality, by means of which man and woman give
themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and
exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological,
but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It
is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral pert of
the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to
one another until death. The total physical self-giving would be
a lie if it were not the sign and fruit of a total personal self-
giving, in which the whole person, including the temporal
dimension, is present: If the person were to withhold something or
reserve the possibility of deciding otherwise in the future, by
this very fact he or she would not be giving totally.
This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds
to the demands of responsible fertility. This fertility is
directed to the generation of a human being, and so by its nature
it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole
series of personal values. For the harmonious growth of these
values a persevering and unified contribution by both parents is
The only "place" in which this self-giving in its whole truth is
made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and
consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate
community of life and love willed by God himself , which only
in this light manifests its true meaning. The institution of
marriage is not an undue interference by society or authority, nor
the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather, it is an interior
requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly
affirmed as unique and exclusive in order to live in complete
fidelity to the plan of God, the creator. A person's freedom, far
from being restricted by this fidelity, is secured against every
form of subjectivism or relativism and is made a sharer in creative
12. Marriage and Communion Between God and People.
The communion of love between God and people, a fundamental part
of the revelation and faith experience of Israel, finds a
meaningful expression in the marriage covenant which is established
between a man and a woman.
For this reason the central word of revelation, "God loves his
people," is likewise proclaimed through the living and concrete
word whereby a man and a woman express their conjugal love. Their
bond of love becomes the image and the symbol of the covenant which
unites god and his people . And the same sin which can harm
the conjugal covenant becomes an image of the infidelity of the
people to their God: Idolatry is prostitution , infidelity is
adultery, disobedience to the law is abandonment of the spousal
love of the Lord. But the infidelity of israel does not destroy
the eternal fidelity of the Lord, and therefore the ever faithful
love of God is put forward as the model of the relations of the
faithful love which should exist between spouses .
13. Jesus Christ, Bridegroom of the Church, and the Sacrament of
The communion between God and his people finds its definitive
fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the bridegroom who loves and gives
himself as the savior of humanity, uniting it to himself as his
He reveals the original truth of marriage, the truth of the
"beginning" , and, freeing man from his hardness of heart, he
makes man capable of realizing this truth in its entirety.
This revelation reaches its definitive fullness in the gift of
love which the word of God makes to humanity in assuming a human
nature, and in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ makes of himself on
the cross for his bride, the church. In this sacrifice there is
entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity
of man and woman since their creation , the marriage of
baptized persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal
covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ. The Spirit which the
Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman
capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal
love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained,
conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the
spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of
Christ, who gave himself on the cross.
In a deservedly famous page, Tertullian has well expressed the
greatness of this conjugal life in Christ and its beauty: "How can
I ever express the happiness of the marriage that is joined
together by the church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a
blessing, announced by angels and ratified by the Father? !!! How
wonderful the bond between two believers, with a single hope, a
single desire, a single observance, a single service! They are both
brethren and both fellow servants; there is no separation between
them in spirit or flesh. In fact they are truly two in one flesh,
and where the flesh is one, one is the spirit" .
Receiving and mediating faithfully on the word of God, the church
has solemnly taught and continued to teach that the marriage of the
baptized is one of the seven sacraments of the new covenant .
Indeed by means of baptism, man and woman are definitively placed
within the new and eternal covenant, in the spousal covenant of
Christ with the church. And it is because of this indestructible
insertion that the intimate community of conjugal life and love,
founded by the creator , is elevated and assumed into the
spousal charity of Christ, sustained and enriched by his redeeming
By virtue of the sacraments of their marriage, spouses are bound
to one another in the most profoundly indissoluble manner. Their
belonging to each other is the real representation, by means of the
sacramental sign, of the very relationship of Christ with the
Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the church of
what happened on the cross; they are for one another and for the
children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes
them sharers. Of this salvation event marriage, like every
sacrament, is a memorial, actuation and prophecy:
"As a memorial, the sacrament gives them the grace and duty of
commemorating the great works of God and of bearing witness to them
before their children. As actuation, it gives them the grace and
duty of putting into practice in the present, toward each other and
their children, the demands of a love which forgives and redeems.
As prophecy, it gives them the grace and duty of living and bearing
witness to the hope of the future encounter with Christ" .
Like each one of the seven sacraments, so also marriage is a real
symbol of the event of salvation, but in its own way.
"The spouses participate in it as spouses, together, as a couple,
so that the first and immediate effect of marriage (res et
sacramentum) is not supernatural grace itself, but the Christian
conjugal bond, a typically Christian communion of two persons
because it represents the mystery of Christ's incarnation and the
mystery of his covenant. The content of participation in Christ's
life is also specific: Conjugal love involves a totality, in which
all the elements of the person enter -- appeal of the body and
instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the
spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, the unity
that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and
soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive
mutual giving; and is open to fertility (cf. Humanae Vitae, 9). In
a word, it is a question of the normal characteristics of all
natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only
purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of
making them the expression of specifically Christian values" .
14. Children, the Precious Gift of Marriage.
According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the
wider community of the family, since the very institution of
marriage and conjugal love is ordained to the procreation and
education of children, in whom it finds its crowning .
In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and
conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal
"knowledge" which makes them "one flesh",  does not end with
the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible
gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving
life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving
themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the
reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a
permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable
synthesis of their being a father and a mother.
When they become parents, spouses receive from God the gift of a
new responsibility. Their parental love is called to become for
the children the visible sign of the very love of God, "from whom
every family in heaven and on earth is named" .
It must not be forgotten however, that even when procreation is
not possible, conjugal life does not for this reason lose its
value. Physical sterility in fact, can be for the spouses the
occasion for other important services to the life of the human
person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work,
and assistance to other families and to poor or handicapped
15. The Family, a Communion of Persons.
In matrimony and in the family a complex of interpersonal
relationships is set up -- married life, fatherhood and motherhood,
filiation and fraternity -- through which each human person is
introduced into the "human family" and into the "family of God,"
which is the church.
Christian marriage and the Christian family build up the church:
for in the family the human person is not only brought into being
and progressively introduced by means of education into the human
community, but by means of rebirth of baptism and education in the
faith the child is also introduced into God's family, which is the
The human family, disunited by sin, is reconstituted in its unity
by the redemptive power of death and resurrection of Christ .
Christian marriage, by participating in the salvific efficacy of
this event, constitutes the natural setting in which the human
person is introduced into the great family of the church.
The commandment to grown and multiply, given to man and woman in
the beginning, in this way reaches its whole truth and full
The church thus finds in the family, born from the sacrament, the
cradle and the setting in which she can enter the human generations
and where these in turn can enter the church.
16. Marriage and Virginity or Celibacy.
Virginity or celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of God not only
does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it and
confirms it. Marriage and virginity or celibacy are two ways of
expressing and living the one mystery of the covenant of God with
his people. When marriage is not esteemed, neither can consecrated
virginity or celibacy exist; when human sexuality is not regarded
as a great value given by the creator, the renunciation of it for
the sake of the kingdom of heaven loses its meaning.
Rightly indeed does St. John Chrysostom say:
"Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of
virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and
resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would
not be particularly good. It is something better than what is
admitted to be good that is the most excellent good" .
In virginity or celibacy, the human being is awaiting, also in a
bodily way, the eschatological marriage of Christ with the church,
giving himself or herself completely to the church in the hope that
Christ may give himself to the church in the full truth of eternal
life. The celibate person thus anticipates in his or her flesh the
new world of the future resurrection .
By virtue of this witness, virginity or celibacy keeps alive in
the church a consciousness of the mystery of marriage and defends
it from any reduction and impoverishment.
Virginity or celibacy, by liberating the human heart in a unique
way , "so as to make it burn with greater love for God and all
humanity" , bears witness that the kingdom of God and his
justice is that pearl of great price which is preferred to every
other value no matter how great, and hence must be sought as the
only definitive value. It is for this reason that the church
throughout her history has always defended the superiority of this
charism to that of marriage, by reason of the wholly singular link
which it has with the kingdom of God .
In spite of having renounced physical fecundity, the celibate
person becomes spiritually fruitful, the father and mother of many,
cooperating in the realization of the family according to God's
Christian couples therefore have the right to expect from celibate
persons a good example and a witness of fidelity to their vocation
until death. Just as fidelity at times becomes difficult for
married people and requires sacrifice, mortification and self-
denial, the same can happen to celibate persons, and their
fidelity, even in the trials that may occur, should strengthen the
fidelity of married couples .
These reflections on virginity or celibacy can enlighten and help
those who, for reasons independent of their own will, have been
unable to marry and have then accepted their situation in a spirit
 Cf. Gn. 1:26-27.
 Cf. 1 Jn. 4:8.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 12.
 Cf. Ibid, 48.
 Cf. e.g., Hos. 2:21; Jer. 3:6-13; Is. 54.
 Ez. 16:25.
 Cf. Hos. 3.
 Cf. G. 2:24; Mt. 19:5.
 Cf. Eph. 5:32-33.
 Tertullian, AD UXOREM, II, VIII, 6-8: CCL, I, 393.
 Cf. Council of Trent, Session XXIV, Canon 1:I.D. Mansi,
SACRORUM CONCILIORUM NOVA ET EMPLISSIMA COLLECTIO, 33, 149-150.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GUADIUM ET SPES, 48.
 John Paul II, Address to the delegates of the Centre de
Liaison des Equipes de Recherche ( Nov. 3, 1979), 3: INSEGNAMENTI
II, 2 (1979), 1038.
 Ibid, 4; loc. cit., 1032.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 50.
 St. John Chrysostom, VIRGINITY, X: PG 48: 540.
 Cf. Mt. 22:30.
 Cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-35.
 Second Vatican Council, PERFECTAE CARITATIS, 12.
 Cf. Pius XII, Encyclical SACRA VIRGINITAS, II: AAS 46 (1954),
 Cf. John Paul II, Letter NOVO INCPIENTE (April 8, 1979), 9:
AAS 71 (1979), 410-411.
THE ROLE OF THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY
17. Family, Become What You Are.
The family finds in the plan of God the creator and redeemer not
only its identity, what it is, but also its mission, what it can
and should do. The role that God calls the family to perform in
history derives from what the family is: its role represents the
dynamic and existential development of what it is. Each family
finds within itself a summons that cannot be ignored and that
specifies both its dignity and its responsibility: Family become
what you are.
Accordingly, the family must go back to the "beginning" of God's
creative act if it is to attain self-knowledge and self-realization
in accordance with the inner truth not only of what it is, but also
of what it does in history. And since in God's plan it has been
established as an "intimate community of live and love" , the
family has the mission to become more and more what it is, that is
to say, a community of life and love in an effort that will find
fulfillment, as will everything created and redeemed, in the
kingdom of God. Looking at it in such a way as to reach its very
roots, we must say that the essence and role of the family are in
the final analysis specified by love. Hence the family has the
mission to guard, reveal and communicate love, and this is a living
reflection of and a real sharing in God's love for humanity and the
love of Christ the Lord for the church, his bride.
Every particular task of the family is an expression and concrete
actuation of that fundamental mission. We must therefore go deeper
into the unique riches of the family's mission and probe its
contents, which are both manifold and unified.
Thus, with love as its point of departure and making constant
reference to it, the recent synod emphasized four general tasks for
I. Forming a community of persons;
II. Serving life;
III. Participating in the development of society;
IV. Sharing in the life and mission of the church.
I. FORMING A COMMUNITY OF PERSONS.
18. Love as the principle and power of communion.
The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a
community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children,
of relatives. Its first task is to live with fidelity the reality
of communion in a constant effort to develop an authentic community
The inner principle of that task, its permanent power and its
final goal, is love: Without love the family is not a community of
persons, and in the same way, without love the family cannot live,
grow and perfect itself as a community of persons. What I wrote in
the Encyclical REDEMPTOR HOMINIS applies primarily and especially
within the family as such: "Man cannot live without love. He
remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is
senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter
love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does
not participate intimately in it" .
The love between husband and wife and, in a derivatory and
broader way, the love between members of the same family -- between
parents and children, brothers and sisters and relatives and
members of the household -- is given life and sustenance by the
unceasing inner dynamism leading the family to ever deeper and more
intense communion, which is the foundation and soul of the
community of marriage and the family.
19. The indivisible unity of conjugal communion.
The first communion is the one which is established and which
develops between husband and wife: By virtue of the covenant of
married life, the man and woman "are no longer two but one flesh"
 and they are called to grow continually in their communion
through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total
This conjugal communion sinks its roots in the natural
complementarity that exists between man and woman and is nurtured
through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their
entire life project, what they have and what they are: For this
reason such communion is the fruit and the sign of a profoundly
human need. But in the Lord Christ God takes up this human need,
confirms it, purifies it and elevates it, leading it to perfection
through the sacrament of matrimony: the Holy Spirit who is poured
out in the sacramental celebration offers Christian couples the
gift of a new communion of love that is the living and real image
of that unique unity which makes of the church the indivisible
mystical body of the Lord Jesus.
The gift of the spirit is a commandment of life for Christian
spouses and at the same time a stimulating impulse so that every
day they may progress toward an ever richer union with each other
on all levels -- of the body, of the character, of the heart, of
the intelligence and will, of the soul  -- revealing in this
way to the church and to the world the new communion of love, given
by the grace of Christ.
Such a communion is radically contradicted by polygamy: This, in
fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the
beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of
men and women, who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is
total and therefore unique and exclusive. As the Second Vatican
Council writes: "Firmly established by the Lord, the unity of
marriage will radiate from the equal personal dignity of husband
and wife, a dignity acknowledged by mutual and total love" .
20. An indissoluble communion.
Conjugal communion is characterized not only by its unity, but
also by its indissolubility: "As a mutual gift of two persons, this
intimate union, as well as the good of the children, imposes total
fidelity on the spouses and argues for an unbreakable oneness
between them" .
It is a fundamental duty of the church to reaffirm strongly, as
the synod fathers did, the doctrine of the indissolubility of
marriage. To all those who in our times consider it too difficult
or indeed impossible to be bound to one person for the whole of
life, and to those caught up in a culture that rejects
indissolubility of marriage and openly mocks the commitment of
spouses to fidelity, it is necessary to reconfirm the good news of
the definitive nature of that conjugal love that has in Christ its
foundation and strength .
Being rooted in the personal and total self-giving of the couple
and being required by the good of the children, the indissolubility
of marriage finds its ultimate truth in the plan that God has
manifested in his revelation: He wills and communicates the
indissolubility of marriage as a fruit, a sign and a requirement of
the absolutely faithful love that God has for man and that the Lord
Jesus has for the church.
Christ renews the first plan that the creator inscribed in the
hearts of man and woman, and in the celebration of the sacrament of
matrimony offers "a new heart": thus the couples are not only able
to overcome "hardness of heart" , but also, and above all, they
are able to share the full and definitive love of Christ, the new
and eternal covenant made flesh. Just as the Lord Jesus is the
"faithful witness" , the "yes" of the promises of God  and
thus the supreme realization of the unconditional faithfulness with
which God loves his people, so Christian couples are called to
participate truly in the irrevocable indissolubility that binds
Christ to the church, his bride, loved by him to the end .
The gift of the sacrament is at the same time a vocation and
commandment for Christian spouses, that they may remain faithful to
each other forever, beyond every trial and difficulty, in generous
obedience to the holy will of the Lord: "What therefore God has
joined together, let not man put asunder" .
To bear witness to the inestimable value of the indissolubility
and fidelity of marriage is one of the most precious and most
urgent tasks of Christian couples in our time. So, with all my
brothers who participated in the Synod of Bishops, I praise and
encourage those numerous couples who, though encountering no small
difficulty, preserve and develop the value of indissolubility: Thus
in a humble and courageous manner they perform the role committed
to them of being in the world a "sign" -- a small and precious
sign, sometimes also subjected to temptation, but always renewed --
of the unfailing fidelity with which God and Jesus Christ love each
and every human being. But it is also proper to recognize the
value of the witness of those spouses who, even when abandoned by
their partner, with the strength of faith give an authentic witness
to fidelity, of which the world today has a great need. For this
reason they must be encouraged and helped by the pastors and the
faithful of the church.
21. The broader communion of the family.
Conjugal communion constitutes the foundation on which is built
the broader communion of family, of parents and children, of
brothers and sisters with each other, of relatives and other
members of the household.
This communion is rooted in the natural bonds of flesh and blood
and grows to its specifically human perfection with the
establishment and maturing of the still deeper and richer bonds of
the spirit: The love that animates the interpersonal relationships
of the different members of the family constitutes the interior
strength that shapes and animates the family communion and
The Christian family is also called to experience a new and
original communion which confirms and perfects natural and human
communion. In fact the grace of Jesus Christ, "the firstborn among
many brethren" , is by its nature and interior dynamism "a
grace of brotherhood," as St. Thomas Aquinas calls it . The
Holy Spirit, who is poured forth in the celebration of the
sacraments, is the living source and inexhaustible sustenance of
the supernatural communion that gathers believers and links them
with Christ and with each other in the unity of the church of God.
The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and
realization of ecclesial communion, and for this reason too it can
and should be called "the domestic church" .
All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift,
have the grace and responsibility of guiding day by day the
communion of persons, making the family "a school of deeper
humanity" : This happens where there is care and love for the
little ones, the sick, the aged, where there is mutual service
every day; when there is a sharing of goods, of joys and of
A fundamental opportunity for building such a communion is
constituted by the educational exchange between parents and
children , in which each gives and receives. By means of love,
respect and obedience toward their parents, children offer their
specific and irreplaceable contribution to the construction of an
authentically human and Christian family . They will be aided
in this if parents exercise their unrenounceable authority as a
true and proper "ministry", that is, as a service to the human and
Christian well-being of their children and in particular as a
service aimed at helping them acquire a truly responsible freedom,
and if parents maintain a living awareness of the "gift" they
continually receive from their children.
Family communion can only be preserved and perfected through a
great spirit of sacrifice. It requires, in fact, a ready and
generous openness of each and all to understanding, to forbearance,
to pardon, to reconciliation. There is no family that does not
know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently
attack and at times mortally wound its own communion: Hence there
arise the many and varied forms of division in family life. But,
at the same time, every family is called by the God of peace to
have the joyous and renewing experience of "reconciliation", that
is, communion re-established, unity restored. In particular,
participation in the sacrament of reconciliation and in the banquet
of the one body of Christ offers to the Christian family the grace
and the responsibility of overcoming every division and of moving
toward the fullness of communion willed by God, responding in this
way to the ardent desire of the Lord: "that they may be one" .
22. The rights and role of women.
In that it is, and ought to become, a communion and community of
persons, the family finds in love the source and the constant
impetus for welcoming, respecting and promoting each one of its
members in his or her lofty dignity as a person, that is, as a
living image of God. As the synod fathers rightly stated, the
moral criterion for the authenticity of conjugal and family
relationships consists in fostering the dignity and vocation of the
individual persons, who achieve their fullness by sincere self-
In this perspective the synod devoted special attention to women,
to their rights and role within the family and society. In the
same perspective are also to be considered men as husbands and
fathers, and likewise children and the elderly.
Above all it is important to underline the equal dignity and
responsibility of women with men. This equality is realized in a
unique manner in that reciprocal self-giving by each one to the
other and by both to the children which is proper to marriage and
the family. What human reason intuitively perceives and
acknowledges is fully revealed by the word of God: The history of
salvation, in fact, is a continuous and luminous testimony to the
dignity of women.
In creating the human race "male and female" , God gives man
and woman an equal personal dignity, endowing them the inalienable
rights and responsibilities proper to the human person. God then
manifests the dignity of women in the highest form possible, by
assuming human flesh from the Virgin Mary, whom the church honors
as the mother of God, calling her the new Eve and presenting her as
the model of redeemed woman. The sensitive respect of Jesus toward
the women that he called to his following and his friendship, his
appearing on Easter morning to a woman before the other disciples,
the mission entrusted to women to carry the good news of the
resurrection to the apostles -- these are all signs that confirm
the special esteem of the Lord Jesus for women. The apostle Paul
will say: "IN Christ Jesus you are all children of God through
faith ... There is neither slave nor free, there is neither male
nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" .
23. Women and society.
Without intending to deal with all the various aspects of the
vast and complex theme of the relationships between women and
society and limiting these remarks to a few essential points, one
cannot but observe that in the specific area of family life a
widespread social and cultural tradition has considered women's
role to be exclusively that of wife and mother, without adequate
access to public functions, which have generally been reserved for
There is no doubt that the equal dignity and responsibility of
men and women fully justifies women's access to public functions.
On the other hand the true advancement of women requires that clear
recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family
role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other
professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be
harmoniously combined if we wish the evolution of society and
culture to be truly and fully human.
This will come about more easily if, in accordance with the
wishes expressed by the synod, a renewed "theology of work" can
shed light upon and study in depth the meaning of work in the
Christian life and determine the fundamental bond between work and
the family, and therefore the original and irreplaceable meaning of
work in the home be recognized and respected by all in its
This is of particular importance in education: For possible
discrimination between the different types of work and professions
is eliminated at its very root once it is clear that all people in
every area are working with equal rights and equal
responsibilities. The image of God in man and in woman will thus
be seen with added luster.
While it must be recognized that women have the same right as men
to perform various public functions, society must be structured in
such a way that wives and mothers are not in practice compelled to
work outside the home, and that their families can live and prosper
in a dignified way even when they themselves devote their full time
to their own family.
Furthermore, the mentality which honors women more for their work
outside the home than for their work within the family must be
overcome. This requires that men should truly esteem and love
women with total respect for their personal dignity, and that
society should create and develop conditions favoring work in the
With due respect to the different vocations of men and women, the
church must in her own life promote as far as possible the equality
of rights and dignity: and this for the good of all, the family,
the church, and society.
But clearly all of this does not mean for women a renunciation of
their femininity or an imitation of the male role, but the fullness
of true feminine humanity which should be expressed in their
activity, whether in the family or outside it, without disregarding
the differences of customs and cultures in this sphere.
24. Offenses against women's dignity.
Unfortunately the Christian message about the dignity of women is
contradicted by that persistent mentality which considers the human
being not as a person but as a thing, as an object of trade, at the
service of selfish interest and mere pleasure: The first victims of
this mentality are women.
This mentality produces very bitter fruits, such as contempt for
man and for women, slavery, oppression of the weak, pornography,
prostitution -- especially in an organized form -- and all those
various forms of discrimination that exist in the fields of
education, employment wages, etc.
Besides, many forms of degrading discrimination still persist
today in a great part of our society that affect and seriously harm
particular categories of women, as for example childless wives,
widows, separated or divorced women, and unmarried mothers.
The synod fathers deplored these and other forms of
discrimination as strongly as possible. I therefore ask that
vigorous and incisive pastoral action be taken by all to overcome
them definitively so that the image of God that shines in all human
beings without exception may be fully respected.
25. Men as husbands and fathers.
Within the conjugal and family communion-community, the man is
called upon to live his gift and role as husband and father.
In his wife he sees the fulfillment of God's intention: "It is
not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fir
for him" , and he makes his own of the cry of Adam, the first
husband: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"
Authentic conjugal love presupposes and requires that man have a
profound respect for the equal dignity of his wife: "You are not
her master," writes St. Ambrose, "but her husband; she was not
given to you to be your slave, but your wife. ... Reciprocate her
attentiveness to you and be grateful to have her for her love"
. With his wife a man should live "a very special form of
personal friendship" . As for the Christian, he is called upon
to develop a new attitude of love, manifesting toward his wife a
charity that is both gentle and strong life that which Christ has
for the church.
Love for his wife as mother of their children and love for the
children themselves are for the man the natural way of
understanding and fulfilling his own fatherhood. Above all where
social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be
less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the
work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the
conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the
family is of unique and irreplaceable importance . As
experience teaches, the absence of a father causes psychological
and moral imbalance and notable difficulties in family
relationships, as does, in contrary circumstances, the oppressive
presence of a father, especially where there still prevails the
phenomenon of "machismo," or a wrong superiority of male
prerogatives which humiliates women and inhibits the development of
healthy family relationships.
In revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God
, a man is called upon to ensure the harmonious and united
development of all the members of the family: He will perform this
task by exercising generous responsibility for the life conceived
under the heart of the mother, by a more solitious commitment to
education, a task he shares with his wife , by work which is
never a cause of division in the family but promotes its unity and
stability, and by means of the witness he gives of an adult
Christian life which effectively introduces the children into the
living experience of Christ and the church.
26. The rights of children.
In the family, which is a community of persons, special attention
must be devoted to the children by developing a profound esteem for
their personal dignity and a great respect and generous concern for
their rights. This is true of every child, but it becomes all the
more urgent the smaller the child is and the more it is in need of
everything, when it is sick, suffering or handicapped.
By fostering and exercising a tender and strong concern for every
child that comes into this world, the church fulfills a fundamental
mission: for she is called upon to reveal and put forward anew in
history the example and the commandment of Christ the Lord, who
placed the child at the heart of the kingdom of God: "Let the
children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs
the kingdom of heaven" .
I repeat once again what I said to the General Assembly of the
United Nations Oct. 2, 1979:
"I wish to express the joy that we all find in children, the
springtime of life, the anticipation of the future history of each
of our present earthly homelands. No country on earth, no
political system can think of its own future otherwise than through
the image of these new generations that will receive from their
parents the manifold heritage of values, duties and aspirations of
the nation to which they belong and of the whole human family.
Concern for the child, even before birth, from the first moment of
conception and then throughout the years of infancy and youth, is
the primary and fundamental test of the relationship of one human
being to another. And so, what better which can I express for
every nation and the whole of mankind, and for all the children of
the world than a better future in which respect for human rights
will become a complete reality throughout the third millennium
which is drawing near" .
Acceptance, love esteem, many-sided and united material,
emotional, educational and spiritual concern for every child that
comes into this world should always constitute a distinctive,
essential characteristic of all Christians, in particular of the
Christian family: Thus children while they are able to grow "in
wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" , offer
their won precious contribution to building up the family community
and even to the sanctification of their parents .
27. The elderly in the family.
There are cultures which manifest a unique veneration and great
love for the elderly: Far from being outcasts from the family or
merely tolerated as a useless burden, they continue to be present
and to take an active and responsible part in family life, though
having to respect the autonomy of the new family, above all they
carry out the important mission of being a witness to the past and
a source of wisdom for the young and for the future.
Other cultures, however, especially in the wake of disordered
industrial and urban development, have both in the past and in the
present set the elderly aside in unacceptable ways. This causes
acute suffering to them and spiritually impoverishes many families.
The pastoral activity of the church must help everyone to
discover and to make good use of the role of the elderly within the
civil and ecclesial community, in particular within the family. In
fact, "the life of the aging helps to clarify a scale of human
values; it shows the continuity of generations and marvelously
demonstrates the interdependence of God's people. The elderly
often have the charism to bridge generation gaps before they are
made. How many children have found understanding and love in the
eyes and words and caresses of the aging! And how many old people
have willingly subscribed to the inspired word that the 'crown of
the aged is their children's children' (Prv. 17:6)!" .
 Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 48.
 Encyclical REDEMPTOR HOMINIS, 10: AAS 71 (1979), 274.
 Mt. 19:6; cf. Gn. 2:24.
 Cf. John Paul II, Letter NOVO INCIPIENTE (April 8, 1979), 9:
AAS 71 (1979), 274.
 GAUDIUM ET SPES, 49; cf. JOHN PAUL II, Address at Kinshasa 4:
 Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 48.
 Cf. Eph. 5:25.
 Mt. 19:8.
 Rv. 3:14.
 Cf. 2 Cor. 1:20.
 Cf. Jn. 13:1.
 Mt. 19:6.
 Rom. 8:29.
 St. Thomas Aquinas, SUMMA THEOLOGIAE, II-II, q 14, art. 2, ad
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 11; cf. APOSTOLICAM
 Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 52.
 Cf. Eph. 6:1-4.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 48.
 Jn. 17:21.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 24.
 Gn. 1:27.
 Gal. 3:26, 28.
 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical LABOREM ECERCENS, 19: AAS 73
 Gn. 2:18.
 Gn. 2:23.
 St. Ambrose, EXAMERON, V 7, 19: CSEL 32, I, 154.
 Paul VI, Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 9: AAS 60 (1968), 486.
 Cf. Eph. 5:25.
 Cf. John Paul II, Address to the General Assembly of the
United Nations (Oct. 2, 1979), 21: AAS 71 (1979), 1159.
 Cf. Eph. 3:15.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 52.
 Lk. 18:16; cf. Mt. 19:14; Mk. 18:16.
 John Paul II, Address to the General Assembly of the United
Nations (Oct. 2, 1979), 21: AAS 71 (1979), 1159.
 Lk. 2:52.
 Cf. Lk. 2:52.
 John Paul II, Address to the Participants in the International
Forum on Active Aging (Sept. 5, 1980), 5: INSEGNAMENTI, III (1980),
II. SERVING LIFE.
A. The Transmission of Life.
28. Cooperators in the love of God the Creator.
With the creation of man and woman in his own image and likeness,
God crowns and brings to perfection the work of his hands: He calls
them to a special sharing in his love and his power as creator and
Gather through their free and responsible cooperation in
transmitting the gift of human life: "God blessed them, and God
said to them, 'be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and
subdue it.'" .
Thus the fundamental task of the family is to serve life, to
actualize in history the original blessing of the creator -- that
of transmitting by procreation the divine image from person to
Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of conjugal love, the living
testimony of the full reciprocal self-giving of the spouses: "While
not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the
true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family
life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready
with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the creator and the
savior, who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day
by day" .
However, the fruitfulness of conjugal love is not restricted
solely to the procreation of children, even understood in its
specifically human dimension: It is enlarged and enriched by all
those fruits of moral, spiritual and supernatural life which the
father and mother are called to hand on to their children, and
through the children to the church and to the world.
29. The church's teaching and norm, always old yet always new.
Precisely because the love of husband and wife is a unique
participation in the mystery of life and of the love of God
himself, the church knows that she has received the special mission
of guarding and protecting the lofty dignity of marriage and the
most serious responsibility of the transmission of human life.
Thus, in continuity with the living tradition of the ecclesial
community throughout history, the recent Second Vatican Council and
the magisterium of my predecessor Paul VI, expressed above all in
the encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, have handed on to our times a truly
prophetic proclamation, which reaffirms and reproposes with clarity
the church's teaching and norm, always old yet always new,
regarding marriage and regarding the transmission of human life.
For this reason the synod fathers made the following declaration
at their last assembly:
"This sacred synod, gathered together with the successor of Peter
in the unity of faith, firmly holds what has been set forth in the
Second Vatican Council (Cf. GAUDIUM ET SPES, 50) and afterward in
the encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, particularly that love between
husband and wife must be fully human, exclusive and open to new
life (HUMANAE VITAE, 11: cf. 9, 12)" .
30. The church stands for life.
The teaching of the church in our day is placed in a social and
cultural context which renders it more difficult to understand and
yet more urgent and irreplaceable for promoting the true good of
men and women.
Scientific and technological progress, which contemporary man is
continually expanding in his dominion over nature, not only offers
the hope of creating a new and better humanity, but also causes
ever greater anxiety regarding the future. Some ask themselves if
it is a good thing to be alive or if it would be better never to
have been born; they doubt therefore if it is right to bring others
into life when perhaps they will curse their existence in a cruel
world with unforeseeable terrors. Others consider themselves to be
the only ones for whom the advantages of technology are intended
and they exclude others by imposing on them contraceptives or even
worse means. Still others imprisoned in a consumer mentality and
whose sole concern is to bring about a continual growth of material
goods, finish by ceasing to understand, and thus by refusing, the
spiritual riches of a new human life. The ultimate reason for
these mentalities is the absence in people's hearts of God, whose
love alone is stronger than all the world's fears and can conquer
Thus an anti-life mentality is born, as can be seen in many
current issues: One thinks, for example of a certain panic deriving
from the studies of ecologists and futurologists on population
growth, which sometimes exaggerate the danger of demographic
increase to the quality of life.
But the church firmly believes that human life, even if weak and
suffering, is always a splendid gift of God's goodness. Against
the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world,
the church stands for life: In each human life she sees the
splendor of that "yes", that "amen", who is Christ himself .
To the "no" which assails and afflicts the world, she replies with
this living "yes", thus defending the human person and the world
from all who plot against and harm life.
The church is called upon to manifest anew to everyone, with
clear and stronger conviction, her will to promote human life by
every means and to defend it against all attacks in whatever
condition or state of development it is found.
Thus the church condemns as a grave offense against human dignity
and justice all those activities of governments or other public
authorities which attempt to limit in any way the freedom of
couples in deciding about children. Consequently any violence
applied by such authorities in favor of contraception or, still
worse, of sterilization and procured abortion must be altogether
condemned and forcefully rejected. Likewise to be denounced as
gravely unjust are cases where in international relations economic
help given for the advancement of peoples is made conditional on
programs of contraception, sterilization and procured abortion
31. That God's design may be ever more completely fulfilled.
The church is certainly aware of the many complex problems which
couples in many countries face today in their task of transmitting
life in a responsible way. She also recognizes the serious problem
of population growth in the form it has taken in many parts of the
world and its moral implications.
However, she holds that consideration in depth of all the aspects
of these problems offers a new and stronger confirmation of the
importance of the authentic teaching on birth regulation reproposed
in the Second Vatican Council and in the encyclical HUMANAE VITAE.
For this reason, together with the synod fathers I feel it is my
duty to extend a pressing invitation to theologians, asking them to
unite their efforts in order to collaborate with the hierarchial
magisterium and to commit themselves to the task of illustrating
ever more clearly the biblical foundations, the ethical grounds and
the personalistic reasons behind this doctrine. Thus it will be
possible, in the context of an organic exposition, to render the
teaching of the church on this fundamental question truly
accessible to all people of good will, fostering a daily more
enlightened and profound understanding of it. In this way God's
plan will be ever more completely fulfilled for the salvation of
humanity and for the glory of the Creator.
A united effort by theologians in this regard, inspired by a
convinced adherence to the magisterium, which is the one authentic
guide for the people of God, is particularly urgent for reasons
that include the close link between Catholic teaching on this
matter and the view of the human person that the church proposes:
Doubt or error in the field of marriage or the family involves
obscuring to a serious extent the integral truth about the human
person in a cultural situation that is already so often confused
and contradictory. In fulfillment of their specific role
theologians are called upon to provide enlightenment and a deeper
understanding, and their contribution is of incomparable value and
represents a unique and highly meritorious service to the family
32. In an integral vision of the human person and of his or her
In the context of a culture which seriously distorts or entirely
misinterprets the true meaning of human sexuality because it
separates it from its reference to the person, the church more
urgently feels how irreplaceable is her mission of presenting
sexuality as a value and task of the whole person, created male and
female in the image of God.
In this perspective the Second Vatican Council clearly affirmed
that "when there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with
the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of any
procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an
evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective
standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his
or her acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and
human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot
be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely
It is precisely by moving from "an integral vision of man and of
his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his
supernatural and eternal vocation" , that Paul VI affirmed that
the teaching of the church "is founded upon the inseparable
connection willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own
initiative between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the
unitive meaning and the procreative meaning" . And he
concluded by re-emphasizing that there must be excluded as
intrinsically immoral "every action which, either in anticipation
of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the
development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an
end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" .
When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate
these two meanings that God the creator has inscribed in the being
of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion,
they act as "arbiters" of the divine plan and they "manipulate" and
degrade human sexuality and with it themselves and their married
partner by altering its value of "total" self-giving. Thus the
innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of
husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an
objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving
oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive
refusal to be open to life, but also to a falsification of the
inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself
in personal totality.
When, instead, by means of recourse to periods of infertility,
the couple respect inseparable connection between the unitive and
procreative meanings of human sexuality, they are acting as
"ministers" of God's plan and they "benefit from" their sexuality
according to the original dynamism of "total" self-giving, without
manipulation or alteration .
In light of the experience of many couples and of the data
provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is
able to perceive and is called to study further the difference,
both anthropological and moral, between contraception and recourse
to the rhythm of the cycle: It is a difference which is much wider
and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final
analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of
human sexuality. The choice of the natural rhythms involves
accepting the cycle of the person, that is, the woman, and thereby
accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and
self-control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means
to recognize both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal
communion and to live personal love with its requirement of
fidelity. In this context the couple comes to experience how
conjugal communion is enriched with those values of tenderness and
affection which constitute the inner soul of human sexuality in its
physical dimension also. In this way sexuality is respected and
promoted in its truly and fully human dimension and is never "used"
as an "object" that, by breaking the personal unity of soul and
body, strikes at God's creation itself at the level of the deepest
interaction of nature and person.
33. The church as teacher and mother for couples in difficulty.
In the field of conjugal morality the church is teacher and
mother and acts as such.
As teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm that
must guide the responsible transmission of life. The church is in
no way the author or arbiter of this norm. In obedience to the
truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and
dignity of the human person, the church interprets the moral norm
and proposes it to all people of good will without concealing its
demands of radicalness and perfection.
As mother, the church is close to the married couples who find
themselves in difficulty over this important point of the moral
life: She knows well their situation, which is often very arduous
and at times truly tormented by difficulties of every kind, not
only individual difficulties but social ones as well; she knows
that many couples encounter difficulties not only in the concrete
fulfillment of the moral norm but even in understanding its
But it is one and the same church that is both teacher and
mother. And so the church never ceases to exhort and encourage all
to resolve whatever conjugal difficulties may arise without ever
falsifying or compromising the truth: She is convinced that there
can be no true contradiction between divine law on transmitting
life and that on fostering authentic married love .
Accordingly, the concrete pedagogy of the church must always remain
linked with her doctrine and never be separated from it. With the
same conviction as my predecessor, I therefore repeat: "To diminish
in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form
of charity for souls" .
On the other hand, authentic ecclesial pedagogy displays its
realism and wisdom only by making a tenacious and courageous effort
to create and uphold all human conditions -- psychological, moral
and spiritual -- indispensable for understanding and living the
moral value and norm.
There is no doubt that these conditions must include persistence
and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God
and in his grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the
sacraments of the eucharist and of reconciliation . Thus
strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep
alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the
sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life
including, therefore, their sexuality: The gift of the Spirit,
accepted and responded to by the husband and wife, helps them to
live their human sexuality in accordance with God's plan and as a
sign of the unitive and fruitful love of Christ for his church.
But the necessary conditions also include knowledge of the bodily
aspect and the body's rhythms of fertility. Accordingly, every
effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all
married people and also to young adults before marriage through
clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by
married couples, doctors and experts. Knowledge must then lead to
education in self-control: Hence the absolute necessity for the
virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it. In the
Christian view, chastity by no means signifies rejection of human
sexuality or the lack of esteem for it: Rather it signifies
spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of
selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it toward its
With deeply wise and loving intuition, Paul VI, was only voicing
the experience of many married couples when he wrote in his
encyclical: To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free
will undoubtably requires ascetical practices, so that the
affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct
order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic
continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of
married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers it
to a higher human value. It demands continual effort, yet thanks
to its beneficent influence husband and wife fully develop their
personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such
discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace,.
and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention
for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the
enemy of true love, and deepens their sense of responsibility. By
its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more
efficacious influence on the education of their offspring" .
34. The moral progress of married people.
It is always very important to have a right notion of the moral
order, its values and its norms; and the importance is all the
greater when the difficulties in the way or respecting them become
more numerous and serious.
Since the moral order reveals and sets forth the plan of God the
creator, for this very reason it cannot be something that harms
man, something impersonal. On the contrary, by responding to the
deepest demands of the human being created by God, it places itself
at the service of that person's full humanity with the delicate and
binding love whereby God himself inspires, sustains and guides
every creature toward its happiness.
But man, who has been called to live God's wise and loving design
in a responsible manner, is an historical being who day by day
builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows,
loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.
Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in
their moral life with the support of a sincere and active desire to
gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered
by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and
generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete
decisions. They cannot, however, look on the law as merely an
ideal to be achieved in the future: They must consider it as a
command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy.
"And so what is know as 'the law of gradualness' or step-by-step
advance cannot be identified with 'gradualness of the law,' as if
there were different degrees or forms of precept in God's law for
different individuals and situations. In God's plan, all husbands
and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty
vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able
to respond to God's command with serene confidence in God's grace
and in his or her own will" . On the same lines, it is part of
the church's pedagogy that husbands and wives would first recognize
clearly the teaching of HUMANAE VITAE as indicating the norm for
the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to
establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm. As the
synod noted, this pedagogy embraces the whole of married life.
Accordingly, the function of transmitting life must be integrated
into the overall mission of Christian life as a whole which,
without the cross, cannot reach the resurrection. In such a
context it is understandable that sacrifice cannot be removed from
family life, but must in fact be wholeheartedly accepted if the
love between husband and wife is to be deepened and become a source
of intimate joy.
This shared progress demands reflection, instruction and suitable
education on the part of the priests, religious and lay people
engaged in family pastoral work: they will all be able to assist
married people in their human and spiritual progress, a progress
that demands awareness of sin, a sincere commitment to observe the
moral law and the ministry of reconciliation. It must also be kept
in mind that conjugal intimacy involves the wills of two persons,
who are thereby called to harmonize their mentality and behavior,
requiring much patience, understanding and time. Uniquely
important in this field is unity of moral and pastoral judgement by
priests -- a unity that must be carefully sought and ensured in
order that the faithful may not have to suffer anxiety of
It will be easier for married people to make progress if, with
respect for the church's teaching and with trust in the grace of
Christ, and with the help and support of the pastors of souls and
the entire ecclesial community, they are able to discover and
experience the liberating and inspiring value of authentic love
that is offered by the Gospel and set before us by the Lord's
35. Instilling conviction and offering practical help.
With regard to the question of lawful birth regulation, the
ecclesial community at the present time must take on the task of
instilling conviction and offering practical help to those who wish
to live out their parenthood in a truly responsible way.
In this matter, while the church notes with satisfaction the
results achieved by scientific research aimed at more precise
knowledge of the rhythms of women's fertility, and while it
encourages a more decisive and wide-ranging extension of that
research, it cannot fail to call with renewed vigor on the
responsibility of all -- doctors, experts, marriage counselors,
teachers and married couples -- who can actually help married
people to live their love with respect for the structure and
finalities of the conjugal act which expresses that love. This
implies a broader, more decisive and more systematic effort to make
the natural methods of regulating fertility known, respected and
A very valuable witness can and should be given by those husbands
and wives who, through their joint exercise of periodic continence,
have reached a more mature personal responsibility with regard to
love and life. As Paul VI wrote: "To them the Lord entrusts the
task of making visible to people the holiness and sweetness of the
law which unites the mutual love of husband and wife with their
cooperation with the love of God the author of human life" .
 Gn. 1:28.
 Cf. Gn. 5:1-3.
 Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 48.
 PROPOSITIO 21. Section 11 of the encyclical HUMANAE VITAE ends
with the statement: "The church, calling people back to the
observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by her
constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act must
remain open to the transmission of life (ut quilibet matrimonii
usus ad vitam humanan procreandam per se destinatus permaneat)":
AAS 60 (1968), 488.
 Cf. 2 Cor. 1:19; Rv. 3:14.
 Cf. The sixth Synod of Bishops' Message to Christian Families
in the Modern World (Oct. 24, 1980), 5.
 GAUDIUM ET SPES, 51.
 Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 7: AAS 60 (1968), 485.
 Ibid., 12: loc cit. 488-489.
 Ibid., 14: loc cit. 490.
 Ibid., 13: loc cit.,m 489.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 51.
 Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 29: AAS 60 (1968), 501.
 Cf. Ibid., 25: loc cit. 498-499.
 Ibid., 21: loc cit. 496.
 John Paul II, Homily at the Close of the Sixth Synod of
Bishops (Oct. 25, 1980), 8: AAS 72 (1980), 1083.
 Cf. Paul VI, Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 28: AAS 60 (1968), 501.
 Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Delegates of the Centre de
Liaison des Equipes de Recherche (Nov. 3, 1979), 9: INSEGNAMENTI,
II, 2 (1979), 1035; and cf. Address to the Participants in the
First Congress for the Family of Africa and Europe (Jan. 15, 1981):
 Encyclical HUMANAE VITAE, 25: AAS 60 (1968), 499.
36. The right and duty of parents regarding education.
The task of giving education is rooted in the primary vocation of
married couples to participate in God's creative activity: By
begetting in love and for love a new person who has within himself
or herself the vocation for growth and development, parents by that
very fact take the task of helping that person effectively to live
a fully human life. As the Second Vatican Council recalled, "Since
parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most
solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must
be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their
children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely
anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves
on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and
reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and
social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the
family is the first school of those social virtues which every
society needs" .
The right and duty of parents to give education is essential,
since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is
original and primary with regard to the educational role of others
on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between
parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable and
therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or
usurped by others.
In addition to those characteristics, it cannot be forgotten that
the most basic element, so basic that it qualifies the educational
role of parents, is parental love, which finds fulfillment in the
task of education as it completes and perfects its service of life.
As well as being a source, the parents' love is also the animating
principle and therefore the norm inspiring and guiding all concrete
educational activity, enriching it with the values of kindness,
constancy, goodness, service, disinterestedness and self-sacrifice
that are the most precious fruit of love.
37. Educating in the essential values of human life.
Even amid difficulties of the work of education, difficulties
which are often greater today, parents must trustingly and
courageously train their children in the essential values of human
life. Children must grow up with a correct attitude of freedom
with regard to material goods, by adopting a simple and austere
lifestyle and being fully convinced that "man is more precious for
what he is than for what he has" .
In a society shaken and split by tensions and conflicts caused by
the violent clash of various kinds of individualism and
selfishness, children must be enriched not only with a sense of
true justice, which alone leads to respect for the personal dignity
of each individual, but also and more powerfully by a sense of true
love, understood as sincere solicitude and disinterested service
with regard to others, especially the poorest and those in most
need. The family is the first and fundamental school of social
living: As a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law
that guides it and makes it grow. The self-giving that inspires
the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm
for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships
between brothers and sisters of the different generations living
together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are
part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of
difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the
active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the
wider horizon of society.
Education in love as self-giving is also the indispensable
premise for parents called to give their children a clear and
delicate sex education. Faced with a culture that largely reduced
human sexuality to the level of something commonplace, since it
interprets and lives it in a reductive and impoverished way by
linking it solely with the body and with selfish pleasure, the
educational service of parents must aim firmly at a training in the
area of sex that is truly and fully personal: for sexuality is an
enrichment of the whole person -- body, emotions and soul -- and it
manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of
self in love.
Sex education, which is a basic right and duty of parents, must
always be carried out under their attentive guidance whether at
home or in educational centers chosen and controlled by them. In
this regard, the church reaffirms the law of subsidiarity, which
the school is bound to observe when it cooperates in sex education,
by entering into the same spirit that animates the parents.
In this context education for chastity is absolutely essential,
for it is a virtue that develops a person's authentic maturity and
makes him or her capable of respecting and fostering the "nuptial
meaning" of the body. Indeed Christian parents, discerning the
signs of God's call, will devote special attention and care to
education in virginity or celibacy as the supreme from of that
self-giving that constitutes the very meaning of human sexuality.
In view of the close links between the sexual dimension of the
person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the
children to a knowledge of and respect for the moral norms as the
necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal
growth in human sexuality.
For this reason the church is firmly opposed to an often
widespread form of imparting sex information dissociated from moral
principles. That would merely be an introduction to the experience
of pleasure and a stimulus leading to the loss of serenity -- while
still in the years of innocence -- by opening the way to vice.
38. The mission to educate and the sacrament of marriage.
For Christian parents the mission to educate, a mission rooted as
we have said in their participation in God's creating activity, has
a new specific source in the sacrament of marriage, which
consecrates them for the strictly Christian education of their
children: that is to say, it calls upon them to share in the very
authority and love of God the Father and Christ the shepherd, and
in the motherly love of the church, and it enriches them with
wisdom, counsel, fortitude and all the other fits of the Holy
Spirit in order to help the children in their growth as human
beings and as Christians.
The sacrament of marriage gives to the educational role the
dignity and vocation of being really and truly a "ministry" of the
church at the service of the building up of her members. So great
and splendid is the educational ministry of Christian parents that
St. Thomas has no hesitation in comparing it with the ministry of
priests: "Some only propagate and guard spiritual life by a
spiritual ministry: This is the role of the sacrament of orders,
others do this for both corporal and spiritual life, and this is
brought about by the sacrament of marriage, by which a man and a
woman join in order to beget offspring and bring them up to worship
A vivid and attentive awareness of the mission that they have
received with the sacrament of marriage will help Christian parents
to place themselves at the service of the children's education with
great serenity and trustfulness, and also with a sense of
responsibility before God, who calls them and gives them the
mission of building up the church in their children. Thus in the
case of baptized people, the family, called together by word and
sacrament as the church of the home, is both teacher and mother,
the same as the worldwide church.
39. First experience of the church.
The mission to educate demands that Christian parents should
present to their children all the topics that are necessary for the
gradual maturing of their personality from a Christian and
ecclesial point of view. They will therefore follow the
educational lines mentioned above, taking care to show their
children the depths of significance to which the faith and love of
Jesus Christ can lead. Furthermore, their awareness that the Lord
is entrusting to them the growth of a child of God, a brother or
sister of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a member of the
church, will support Christian parents in their task of
strengthening the gift of divine grace in their children's souls.
The Second Vatican Council describes the content of Christian
education as follows: "Such an education does not merely strive to
foster maturity ... in the human person. Rather, its principal
aims are these: that as baptized persons are gradually introduced
into a knowledge of the mystery of salvation, they may daily grow
more conscious of the gift of faith which they have received; that
they may learn to adore God the Father in spirit and in truth (cf.
Jn. 4:23), especially through liturgical worship; that they may be
trained to conduct their personal life in true righteousness and
holiness, according to their new nature (Eph. 4:22-24), and thus
grow to maturity, to the stature of the fullness of Christ (cf.
Eph. 4:13), and devote themselves to the upbuilding of the mystical
body. Moreover, aware of their calling, they should grow
accustomed to giving witness to the hope that is in them (cf. 1Pt.
3:15), and to promoting the Christian transformation of the world"
The synod too, taking up and developing the indications of the
council, presented the educational mission of the Christian family
as a true ministry through which the Gospel is transmitted and
radiated, so that family life itself becomes an itinerary of faith
and in some way a Christian initiation and a school of following
Christ. Within a family that is aware of this gift, as Paul VI
wrote, "all members evangelize and are evangelized" .
By virtue of their ministry of educating, parents are through the
witness of their lives the first heralds of the Gospel for their
children. Furthermore, by praying with their children, by reading
the word of God with them and by introducing them deeply through
Christian initiation into the body of Christ -- both the
eucharistic and the ecclesial body -- they become fully parents, in
that they are begetters not only of bodily life but also of the
life that through the Spirit's renewal flows from the cross and
resurrection of Christ.
In order that Christian parents may worthily carry out their
ministry of education, the synod fathers expressed the hope that a
suitable catechism for families would be prepared, one that would
be clear, brief and easily assimilated by all. The episcopal
conferences were warmly invited to contribute to producing this
40. Relations with other educating agents.
The family is the primary but not the only and exclusive
educating community. Man's community aspect itself -- both civil
and ecclesial -- demands and leads to a broader and more
articulated activity resulting from well-ordered collaboration
between the various agents of education. All these agents are
necessary, even though each can and should play its part in
accordance with the special competence and contribution proper to
The educational role of the Christian family therefore has a very
important place in the organic pastoral work. This involves a new
form of cooperation between parents and Christian communities and
between the various educational groups and pastors. In this sense,
the renewal of the Catholic school must give special attention both
to the parents of the pupils and to the formation of a perfect
The right of parents to choose an education in conformity with
their religious faith must be absolutely guaranteed.
The state and the church have the obligation to give families all
possible aid to enable them to perform their educational role
properly. Therefore both the church and the state must create and
foster the institutions and activities that families justly demand,
and the aid must be in proportion to the families' needs. However,
those in society who are in charge of schools must never forget
that the parents have been appointed by God himself as the first
and principal educators of their children and that their right is
But corresponding to their right, parents have a serious duty to
commit themselves totally to a cordial and active relationship with
the teachers and school authorities.
If ideologies opposed to the Christian faith are taught in the
schools, the family must join other families, if possible through
family associations, and with all its strength and with wisdom help
the young not to depart from the faith. In this case the family
needs special assistance from pastors of souls, who must never
forget that parents have the inviolable right to entrust their
children to the ecclesial community.
41. Manifold service to life.
Fruitful married life expresses itself in serving life in many
ways. Of these ways, begetting and educating children are the most
immediate, specific and irreplaceable. In fact, every act of true
love toward a human being bears witness to and perfects the
spiritual fecundity of the family, since it is an act of obedience
to the deep inner dynamism of love as self-giving to others.
For everyone this perspective is full of value and commitment,
and it can be an inspiration in particular for couples who
experience physical sterility.
Christian families, recognizing with faith all human beings as
children of the same heavenly Father, will respond generously to
the children of other families, giving them support and love not as
outsiders but as members of the one family of God's children.
Christian parents will thus be able to spread their love beyond the
bonds of flesh and blood, nourishing the links that are rooted in
the spirit and that develop through concrete service to the
children of other families, who are often without even the barest
Christian families will be able to show greater readiness to
adopt and foster children who have lost their parents or have been
abandoned by the. Rediscovering the warmth of affection of a
family, these children will be able to experience God's loving and
provident fatherhood witnessed to by Christian parents, and they
will thus be able to grow up with serenity and confidence in life.
At the same time the whole family will be enriched with the
spiritual values of a wider fraternity.
Family fecundity must have an unceasing "creativity", a marvelous
fruit of the Spirit of God, who opens the eyes of the heart to
discover the new needs and sufferings of our society and gives
courage for accepting them and responding to them. A vast field of
activity lies open to families: Today even more preoccupying than
child abandonment is the phenomenon of social and cultural
exclusion, which seriously affects the elderly, the sick, the
disabled, drug addicts, ex-prisoners, etc.
This broadens enormously the horizons of the parenthood of
Christian families: These and many other urgent needs of our time
are a challenge to their spiritually fruitful love. With families
and through them, the Lord Jesus continues to "have compassion" on
 GRAVISSIUM EDUCATIONIS, 3.
 Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 35.
 St. Thomas Aquinas, SUMMA CONTRA GENTILES, IV, 58.
 GRAVISSIUM EDUCATIONIS, 2.
 Apostolic Exhortation EVANGELII NUNTIANDI, 71: AAS 68 (1976),
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 3.
III. PARTICIPATING IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF SOCIETY.
42. The Family as the first and vital cell of society.
"Since the Creator of all things has established the conjugal
partnership as the beginning and basis of human society," the
family is "the first and vital cell of society" .
The family has vital and organic links with society since it is
its foundation and nourishes it continually through its role of
service to life: It is from the family that citizens come to birth
and it is within the family that they find the first school of the
social virtues that are the animating principle of the existence
and development of society itself.
Thus, far from being closed in on itself, the family is by nature
and vocation open to other families and to society and undertakes
its social role.
43. Family life as an experience of communion and sharing.
The very experience of communion and sharing that should
characterize the family's daily life represents its first and
fundamental contribution to society.
The relationships between the members of the family community are
inspired and guided by the law of "free giving." By respecting and
fostering personal dignity in each and every one as the only basis
for value, this free giving takes the form of heartfelt acceptance,
encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous
service and deep solidarity.
Thus the fostering of authentic and mature communion between
persons within the family is the first and irreplaceable school of
social life, an example and stimulus for the broader community of
relationships marked by respect, justice, dialogue and love.
The family is thus, as the synod fathers recalled, the place of
origin and the most effective means for humanizing and
personalizing society: It makes an original contribution in depth
in building up the world, by making possible a life that is,
properly speaking, human, in particular by guarding and
transmitting virtues and "values." As the Second Vatican Council
states, in the family "the various generations come together and
help one another to grow wiser and to harmonize personal rights,
with the other requirements of social living" .
Consequently, faced with a society that is running the risk of
becoming more and more depersonalized and standardized and
therefore inhuman and dehumanizing, with the negative results of
many forms of escapism -- such as alcoholism, drugs and even
terrorism -- the family possesses and continues still to release
formidable energies capable of taking man out of his autonomity,
keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with
deep humanity and actively placing him, in his uniqueness and
unrepeatability, within the fabric of society.
44. The social and political role.
The social role of the family certainly cannot stop short at
procreation and education even if this constitutes its primary and
irreplaceable form of expression.
Families therefore, either singly or in association, can and
should devote themselves to manifold social service activities,
especially in favor of the poor or at any rate for the benefit of
all people and situations that cannot be reached by the public
authorities' welfare organization.
The social contribution of the family has an original character
of its own, one that should be given greater recognition and more
decisive encouragement, especially as the children grow up, and
actually involving all its members as much as possible .
In particular, note must be taken of the ever greater importance
in our society of hospitality in all its forms, from opening the
door of one's home, and still more of one's heart, to the pleas of
one's brothers and sisters, to concrete efforts to ensure that
every family has its own home as the natural environment that
preserves it and makes it grow. In a special way the Christian
family is called upon to listen to the apostle's recommendation.
"Practice hospitality"  and therefore, imitating Christ's
example and sharing in his love, welcome the brother or sister in
need: "Whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold
water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not
lose his reward" .
The social role of families is called upon to find expression
also in the form of political intervention: Families should be the
first to take steps to see that the laws and institutions of the
state not only do not offend, but support and positively defend the
rights and duties of the family. Along these lines families should
grow in awareness of being "protagonists" of what is know as
"family politics" and assume responsibility for transforming
society; otherwise families will be the first victims of the evils
that they have done no more than note with indifference. The
Second Vatican Council's appeal to go beyond an individualistic
ethic therefore holds good for the family as such .
45. Society at the service of the family.
Just as the intimate connection between the family and society
demands that the family be open to and participate in society its
development, so also it requires that society should never fail in
its fundamental task of respecting and fostering the family.
The family and society have complementary functions in defending
and fostering the good of each and every human being. But society
-- more specifically the state -- must recognize that "the family
is a society in its own original right" , and so society is
under a grave obligation in its relations with the family to adhere
to the principle of subsidiarity. The public authorities should
take care not to take from families the functions that they can
just as well perform on their own or in free associations; instead
it must positively favor and encourage as far as possible
responsible initiative by families. In the conviction that the
good of the family is an indispensable and essential value of the
civil community, the public authorities must do everything possible
to ensure that families have all those aids -- economic, social,
educational, political and cultural assistance -- that they need in
order to face all their responsibilities in a human way.
46. The charter of family rights.
The ideal of mutual support and development between the family
and society is often very seriously in conflict with the reality of
their separation and even in opposition.
In fact, as was repeatedly denounced by the synod, the situation
experienced by many families in various countries is highly
problematical if not entirely negative: Institutions and laws
unjustly ignore the inviolable rights of the family and of the
human person; and society, far from putting itself at the service
of the family attacks it violently in its values and fundamental
requirements. Thus the family, which in God's plan is the basic
cell of society and subject of rights and duties before the state
or any other community, finds itself the victim of society, of the
delays and slowness with which it acts, and even of its blatant
For this reason the church openly and strongly defends the rights
of the family against the intolerable usurptions of society and the
state. In particular the synod fathers mentioned the following
rights of the family:
-- The right to exist and progress as a family, that is to say,
the right of every human being, even if he or she is poor, to found
a family and to have adequate means to support it;
-- The right to exercise its responsibility regarding the
transmission of life and to educate children;
-- The right to the stability of the bond and of the institution
-- The right to believe in and profess one's faith and to
-- The right to bring up children in accordance with the family's
own traditions and religious and cultural values, with the
necessary instruments, means and institutions;
-- The right, especially of the poor and the sick, to obtain
physical, social, political and economic security;
-- The right to housing suitable for living family life in a
-- The right to expression and representation, either directly or
through associations, before the economic, social and cultural
public authorities and lower authorities;
-- The right to form associations with other families and
institutions in order to fulfill the family's role suitably and
-- The right to protect minors by adequate institutions and
legislation from harmful drugs, pornography, alcoholism, etc;
-- The right to wholesome recreation of a kind that also fosters
-- The right of the elderly to a worthy life and a worthy death;
-- The right to emigrate as a family in search of a better life
Acceding to the synod's explicit request, the Holy See will give
prompt attention to studying these suggestions in depth and to the
preparation of a charter of rights of the family to be presented to
the quarters and authorities concerned.
47. The Christian family's grace and responsibility.
The social role that belongs to every family pertains by a new
and original right to the Christian family, which is based on the
sacrament of marriage. By taking up the human reality of the love
between husband and wife in all its implications, the sacrament
gives to Christian couples and parents a power and a commitment to
live their vocation as lay people and therefore to "seek the
kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them
according to the plan of God" .
The social and political role is included in the kingly mission
of service in which Christian couples share by virtue of the
sacrament of marriage, and they receive both a command which they
cannot ignore and a grace which sustains and stimulates them.
The Christian family is thus called to offer everyone a witness
of generous and disinterested dedication to social matters through
a "preferential option" for the poor and disadvantaged. Therefore,
advancing in its following of the Lord by special love for all the
poor, it must have special concern for the hungry, the poor, the
old, the sick, drug victims and those who have no family.
48. For a new international order.
In view of the worldwide dimension of various social questions
nowadays, the family has seen its role with regard to the
development of society extended in a completely new way: It now
also involves cooperating for a new international order, since it
is only in worldwide solidarity that the enormous and dramatic
issues of world justice, the freedom of peoples and the peace of
humanity can be dealt with and solved.
The spiritual communion between Christian families, rooted in a
common faith and hope and give life by love constitutes an inner
energy that generates, spreads and develops justice,
reconciliation, fraternity and peace among human beings. Insofar
as it is a "small scale church," the Christian family is called
upon, like the "large-scale church," to be a sign of unity for the
world and in this way to exercise its prophetic role by bearing
witness to the kingdom and peace of Christ, toward which the whole
world is journeying.
Christian families can do this through their educational activity
-- that is to say, by presenting to their children a model of life
based on the values of truth, freedom, justice and love -- both
through active and responsible involvement in the authentically
human growth of society and its institutions, and supporting in
various ways the associations specifically devoted to international
 Second Vatican Council, APOSTOLICAM ACTUOSITATEM, 11.
 GAUDIUM ET SPES, 52.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, DIGNITATIS HUMANAE, 5.
 Rom. 12:13.
 Mt. 10:42.
 Cf. GAUDIUM ET SPES, 30.
 Second Vatican Council, DIGNITATIS HUMANAE, 5.
 Cf. PROPOSITIO 42.
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 31.
IV. SHARING IN THE LIFE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH.
49. The family within the mystery of the church.
Among the fundamental tasks of the Christian family is its
ecclesial task: The family is placed at the service of the building
up of the kingdom of God in history by participating in the life
and mission of the church.
In order to understand better the foundations, the contents and
the characteristics of this participation, we must examine the many
profound bonds linking the church and the Christian family and
establishing the family as a "church in miniature" (ecclesia
domstica) , in such a way that in its own way the family is a
living image and historical representation of the mystery of the
It is, above all, the church as mother that gives birth to,
educates and builds up the Christian family by putting into effect
in its regard the saving mission which she has received from her
Lord. By proclaiming the word of God the church reveals to the
Christian family its true identity, what it is and should be
according to the Lord's plan: by celebrating the sacraments the
church enriches and strengthens the Christian family with the grace
of Christ for its sanctification to the glory of the Father: by the
continuous proclamation of the new commandment of love the church
encourages and guides the Christian family to the service of love
so that it may imitate and relive the same self-giving and
sacrificial love that the Lord Jesus has for the entire human race.
In turn, the Christian family is grafted into the mystery of the
church to such a degree as to become a sharer, in its own way, in
the saving mission proper to the church: By virtue of the sacrament
Christian married couples and parents "in their state and way of
life have their own special gift among the people of God" .
For this reason they not only receive the love of Christ and become
a saved community, but they are also called upon to communicate
Christ's love to their brethren thus becoming a saving community.
In this way, while the Christian family is a fruit and sign of the
supernatural fecundity of the church, it stands also as a symbol,
witness and participant of the church's motherhood .
50. A specific and original ecclesial role.
The Christian family is called upon to take part actively and
responsibly in the mission of the church in a way that is original
and specific by placing itself in what it is and what it does as an
"intimate community of life and love" at the service of the church
and of society.
Since the Christian family is a community in which the
relationships are renewed by Christ through faith and the
sacraments, the family's sharing in the church's mission should
follow a community pattern: The spouses together as a couple, the
parents and children as a family, must live their service to the
church and to the world. They must be "of one heart and soul"
 in faith, through the shared apostolic zeal that animates
them and through their shared commitment to works of service in the
ecclesial and civil communities.
The Christian family also builds up the kingdom of God in history
through the everyday realities that concern and distinguish its
state of life. It is thus in the love between husband and wife and
between the members of the family -- a love lived out in all its
extraordinary richness of values and demands: totality, oneness,
fidelity and fruitfulness  -- that the Christian family's
participation in the prophetic, priestly and kingly mission of
Jesus Christ and of his church finds expression and realization.
Therefore, love and life constitute the nucleus of the saving
mission of the Christian family in the church and for the church.
The Second Vatican Council recalls this fact when it writes:
"Families will share their spiritual riches generously with other
families too. Thus the Christian family, which springs from
marriage as a reflection of the loving covenant uniting Christ with
the church, and as a participation in that covenant will manifest
to all people the savior's living presence in the world, and the
genuine nature of the church. This the family will do by the
mutual love of the spouses, by their generous fruitfulness, their
solidarity and faithfulness, and by the loving way in which all the
members of the family work together" .
Having laid the foundation of the participation of the christian
family in the church's mission, it is now time to illustrate its
substance in reference to Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king
-- three aspects of a single reality -- by presenting the Christian
family as 1) a believing and evangelizing community, 2) a community
in dialogue with God, and 3) a community at the service of man.
A. A CHRISTIAN FAMILY AS A BELIEVING AND EVANGELIZING COMMUNITY.
51. Faith as the discovery and admiring awareness of God's plan for
As a sharer in the life and mission of the church, which listens
to the word of God with reverence and proclaims it confidently
, the Christian family fulfills its prophetic role by
welcoming and announcing the word of God: It thus becomes more and
more each day a believing and evangelizing community.
Christian spouses and parents are required to offer "the
obedience of faith" . They are called upon to welcome the
word of the Lord, which reveals to them the marvelous news -- the
good news -- of their conjugal and family life sanctified and made
a source of sanctity by Christ himself. Only in faith can they
discover and admire with joyful gratitude the dignity to which God
has deigned to raise marriage and the family, making them a sign
and meeting place of the loving covenant between God and man,
between Jesus Christ and his bride, the church.
The very preparation for Christian marriage is itself a journey
of faith. It is a special opportunity for the engaged to
rediscover and deepen the faith received in baptism and nourished
by their Christian upbringing. In this way they come to recognize
and freely accept their vocation to follow Christ and to serve the
kingdom of God in the married state.
The celebration of the sacrament of marriage is the basic moment
of the faith of the couple. This sacrament, in essence, is the
proclamation in the church of the good news, concerning married
love. It is the word of God that "reveals" and "fulfills" the wise
and loving plan of God for the married couple, giving them a
mysterious and real share in the very love with which God himself
loves humanity. Since the sacramental celebration of marriage is
itself a proclamation of the word of God, it must also be a
"profession of faith" within and with the church, as a community of
believers, on the part of all those who in different ways
participate in its celebration.
This profession of faith demands that it be prolonged in the life
of the married couple and of the family. God, who called the
couple to marriage, continues to call them in marriage . In
and through the events, problems, difficulties and circumstances of
everyday life, God comes to them, revealing and presenting the
concrete "demands" of their sharing in the love of Christ for his
church in the particular family, social and ecclesial situation in
which they find themselves.
The discovery of and obedience to the plan of God on the part of
the conjugal and family community must take place in
"togetherness," through the human experience of love between
husband and wife, between parents and children, lived in the spirit
Thus the little domestic church, like the greater church, needs
to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty
regarding permanent education in the faith.
52. The Christian family's ministry of evangelization.
To the extent in which the Christian family accepts the Gospel
and matures in faith, it becomes an evangelizing community. Let us
listen again to Paul VI: "The family, like the church, ought to be
a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel
radiates. In a family which is conscious of this mission, all the
members evangelize and are evangelized. The parents not only
communicate the Gospel to their children, but from their children
they can themselves receive the same Gospel as deeply lived by
them. And such a family becomes the evangelizer of many other
families and of the neighborhood of which it forms a part" .
As the synod repeated, taking up the appeal which I launched at
Puebla, the future of evangelization depends in great part on the
church of the home . This apostolic mission of the family is
rooted in baptism and receives from the grace of the sacrament of
marriage new strength to transmit the faith, to sanctify and
transform our present society according to God's plan.
Particularly today the Christian family has a special vocation to
witness to the paschal covenant of Christ by constantly radiating
the joy and love and the certainty of hope for which it must give
account: "The Christian family loudly proclaims both the present
virtues of the kingdom of God and the hope of a blessed life to
The absolute need for family catechists emerges with particular
force in certain situations that the church unfortunately
experiences in some places: "In places where anti-religious
legislation endeavors even to prevent education in the faith, and
in places where widespread unbelief or invasive secularism makes
real religious growth practically impossible, 'the church of the
home' remains the one place where children and young people can
receive an authentic catechesis" .
53. Ecclesial service.
The ministry of evangelization carried out by Christian parents
is original and irreplaceable. It assumes the characteristics
typical of family life itself, which should be interwoven with
love, simplicity, practicality and daily witness .
The family must educate the children for life in such a way that
each one may fully perform his or her role according to the
vocation received from God. Indeed the family that is open to
transcendent values, that serves its brothers and sisters with joy,
that fulfills its duties with generous fidelity and is aware of its
daily sharing in the mystery of the glorious cross of Christ,
becomes the primary and most excellent seedbed of vocations to a
life of consecration to the kingdom of God.
The parents' ministry of evangelization and catechesis ought to
play a part in their children's lives also during adolescence and
youth, when the children, as often happens, challenge or even
reject the Christian faith received in earlier years. Just as in
the church the work of evangelization can never be separated from
the sufferings of the apostle, so in the Christian family parents
must face with courage and great interior serenity the difficulties
that their ministry of evangelization sometimes encounters in their
It should not be forgotten that the service rendered by Christian
spouses and parents to the Gospel is essentially an ecclesial
service. It has its place within the context of the whole church
as an evangelized and evangelizing community. Insofar as the
ministry of evangelization and catechesis of the church of the home
is rooted in and derives from the one mission of the church and is
ordained to the upbuilding of the one body of Christ , it must
remain in intimate communion and collaborate responsibly with all
the other evangelizing and catechetical activities present and at
work in the ecclesial community at the diocesan and parochial
54. To preach the Gospel to the whole creation.
Evangelization, urged on within by irrepressible missionary zeal,
is characterized by a universality without boundaries. It is the
response to Christ's explicit and unequivocal command: "Go into all
the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" .
The Christian family's faith and evangelizing mission also
possesses this Catholic missionary inspiration. The sacrament of
marriage takes up and reproposes the task of defending and
spreading the faith, a task that has its roots in baptism and
confirmation , and makes Christian married couples and parents
witnesses of Christ "to the end of the earth" , missionaries,
in the true and proper sense, of love and life.
A form of missionary activity can be exercised even within the
family. This happens when some member of the family does not have
the faith or does not practice it with consistency. In such a case
the other members must give him or her a living witness of their
own faith in order to encourage and support him or her along the
path toward full acceptance of Christ the savior .
Animated in its own inner life by missionary zeal, the church of
the home is also called to be a luminous sign of the presence of
Christ and of his love for those who are "far away," for families
who do not yet believe and for those Christian families who no
longer live in accordance with the faith that they once received.
The Christian family is called to enlighten "by its example and its
witness those who seek the truth" .
Just as at the dawn of Christianity Aquila and Priscilla were
presented as a missionary couple , so today the church shows
forth her perennial newness and fruitfulness by the presence of
Christian couples and families who dedicate at least a part of
their lives to working in missionary territories, proclaiming the
Gospel and doing service to their fellow man in the love of Jesus
Christian families offer a special contribution to the missionary
cause of the church by fostering missionary vocations among their
sons and daughters and, more generally, "by training their children
from childhood to recognize God's love for all people" .
B. THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY AS A COMMUNITY IN DIALOGUE WITH GOD.
55. The church's sanctuary in the home.
The proclamation of the Gospel and its acceptance in faith reach
their fullness in the celebration of the sacraments. The church
which is a believing and evangelizing community is also a priestly
people invested with the dignity and sharing in the power of Christ
the high priest of the new and eternal covenant .
The Christian family too is part of this priestly people which is
the church. By means of the sacrament of marriage, in which it is
rooted and from which it draws its nourishment, the Christian
family is continuously vivified by the Lord Jesus and called and
engaged by him in a dialogue with God through the sacraments,
through the offerings of one's life and through prayer.
This is the priestly role which the Christian family can and
ought to exercise in intimate communion with the whole church
through the daily realities of married and family life. In this
way the Christian family is called to be sanctified and to
sanctify the ecclesial community and the world.
56. Marriage as a sacrament of mutual sanctification and an act of
The sacrament of marriage is the specific source and original
means of sanctification for Christian married couples and families.
It takes up again and makes specific the sanctifying grace of
baptism. By virtue of the mystery of the death and resurrection of
Christ, of which the spouses are made part in a new way by
marriage, conjugal love is purified and made holy: "This love the
Lord has judged worthy of special gifts, healing, perfecting and
exalting of grace and of charity" .
The gift of Jesus Christ is not exhausted in the actual
celebration of the sacrament of marriage, but rather accompanies
the married couple throughout their lives. This fact is explicitly
recalled by the Second Vatican Council when it says that Jesus
Christ "abides with them so that just as he loved the church and
handed himself over on her behalf, the spouses may love each other
with perpetual fidelity through mutual self-bestowal ... For this
reason, Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they
are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and
dignity of their state. By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses
fulfill their conjugal and family obligations they are penetrated
with the spirit of Christ, who fills their whole lives with faith,
hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance toward their own
perfection as well as toward their mutual sanctification, and hence
contribute jointly to the glory of God" .
Christian spouses and parents are included in the universal call to
sanctity. For them this call is specified by the sacrament they
have celebrated and is carried out concretely in the realities
proper to their conjugal and family life . This gives rise to
the grace and requirement of an authentic and profound conjugal and
family spirituality that draws its inspiration from the themes of
creation, covenant, cross, resurrection and sign, which were
stressed more than once by the synod.
Christian marriage, like the other sacraments, "whose purpose is
to sanctify people, to build up the body of Christ, and finally, to
give worship to God" , is in itself a liturgical action
glorifying God in Jesus Christ and in the church. By celebrating
it, Christian spouses profess their gratitude to God for the
sublime gift bestowed on them of being able to live in their
married and family lives the very love of God for people and that
of the Lord Jesus for the church, his bride.
Just as husbands and wives receive from the sacrament the gift
and responsibility of translating into daily living the
sanctification bestowed on them, so the same sacrament confers on
them the grace and moral obligation of transforming their whole
lives into a "spiritual sacrifice" . What the council says of
the laity applies also to Christian spouses and parents, especially
with regard to the earthly and temporal realities that characterize
their lives: "As worshippers leading holy lives in every place, the
laity consecrate the world itself to God" .
57. Marriage and the eucharist.
The Christian family's sanctifying role is grounded in baptism
and has its highest expression in the eucharist, to which Christian
marriage is intimately connected. The Second Vatican Council drew
attention to the unique relationship between the eucharist and
marriage by requesting that "marriage normally be celebrated within
the Mass" . To understand better and live more intensely the
graces and responsibilities of Christian marriage and family life,
it is altogether necessary to rediscover and strengthen this
The eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage. The
eucharistic sacrifice in fact represents Christ's covenant of love
with the church, sealed with his blood on the cross . In this
sacrifice of the new and eternal covenant, Christian spouses
encounter the source from which their own marriage covenant flows,
is interiorly structured and continuously renewed. As a
representation of Christ's sacrifice of love for the church, the
eucharist is a fountain of charity. In the eucharistic "communion"
and its "mission": By partaking in the eucharistic bread, the
different members of the Christian family become one body which
reveals and shares in the wider unity of the church. Their sharing
becomes a never-ending source of missionary and apostolic dynamism
for the Christian family.
58. The sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.
An essential and permanent part of the Christian family's
sanctifying role consists in accepting the call to conversion that
the Gospel addresses to all Christians, who do not always remain
faithful to the "newness" of the baptism that constitutes them
"saints." The Christian family too is sometimes unfaithful to the
law of baptismal grace and holiness proclaimed anew in the
sacrament of marriage.
Repentance and mutual pardon within the bosom of the Christian
family, so much a part of daily life, receive their specific
sacramental expression in Christian penance. In the encyclical
HUMANAE VITAE, Paul VI wrote to married couples: "And if sin should
still keep its hold over them, let them not be discouraged, but
rather have recourse with humble perseverance to the mercy of God,
which is abundantly poured forth in the sacrament of penance"
The celebration of this sacrament acquires special significance
for family life. While they discover in faith that sin contradicts
not only the covenant with God, but also the covenant between
husband and wife and the communion of the family, the married
couple and the other members of the family are led to an encounter
with God, who is "rich in mercy" , who bestows on them his
love which is more powerful than sin , and who reconstructs
and brings to perfection the marriage covenant and the family
59. Family Prayer.
The church prays for the Christian family and educates the family
to live in generous accord with the priestly gift and role received
from Christ the high priest. In effect, the baptismal priesthood
of the faithful exercised in the sacrament of marriage constitutes
the basis of a priestly vocation and mission for the spouses and
family by which their daily lives are transformed into "spiritual
sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" . This
transformation is achieved not only by celebrating the eucharist
and the other sacraments and through offering themselves to the
glory of God, but also through a life of prayer, through prayerful
dialogue with the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit.
Family prayer has its own characteristic qualities. It is prayer
offered in common, husband and wife together, parents and children
together. Communion in prayer is both a consequence of and a
requirement for the communion bestowed by the sacraments of baptism
and matrimony. The words with which the Lord Jesus promises his
presence can be applied to the members of the Christian family in
a special way: "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth
about anything they ask it will be done for them by my Father in
heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am
I in the midst of them" .
Family prayer has for its very own object family life itself,
which in all its varying circumstances is seen as a call from God
and lived as a filial response to his call. Joys and sorrows,
hopes and disappointments, births and birthday celebrations,
wedding anniversaries of the parents, departures, separations and
homecomings, important and far-reaching decisions, the death of
those who are dear, etc -- all of these mark God's loving
intervention in the family's history. They should be seen as
suitable moments for thanksgiving, for petition, for trusting
abandonment of the family into the hands of their common Father in
heaven. The dignity and responsibility of the Christian family as
the domestic church can be achieved only with God's unceasing aid,
which will surely be granted if it is humbly and trustingly
petitioned in prayer.
60. Educators in Prayer.
By reason of their dignity and mission, Christian parents have
the specific responsibility of educating their children in prayer,
introducing them to gradual discovery of the mystery of God and to
personal dialogue with him: "It is particularly in the Christian
family, enriched by the grace and the office of the sacrament of
matrimony, that from the earliest years children should be taught,
according to the faith received in baptism, to have a knowledge of
God, to worship him and to love their neighbor" .
The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental
and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray. Only by
praying together with their children can a father and mother --
exercising their royal priesthood -- penetrate the innermost depths
of their children's hearts and leave an impression that the future
events in their lives will not be able to efface.
Let us again listen to the appeal made by Paul Vi to parents:
"Mothers, do you teach your children the Christian prayers? Do you
prepare them, in conjunction with the priests, for the sacraments
that they receive when they are young: confession, communion and
confirmation? Do you encourage them when they are sick to think of
Christ suffering, to invoke the aid of the Blessed Virgin and the
saints? Do you say the family rosary together? And you, fathers,
do you pray with your children, with the whole domestic community,
at least sometimes? Your example of honesty in thought and action,
joined to some common prayer, is a lesson for life, an act of
worship of singular value. In this way you bring peace to your
homes: Pax huic domui. Remember, it is thus that you build up the
61. Liturgical prayer and private prayer.
There exists a deep and vital bond between the prayer of the
church and the prayer of the individual faithful as has been
clearly reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council . An
important purpose of the prayer of the domestic church is to serve
as the natural introduction for the children to the liturgical
prayer of the whole church, both in the sense of preparing for it
and of extending it into personal, family and social life. Hence
the need for gradual participation by all the members of the
Christian family in the celebration of the eucharist, especially on
Sundays and feast days, and of the other sacraments, particularly
the sacraments of Christian initiation of the children. The
directives of the council opened up a new possibility for the
Christian family when it listed the family among those groups to
whom it recommends the recitation of the Divine Office in common
. Likewise, the Christian family will strive to celebrate at
home and in a way suited to the members the times and feasts of the
As preparation for the worship celebrated in church and as its
prolongation in the home, the Christian family makes use of private
prayer, which presents a great variety of forms. While this
variety testifies to the extraordinary richness with which the
spirit vivifies Christian prayer, it serves also to meet the
various needs and life situations of those who turn to the Lord in
prayer. Apart from morning and evening prayers, certain forms of
prayer are to be expressly encouraged, following the indications of
the synod fathers, such as reading and meditating on the word of
God, preparation for the reception of the sacraments, devotion and
consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, various forms of
veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grace before and after meals
and observance of popular devotions.
While respecting the freedom of the children of God, the church
has always proposed certain practices of piety to the faithful with
particular solicitude and insistence. Among these should be
mentioned the recitation of the rosary: "We now desire, as a
continuation of the thought of our predecessors, to recommend
strongly the recitation of the family rosary ... There is no doubt
that ... the rosary should be considered as one of the best and
most efficacious prayers in common that the Christian family is
invited to recite. We like to think and sincerely hope that when
the family gathering becomes a time of prayer the rosary is a
frequent and favored manner of praying" . In this way
authentic devotion to Mary, which finds expression in sincere love
and generous imitation of the Blessed Virgin's interior spiritual
attitude, constitutes a special instrument for nourishing loving
communion in the family and for developing conjugal and family
spirituality. For she who is the mother of Christ and of the
church is in a special way the mother of Christian families, of
62. Prayer and life.
It should never be forgotten that prayer constitutes an essential
part of Christian life, understood in its fullness and centrality.
Indeed, prayer is an important part of our very humanity: It is
"the first expression of man's inner truth, the first condition for
authentic freedom of spirit" .
Far from being a form of escapism from everyday commitments,
prayer constitutes the strongest incentive for the Christian family
to assume and comply fully with all its responsibilities as the
primary and fundamental cell of human society. Thus the Christian
family's actual participation in the church's life and mission is
the direct proportion to the fidelity and intensity of the prayer
with which it is united with the fruitful vine that is Christ the
The fruitfulness of the Christian family in its specific service
to human advancement, which of itself cannot but lead to the
transformation of the world, derives from its living union with
Christ, nourished by the liturgy, by self-oblation and by prayer
C.THE CHRISTIAN FAMILY AS A COMMUNITY AT THE SERVICE OF MAN.
63. The new commandment of love.
The church, a prophetic, priestly and kingly people, is endowed
with the mission of bringing all human beings to accept the word of
God in faith, to celebrate and profess it in the sacraments and in
prayer, and to give expression to it in the concrete realities of
life in accordance with the gift and new commandment of love.
The law of Christian life is to be found not in a written code,
but in the personal action of the Holy Spirit who inspires and
guides the Christian. It is the "law of the Spirit of life in
Christ Jesus" : "God's love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" .
This is true for the Christian couple and family. Their guide
and rule of life is the Spirit of Jesus poured into their hearts in
the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony. In continuity with
baptism in water and the Spirit, marriage sets forth anew the
evangelical law of love, and with the gift of the Spirit engraves
it more profoundly on the hearts of Christian husbands and wives.
Their love, purified and saved, is a fruit of the Spirit acting in
the hearts of believers and constituting, at the same time, the
fundamental commandment of their moral life to be lived in
Thus the Christian family is inspired and guided by the new law
of the Spirit and, in intimate communion with the church, the
kingly people, it is called to exercise its "service" of love
toward God and toward its fellow human beings.
Just as Christ exercises his royal power by serving us , so
also the Christian finds the authentic meaning of his participation
in the kingship of his Lord in sharing his spirit and practice of
service to man. "Christ has communicated this power to his
disciples that they might be established in royal freedom and that
by self-denial and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin
in themselves (cf. Rom. 6:12). Further, he has shared this power
so that by serving him in their fellow human beings they might
through humility and patience lead their brothers and sisters to
that King whom to serve is to reign. For the Lord wishes to spread
his kingdom by means of the laity also, a kingdom of truth and
life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love
and peace. In this kingdom, creation itself will be delivered out
of its slavery to corruption and into the freedom of the glory of
the children of God (cf. Rom. 8:21)" .
64. To discover the image of God in each brother and sister.
Inspired and sustained by the new commandment of love, the
Christian family welcomes, respects and serves every human being,
considering each one in his or her dignity as a person and as a
child of God.
It should be so especially between husband and wife and within
the family, through a daily effort to promote a truly personal
community, initiated and fostered by an inner communion of love.
This way of life should then be extended to the wider circle of the
ecclesial community of which the Christian family is part.
Thanks to love within the family, the church can and ought to
take on a more homelike or family dimension, developing a more
human and fraternal style of relationships.
Love, too, goes beyond our brothers and sisters of the same faith
since "everybody is my brother or sister." In each individual,
especially in the poor, the weak and those who suffer or are
unjustly treated, love knows how to discover the face of Christ,
and discover a fellow human being to be loved and served.
In order that the family may serve man in a truly evangelical
way, the instructions of the Second Vatican Council must be
carefully put into practice: "That the exercise of such charity may
rise above any deficiencies in fact and even in appearance, certain
fundamentals must be observed. Thus attention is to be paid to the
image of God in which our neighbor has been created, and also to
Christ the Lord to whom is really offered whatever is given to a
needy person" .
While building up the church in love, the Christian family places
itself at the service of the human person and the world, really
bringing about the "human advancement" whose substance was given in
summary form in the synod's message to families: "Another task for
the family is to from persons in love and also to practice love in
all its relationships, so that it does not live closed in on
itself, but remains open to the community, moved by a sense of
justice and concern for others, as well as by a consciousness of
its responsibility toward the whole of society" .
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 11; APOSTOLICAM
ACTUOSITATEM, 11; Pope John Paul II, Homily for the Opening of the
Sixth Synod of Bishops (Sept. 26, 1980), 3: AAS 72 (1980) 1008.
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 11.
 Cf. Ibid, 41.
 Acts 4:32.
 Cf. Paul VI, HUMANAE VITAE, 9.
 GAUDIUM ET SPES, 48.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, DEI VERBUM, 1.
 Rom. 16:26.
 Cf. Paul VI, HUMANAE VITAE, 25.
 EVANGELII NUNTIANDI, 71.
 Cf. Address to the Third General Assembly of the Bishops of
Latin America (Jan. 28, 1979(, IV, A: AAS 71 (1979), 204.
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 35.
 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation, CATECHISI TRADENDAE, 68:
AAS 71 (1979), 1334.
 Cf. Ibid, 36, loc. cit. 1308.
 Cf. 1 Cor. 12:4-6; Eph. 4:12-13.
 Mk. 16:15.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 11.
 Acts. 1:8.
 Cf. 1 Pt. 3:1-2.
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 35; cf. APOSTOLICAM
 Cf. Acts 18; Rom. 16:3-4.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, AD GENTES, 39.
 Second Vatican Council, APOSTOLICAM ACTUOSITATEM, 30.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 10.
 Second Vatican Council, GAUDIUM ET SPES, 49.
 Ibid, 48.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 41.
 Second Vatican Council, SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, 59.
 Cf. 1 Pt. 2:5; Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 34.
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 34.
 SACROSANTUM CONCILIUM, 78.
 Cf. Jn. 19:34.
 Section 25: AAS (1968), 499.
 Eph. 2:4.
 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical DIVES IN MISERICORDIA, 13: AAS
72 (1980), 1218-1219.
 1 Pt. 2:5.
 Mt. 18:19-20.
 Second Vatican Council, GRAVISSIUM EDUCATIONIS, 3; cf. Pope
John Paul II, CATECHESI TRANDENDAE, 36: AAS 71 (1979), 1308.
 General Audience Address, Aug. 11, 1976: INSEGNAMENTI DI
PAOLO VI, XIV (1976), 640.
 Cf. SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, 12.
 Cf. INSTITUTIO GENRALIS DE LITUGIA HORARUM, 27.
 Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation MARIALIS CULTUS, 52, 54: AAS
66 (1974), 160-161.
 John Paul II, Address at the Mentorella Shrine (Oct. 28,
1978): INSEGNAMENTI, I (1978), 78-79.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, APOSTOLICAM ACTUOSITATEM, 4.
 Cf. John Paul I, Address to the Bishops of the 12th Pastoral
Region of the United States (Sept. 21, 1978): AAS, 70 (1978), 767.
 Rom. 8:2.
 Rom. 5:5.
 Cf. Mk. 10:45.
 Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM, 36.
 APOSTOLICAM ACTUOSITATEM, 8.
 Cf. Synod of Bishops' Message to Christian Families (Oct. 24,
PASTORAL CARE OF THE FAMILY
I. STAGES OF PASTORAL CARE OF THE FAMILY.
65. The church accompanies the Christian family on its journey
Like every other living reality, the family too is called upon to
develop and grow. After the preparation of engagement and the
sacramental celebration of marriage, the couple begin their daily
journey toward the progressive actuation of the values and duties
of marriage itself.
In light of faith and by virtue of hope, the Christian family,
too, shares in communion with the church and in the experience of
the earthly pilgrimage toward full revelation and manifestation of
the kingdom of God.
Therefore, it must be emphasized once more that the pastoral
intervention of the church in support of the family is a matter of
urgency. Every effort should be made to strengthen and develop
pastoral care for the family, which should be treated as a real
matter of priority, in the certainty that future evangelization
depends largely on the domestic church .
The church's pastoral concern will not be limited only to the
Christian families closest at hand; it will extend its horizons in
harmony with the heart of Christ and will show itself to be even
more lively for families in general and for those families in
particular which are in difficult or irregular situations. For all
of them the church will have a word of truth, goodness,
understanding, hope and deep sympathy with their sometimes tragic
difficulties. To all of them she will offer her disinterested help
so that they can come closer to that model of a family which the
creator intended from "the beginning" and which Christ has renewed
with his redeeming grace.
The church's pastoral action must be progressive also in the
sense that it must follow the family, accompanying it step by step
in the different stages of its formation and development.
66. Preparation for marriage.
More than ever necessary in our times is preparation of young
people for marriage and family life. In some countries it is still
the families themselves that, according to ancient customs, ensure
the passing on to young people of the values concerning married and
family life, and they do this through a gradual process of
education or initiation. But the changes that have taken place
within almost all modern societies demand that not only the family
but also society and the church should be involved in the effort of
properly preparing young people for their future responsibilities.
Many negative phenomena which are today noted with regret in
family life derive from the fact that in the new situations young
people not only lost sight of the correct hierarchy of values but,
since they have no longer certain criteria of behavior, they do not
know how to face and deal with the new difficulties. But
experience teaches that young people who have been well prepared
for family life generally succeed better than others.
This is even more applicable to Christian marriage, which
influences the holiness of large numbers of men and women. The
church must therefore promote better and more intensive programs of
marriage preparation in order to eliminate as far as possible the
difficulties that many married couples find themselves in, and even
more in order to favor positively the establishing and maturing of
Marriage preparation has to be seen and put into practice as a
gradual and continuous process. It includes three main stages:
remote, proximate and immediate preparation.
Remote preparation begins in early childhood in that wise family
training which leads children to discover themselves as beings
endowed with a rich and complex psychology and with a particular
personality with its own strengths and weaknesses. It is the
period when esteem for all authentic human values is instilled,
both in interpersonal and in social relationships, with all that
this signifies for the formation of character, for the control and
right use of one's inclinations, for the manner of regarding and
meeting people of the opposite sex, and so on. Also necessary,
especially for Christians, is solid spiritual and catechetical
formation that will show that marriage is a true vocation and
mission, without excluding the possibility of the total gift of
self to God in the vocation to the priestly or religious life.
Upon this basis there will subsequently and gradually be built up
the proximate preparation, which -- from a suitable age and with
adequate catechesis, as in a catechumenal process -- involves a
more specific preparation for the sacraments, as it were, a
rediscovery of them. This renewed catechesis of young people and
others preparing for Christian marriage is absolutely necessary in
order that the sacrament may be celebrated and lived with the right
moral and spiritual dispositions. The religious formation of young
people should be integrated, at the right moment and in accordance
with the various concrete requirements, with a preparation for life
as a couple. This preparation will present marriage as an
interpersonal relationship of a man and a woman that has to be
continually developed, and will encourage those concerned to study
the nature of conjugal sexuality and responsible parenthood, with
the essential medical and biological knowledge connected with it.
It will also acquaint those concerned with correct methods for the
education of children and will assist them in gaining the basic
requisites for well-ordered family life, such as stable work,
sufficient financial resources, sensible administration, notions of
Finally, one must not overlook preparation for the family
apostolate, for fraternal solidarity and collaboration with other
families, for active membership in groups, associations, movements
and undertakings set up for the human and Christian benefit of the
The immediate preparation for the celebration of the sacrament of
matrimony should take place in the months and weeks immediately
preceding the wedding so as to give a new meaning, content, and
form to the so-called premarital inquiry required by canon law.
This preparation is not only necessary in every case, but is also
more urgently needed for engaged couples that still manifest
shortcomings or difficulties in Christian doctrine and practice.
Among the elements to be instilled in this journey of faith,
which is similar to the catechumate, there must also be a deeper
knowledge of the mystery of Christ and the church, of the meaning
of grace and of the responsibility of Christian marriage, as well
as preparation for taking an active and conscious part in the rites
of the marriage liturgy.
The Christian family and the whole of the ecclesial community
should feel involved in the different phases of the preparation for
marriage which have been described only in their broad outlines.
It is to be hoped that the episcopal conferences, just as they are
concerned with appropriate initiatives to help engaged couples to
be more aware of the seriousness of their choice and also to help
pastors of souls to make sure of the couples' proper dispositions,
so they will also take steps to see that there is issued a
directory for the pastoral care of the family. In this they should
lay down in the first place, the minimum content, duration and
method of the "preparation courses," balancing the different
aspects -- doctrinal, pedagogical, legal and medical -- concerning
marriage and structuring them in such a way that those preparing
for marriage will not only receive an intellectual training, but
will also feel a desire to enter actively into the ecclesial
Although one must not underestimate the necessity and obligation
of the immediate preparation for marriage -- which would happen if
dispensations from it were easily given -- nevertheless such
preparation must always be set forth and put into practice in such
a way that omitting it is not an impediment to the celebration of
67. The celebration.
Christian marriage normally requires a liturgical celebration
expressing in social and community form the essentially ecclesial
and sacramental nature of the conjugal covenant between baptized
Inasmuch as it is a sacramental action of sanctification, the
celebration of marriage -- inserted into the liturgy, which is the
summit of the church's action and the source of her sanctifying
power  -- must be per se valid, worthy and fruitful. This
opens a wide field for pastoral solicitude, in order that the needs
deriving from the nature of the conjugal covenant, elevated into a
sacrament, may be fully met and also in order that the church's
discipline regarding free consent, impediments, the canonical form
and the actual rite of the celebration may be faithfully observed.
The celebration should be simple and dignified, according to the
norms of the competent authorities of the church. It is also for
them -- in accordance with concrete circumstances of time and place
and in conformity with the norms issued by the Apostolic See 
-- to include in the liturgical celebration such elements proper to
each culture which serve to express more clearly the profound human
and religious significance of the marriage contract, provided that
such elements contain nothing that is not in harmony with Christian
faith and morality.
Inasmuch as it is a sign, the liturgical celebration should be
conducted in such a way as to constitute, also in its external
reality, a proclamation of the word of God and a profession of
faith on the part of the community of believers. Pastoral
commitment will be expressed here through the intelligent and
careful preparation of the liturgy of the word and through the
education to faith of those participating in the celebration and in
the first place the couple being married.
Inasmuch as it is a sacramental action of the church, the
liturgical celebration of marriage should involve the Christian
community, with the full, active and responsible participation of
all those present according to the place and task of each
individual: the bride and bridegroom, the priest, the witnesses,
the relatives, the friends, the other members of the faithful, all
of them members of an assembly that manifests and lives the mystery
of Christ and His church. For the celebration of Christian
marriage in the sphere of ancestral cultures or traditions, the
principles laid down above should be followed.
68. Celebration of marriage and evangelization of non-believing
Precisely because in the celebration of the sacrament very
special attention must be devoted to the moral and spiritual
dispositions of those being married, in particular to their faith,
we must here deal with a not infrequent difficulty in which the
pastors of the church can find themselves in the context of our
In fact, the faith of the person asking the church for marriage
can exist in different degrees, and it is the primary duty of
pastors to bring about a rediscovery of this faith and to nourish
it and bring it to maturity. But pastors must also understand the
reasons that led the church also to admit the celebration of
marriage those who are imperfectly disposed.
The sacrament of matrimony has this specific element that
distinguishes it from all the other sacraments: It is the sacrament
of something that was part of the very economy of creation; it is
the very conjugal covenant instituted by the Creator "in the
beginning.: Therefore the decision of a man and a woman to marry
in accordance with this divine plan, that is to say, the decision
to commit by their irrevocable conjugal consent their whole lives
in indissoluble love and unconditional fidelity, really involves,
even if not in a fully conscious way, an attitude of profound
obedience to the will of God, an attitude which cannot exist
without God's grace. They have thus already begun what is in a
true and proper sense a journey toward salvation, a journey which
the celebration of the sacrament and the immediate preparation for
it can complement and bring to completion, given the uprightness of
On the other hand it is true that in some places engaged couples
ask to be married in church for motives which are social rather
than genuinely religious. This is not surprising. Marriage, in
fact, is not an event that concerns only the persons actually
getting married. By its very nature it is also a social matter,
committing the couple being married in the eyes of society. And
its celebration has always been an occasion of rejoicing that
brings together families and friends. It therefore goes without
saying that social as well as personal motives enter into the
request to be married in church.
Nevertheless, it must not be forgotten that these engaged couples
by virtue of their baptism are already really sharers in Christ's
marriage covenant with the church, and that, by their right
intention, they have accepted God's plan regarding marriage and
therefore, at least implicitly, consent to what the church intends
to do when she celebrates marriage. Thus the fact that motives of
a social nature also enter into the request is not enough to
justify refusal on the part of pastors. Moreover, as the Second
Vatican Council teaches, the sacraments by words and ritual
elements nourish and strengthen faith : that faith toward
which the married couple are already journeying by reason of the
uprightness of their intention, which Christ's grace certainly does
not fail to favor and support.
As for wishing to lay down further criteria for admission to the
ecclesial celebration of marriage, criteria that would concern the
level of faith of those to be married, this would above all involve
grave risks. In the first place, the risk of making unfounded and
discriminatory judgements; second, the risk of causing doubts about
the validity of marriages already celebrated, with grave harm to
Christian communities and new and unjustified anxieties to the
consciences of married couples; one would also fall into the danger
of calling into question the sacramental nature of many marriages
of brethren separated from full communion with the Catholic Church,
thus contradicting ecclesial tradition.
However, when in spite of all efforts couples show that they
reject explicitly and formally what the church intends to do when
the marriage of baptized persons is celebrated, the pastor of souls
cannot admit them to the celebration of marriage. In spite of his
reluctance to do so, he has the duty to take note of the situation
and to make it clear to those concerned that in these circumstances
it is not the church that is placing an obstacle in the way of the
celebration that they are asking for, but themselves.
Once more there appears in all its urgency the need for
evangelization and catechesis before and after marriage, effected
by the whole Christian community, so that every man and woman that
gets married celebrates the sacrament of matrimony not only validly
but also fruitfully.
69. Pastoral care after marriage.
The pastoral care of the regularly established family signifies,
in practice, the commitment of all the members of the local
ecclesial community to helping the couple to discover and live
their new vocation and mission. In order that the family may be
ever more a true community of love, it is necessary that all its
members should be helped and trained in their responsibilities as
they face the new problems that arise, in mutual service and in
active sharing in family life.
This holds true especially for young families, which, finding
themselves in a context of new values and responsibilities, are
more vulnerable, especially in the first years of marriage, to
possible difficulties such as those created by adaptation to life
together or by the birth of children. Young married couples should
learn to accept willingly and make good use of the discreet,
tactful and generous help offered by other couples that already
have more experience of married and family life. Thus within the
ecclesial community -- the great family made up of Christian
families -- there will take place a mutual exchange of presence and
help among all the families, each one putting at the service of the
others its own experience of life, as well as the gifts of faith
and grace. Animated by a true apostolic spirit, this assistance
from family to family will constitute one of the simplest, most
effective and most accessible means for transmitting from one to
another those Christian values which are both the starting point
and goal of all pastoral care. Thus young families will not limit
themselves merely to receiving, but in their turn, having been
helped in this way, will become a source of enrichment for other
longer established families through their witness of life and
In her pastoral care of young families the church must also pay
special attention to helping them to live married love responsibly
in relationship with its demands on communion and service to live.
She must likewise help them to harmonize the intimacy of home life
with the generous shared work of building up the church and
society. When children are born and the married couple becomes a
family in the full and specific sense, the church will still remain
close to the parents in order that they may accept their children
and love them as a fit received from the Lord of life and joyfully
accept the task of serving them in their human and Christian
 Cf. John Paul II, Address to the Third General Assembly of
the Bishops of Latin America (Jan. 28, 1979), IV, A: AAS 71 (1979),
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, 10.
 Cf. ORDO CELBRANDI MATRIMONIUM, 17.
 Cf. Second Vatican Council, SACROSANCTUM CONCILIUM, 59.
II. STRUCTURES OF FAMILY PASTORAL CARE.
Pastoral activity is always the dynamic expression of the reality
of the church, committed to her mission of salvation. Family
pastoral care too -- which is a particular and specific form of
pastoral activity -- has as its operative principle and responsible
agent the church herself, through her structures and workers.
70. The ecclesial community and in particular the parish.
The church, which is at the same time a saved and a saving
community, has to be considered here under two aspects: as
universal and particular. The second aspect is expressed and
actuated in the diocesan community, which is pastorally divided up
into lesser communities of which the parish is of special
Communion with the universal church does not hinder, but rather
guarantees and promotes the substance and originality of the
various particular churches. These latter remain more immediate
and more effective subjects of operation for putting the pastoral
care of the family into practice. In this sense every local church
and, in more particular terms, every parochial community must
become more vividly aware of the grace and responsibility that it
receives from the Lord in order that it may promote the pastoral
care of the family. No plan for organized pastoral work at any
level must ever fail to take into consideration the pastoral area
of the family.
Also to be seen in the light of this responsibility is the
importance of the proper preparation of all those who will be more
specifically engaged in this kind of apostolate. Priests and men
and women religious from the time of their formation should be
oriented and trained progressively and thoroughly for the various
tasks. Among the various initiatives I am pleased to emphasize the
recent establishment in Rome, at the Pontifical Lateran University,
a higher institute for the study of the problems of the family.
Institutes of this kind have also been set up in some dioceses.
Bishops should see to it that as many priests as possible attend
specialized courses there before taking on parish responsibilities.
Elsewhere, formation courses are periodically held at higher
institutes of theological and pastoral studies. Such initiatives
should be encouraged, sustained, increased in number, and of course
are also open to lay people who intend to use their professional
skills (medial, legal, psychological, social or educational) to
help the family.
71. The family.
Nut it is especially necessary to recognize the unique place that
in this field belongs to the mission of married couples and
Christian families by virtue of the grace received in the
sacrament. This mission must be placed at the service of the
building up of the church, the establishing of the kingdom of God
in history. This is demanded as an act of docile obedience to
Christ the Lord. For it is he who, by virtue of the fact that
marriage of baptized persons has been raised to a sacrament,
confers upon Christian married couples a special mission as
apostles, sending them as workers into his vineyard and in a very
special way into this field of the family.
In this activity married couples act in communion and
collaboration with the other members of the church, who also work
for the family, contributing their own gifts and ministries. This
apostolate will be exercised in the first place within the families
of those concerned, through the witness of a life lived in
conformity with the divine law in all its aspects, through the
Christian formation of the children, through helping them to mature
in faith, through education to chastity, through preparation for
life, through vigilance in protecting them from the ideological and
moral dangers with which they are often threatened, through their
gradual and responsible inclusion in the ecclesial community and
the civil community, through help and advice in choosing a
vocation, through mutual help among family members for human and
Christian growth together, and so on. The apostolate of the family
will also become wider through works of spiritual and material
charity toward other families, especially those most in need of
help and support, toward the poor, the sick, the old, the
handicapped, orphans, widows, spouses that have been abandoned,
unmarried mothers and mothers-to-be in difficult situations who are
tempted to have recourse to abortion, and so on.
72. Associations of families for families.
Still within the church, which is the subject responsible for the
pastoral care of the family, mention should be made of the various
groupings of members of the faithful in which the mystery of
Christ's church is in some measure manifested and lived. One
should therefore recognize and make good use of -- each one in
relationship to its own characteristics, purposes, effectiveness
and methods -- the different ecclesial communities, the various
groups and the numerous movements engaged in various ways, for
different reasons and at different levels, in the pastoral care of
For this reason the synod expressly recognized the useful
contribution made by such associations of spirituality, formation
and apostolate. It will be their task to foster among the faithful
a lively sense of solidarity, to favor a manner of living inspired
by the Gospel and by the faith of the church, to form consciences
according to Christian values and not according to the standards of
public opinion; to stimulate people to perform works of charity for
one another and for others with a spirit of openness which will
make Christian families into a true source of light and a wholesome
leaven for other families.
It is similarly desirable that, with a lively sense of the common
good, Christian families should become actively engaged at every
level in other non-ecclesial associations as well. Some of these
associations work for the preservation, transmission and protection
of the wholesome ethical and cultural values of each people, the
development of the human person, the medical, juridical and social
protection of mothers and young children, the just advancement of
women and the struggle against all that is
detrimental to their dignity, the increase of mutual solidarity,
knowledge of the problems connected with the responsible regulation
of fertility in accordance with natural methods that are in
conformity with human dignity and the teaching of the church.
Other associations work for the building of a more just and human
world; for the promotion of just laws favoring the right social
order with full respect for the dignity and every legitimate
freedom of the individual and the family on both the national and
the international level' for collaboration with the school and with
the other institutions that complete the education of children, and
III. AGENTS OF THE PASTORAL CARE OF THE FAMILY.
As well as the family, which is the object but above all the
subject of pastoral care of the family, one must also mention the
other agents in this particular sector.
73. Bishops and priests.
The person principally responsible in the diocese for the
pastoral care of the family is the bishop. As father and pastor,
he must exercise particular solicitude in this clearly priority
sector of pastoral care. He must devote to it personal interest,
care, time, personnel and resources, but above all personal support
for the families and for all those who, in the various diocesan
structures, assist him in the pastoral care of the family.
It will be his particular care to make the diocese ever more
truly a "diocesan family," a model and source of hope for many
families that belong to it. The setting up of the Pontifical
Council for the family is to be seen in this light to be a sign of
the importance that I attribute to pastoral care for the family in
the world, and at the same time to be an effective instrument for
aiding and promoting it at every level.
The bishops avail themselves especially of the priests, whose
task -- as the synod expressly emphasized -- constitutes an
essential part of the church's ministry regarding marriage and the
family. The same is true of deacons to whose care this sector of
pastoral work may be entrusted.
Their responsibility extends not only to moral and liturgical
matters, but to personal and social matters as well. They must
support the family in its difficulties and sufferings, caring for
its members and helping them to see their lives in the light of the
Gospel. It is not superfluous to note that from this mission, if
it is exercised with due discernment and with a truly apostolic
spirit, the minister of the church draws fresh encouragement and
spiritual energy for his own vocation, too, and for the exercise of
Priests and deacons, when they have received timely and serious
preparation for this apostolate, must unceasingly act toward
families as fathers, brothers, pastors and teachers, assisting them
with the means of grace and enlightening them with the light of
truth. Their teaching and advice must therefore always be in
harmony with the authentic magisterium of the church, in such a way
as to help the people of God to gain a correct sense of the faith
to be subsequently applied to practical life. Such fidelity to the
magisterium will also enable priests to make every effort to be
united in their judgements in order to avoid troubling the
consciences of the faithful.
In the church, the pastors and the laity share in the prophetic
mission of Christ: The laity do so by witnessing to the faith by
their words and by their Christian lives; the pastors do so by
distinguishing in that witness what is the expression of genuine
faith from what is less in harmony with the light of faith; the
family, as a Christian community, does so through its special
sharing and witness of faith.
Thus there begins a dialogue also between pastors and families.
Theologians and experts in family matters can be of great help in
this dialogue. By explaining exactly the content of the church's
magisterium and the content of the experience of family life. In
this way the teaching of the magisterium becomes better understood
and the way is opened to its progressive development.
But it is useful to recall that the proximate and obligatory norm
in the teaching of the faith -- also concerning family matters --
belongs to the hierarchical magisterium. Clearly defined
relationships between theologians, experts in family matters and
the magisterium are of no little assistance for the correct
understanding of the faith and for promoting -- within the
boundaries of the faith -- legitimate pluralism.
74. Men and women religious.
The contribution that can be made to the apostolate of the family
by men and women religious and consecrated persons in general finds
its primacy, fundamental and original expression precisely in their
consecration to God. By reason of this consecration, "for all
Christ's faithful religious recall that wonderful marriage made by
God, which will be fully manifested in the future age, and in which
the church has Christ for her only spouse" , and they are
witnesses to that universal charity which, through chastity
embraced for the kingdom of heaven, makes them ever more available
to dedicate themselves generously to the service of God and to the
works of the apostolate.
Hence the possibility for men and women religious and members of
secular institutes and other institutes of perfection, either
individually or in groups, to develop their service to families,
with particular solicitude for children, especially if they are
abandoned, unwanted, orphaned, poor or handicapped. They can also
visit families and look after the sick; they can foster
relationships of respect and charity toward one-parent families or
families that are in difficulties or are separated; they can offer
their own work of teaching and counseling in the preparation of
young people for marriage and in helping couples toward truly
responsible parenthood; they can open their own houses for simple
and cordial hospitality so that families can find there the sense
of God's presence and gain a taste for prayer and recollection and
see the practical examples of lives lived in charity and fraternal
joy as members of the larger family of God.
I would like to add a most pressing exhortation to the heads of
institutes of consecrated life to consider -- always with
substantial respect for the proper and original charism of each one
-- the apostolate of the family as one of the priority tasks
rendered even more urgent by the present state of the world.
75. Lay specialists.
Considerable help can be given to families by lay specialists
(doctors, lawyers, psychologists, social workers, consultants,
etc.) who either as individuals or as members of various
associations and undertakings offer their contribution of
enlightenment, advice, orientation and support. TO these people
one can well apply the exhortations that I had the occasion to
address to the Confederation of Family Advisory Bureaus of
"Yours is a commitment that well deserves the title of mission,
so noble are the aims that it pursues, and so determining, for the
good of society and the Christian community itself, are the results
that derive from it ... All that you succeed in doing to support
the family is determined to have an effectiveness that goes beyond
its own sphere and reaches other people too, and has an effect on
society. The future of the world and of the church passes through
the family" .
76. Recipients and agents of social communications.
This very important category in modern life deserves a word of
its own. It is well know that the means of social communication
"affect and often profoundly, the minds of those who use them,
under the affective and intellectual aspect and also under the
moral and religious aspect," especially in the case of young people
. They can thus exercise a beneficial influence on the life
and habits of the family and on the education of children, but at
the same time they also conceal "snares and dangers that cannot be
ignored" . They could also become a vehicle -- sometimes
cleverly and systematically manipulated, as unfortunately happens
in various countries of the world -- for divisive ideologies and
distorted ways of looking at life, the family, religion and
morality, attitudes that lack respect for man's true dignity and
This danger is all the more real inasmuch as "the modern
lifestyle -- especially in the more industrialized nations -- all
too often causes families to abandon their responsibility to
educate their children. Evasion of this duty is made easy for them
by the presence of television and certain publications in the home,
and in this way they keep their children's time and energies
occupied" . Hence "the duty ... to protect the young from the
forms of aggression they are subjected to by the mass media," and
to ensure that the use of the media in the family is carefully
regulated. Families should also take care to seek for their
children often forms of entertainment that are more wholesome,
useful and physically, morally and spiritually formative, "to
develop and use to advantage the free time of the young and direct
their energies" .
Furthermore, because the means of social communication, like the
school and the environment, often have a notable influence on the
formation of children, parents as recipients must actively ensure
the moderate, critical, watchful and prudent use of the media by
discovering what effect they have on their children and by
controlling the use of media in such a way as to "train the
conscience of their children to express calm and objective
judgements, which will then guide them in the choice or rejection
of programs available" .
With equal commitment parents will endeavor to influence the
selection and preparation of the programs themselves by keeping in
contact -- through suitable initiatives -- with those in charge of
the various phases of production and transmission. In this way
they will ensure that fundamental human values that form part of
the true good of society are not ignored or deliberately attacked.
Rather they will ensure the broadcasting of programs that present
in the right light family problems and their proper solutions. In
this regard my venerated predecessor Paul VI wrote:
"Producers must know and respect the needs of the family, and
this sometimes presupposes in them true courage, and always a high
sense of responsibility. In fact they are expected to avoid
anything that could harm the family in its existence, its
stability, its balance and its happiness. Every attack on the
fundamental value of the family -- meaning eroticism or violence,
the defense of divorce or of anti-social attitudes among young
people -- is an attack on the true good of man" .
I myself, on a similar occasion, pointed out that families "to a
considerable extent need to be able to count on the good will,
integrity and sense of responsibility of the media professionals --
publishers, writers, producers, directors, playwrights, newsmen,
commentators and actors" . It is therefore also the duty of
the church to continue to devote every care to these categories, at
the same time encouraging and supporting Catholics who feel the
call and have the necessary talents to take up this sensitive type
 Second Vatican Council, PERFECTAE CARITATIS, 12.
 John Paul II, Address to the Confederation of Family Advisory
Bureaus of Christian Inspiration (Nov. 29, 1980), 3-4: INSEGNAMENTI
III, 2 (1980), 1453-1454.
 Paul VI, Message for the Third Social Communications Day
(April 7, 1969): AAS 61 (1969), 455.
 John Paul II, Message for the 1980 World Social
Communications Day (May 1, 1980): INSEGNAMENTI III, 1 (1980), 1042.
 John Paul II, Message for the 1981 World Social
Communications Day (May 10, 1981): L'Osservatore Romano, May 22,
 Paul VI, Message for the Third Social Communications Day
(April 7, 1969): AAS 61 (1969), 456.
 John Paul II, Message for the 1980 World Social
Communications Day, loc. cit. 1044.
IV. PASTORAL CARE OF THE FAMILY IN DIFFICULT CASES.
77. Particular circumstances.
An even more generous, intelligent and prudent pastoral
commitment, modeled on the Good Shepherd, is called for in the case
of families which, often independently of their own wishes and
through pressures of various other kinds, find themselves faced by
situations which are objectively difficult.
In this regard it is necessary to call special attention to
certain particular groups which are more in need not only of
assistance but also of more incisive action upon public opinion and
especially upon cultural, economic and juridical structures, in
order that the profound causes of their needs may be eliminated as
far as possible.
Such, for example, are the families of migrant workers; the
families of those obliged to be away for long periods of times,
such as members of the armed forces, sailors and all kinds of
itinerant people; the families of those in prison, of refugees and
exiles; the families in big cities living, practically speaking as
outcasts; families with no home; incomplete or single-parent
families; families with children that are handicapped or addicted
to drugs; the families of alcoholics; families that have been
uprooted from their cultural and social environment or are in
danger of losing it; families discriminated against for political
or other reasons; families that are ideologically divided; families
that are unable to make ready contact with the parish; families
experiencing violence or unjust treatment because of their faith;
teen-age married couples; the elderly, who are often obliged to
live alone with inadequate means of subsistence.
The families of migrants, especially in the case of manual
workers and farm workers, should be able to find a homeland
everywhere in the church. This is a task stemming from the nature
of the church, as being the sign of unity in diversity. As far as
possible these people should be looked after by priests of their
own rite, culture and language. It is also the church's task to
appeal to the public conscience and to all those in authority in
social, economic and political life, in order that workers may find
employment in their own regions and homelands, that they may
receive just wages, that their families may be reunited as soon as
possible, be respected in their cultural identity and treated on an
equal footing with others, and that their children may be given the
chance to learn a trade or exercise it, as also the change to own
the land needed for working and living.
A difficult problem is that of the family which is ideologically
divided. In these cases particular pastoral care is needed. In
the first place it is necessary to maintain tactful personal
contact with such families. The believing members must be
strengthened in their faith and supported in their Christian lives.
Although the party faithful to Catholicism cannot give way,
dialogue with the other party must be kept alive. Love and respect
must be freely shown in the firm hope that unity will be
maintained. Much also depends on the relationship between parents
and children. Moreover, ideologies which are alien to the faith
can stimulate the believing members of the family to grow in faith
and in the witness of love.
Other difficult circumstances in which the family needs the help
of the ecclesial community and its pastors are: the children's
adolescence, which can be disturbed, rebellious and sometimes
stormy; the children's marriage, which takes them away from their
family; lack of understanding or lack of love on the part of those
held most dear; abandonment or neglect on the part of children and
relations. There is also suffering caused by ill-health, by the
gradual loss of strength, by the humiliation of having to depend on
others, by the sorrow of feeling of the end of life. These are the
circumstances in which, as the synod fathers suggested, it is
easier to help people understand and live the lofty aspects of the
spirituality of marriage and the family, aspects which take their
inspiration from the value of Christ's cross and resurrection, the
source of sanctification and profound happiness in daily life, in
the light of the great eschatological realities of eternal life.
In all these different situations let prayer, the source of light
and strength and the nourishment of Christian hope, never be
78. Mixed Marriages.
The growing number of mixed marriages between Catholics and other
baptized persons also calls for special pastoral attention in the
light of the directives and norms contained in the most recent
documents of the Holy See and in those drawn up by the episcopal
conferences, in order to permit their practical application to the
Couples living in a mixed marriage have special needs, which can
be put under three main headings.
In the first place, attention must be paid to the obligations
that faith imposes on the Catholic party with regard to the free
exercise of the faith and the consequent obligation to ensure, as
far as is possible, the baptism and upbringing of the children in
the Catholic faith .
There must be borne in mind the particular difficulties inherent
in the relationships between husband and wife with regard to
respect for religious freedom: This freedom could be violated
either by undue pressure to make the partner change his or her
beliefs or by placing obstacles in the way of the free
manifestation of these beliefs by religious practice.
With regard to the liturgical and canonical form of marriage,
ordinaries can make wide use of their faculties to meet various
In dealing with these special needs, the following points should
be kept in mind:
-- In the appropriate preparation for this type of marriage every
reasonable effort must be made to ensure proper understanding of
Catholic teaching on the qualities and obligations of marriage and
also to ensure that the pressures and obstacles mentioned above
will not occur.
-- It is of the greatest importance that through the support of
the community the Catholic party should be strengthened in faith
and positively helped to mature in understanding and practicing
that faith so as to become a credible witness within the family
through his or her own life and through the quality of love shown
to the other spouse and the children.
Marriages between Catholics and other baptized persons have their
particular nature, but they contain numerous elements that could
well be made good use of and developed, both for their intrinsic
value and for thee contribution that they can make to the
ecumenical movement. This is particularly true when both parties
are faithful to their religious duties. Their common baptism and
the dynamism of grace provide the spouses in these marriages with
the basis and motivations for expressing their unity in the sphere
of moral and spiritual values.
For this purpose and also in order to highlight the ecumenical
importance of mixed marriages which are fully lived in the faith of
the two Christian spouses an effort should be made to establish
cordial cooperation between the Catholic and non-Catholic ministers
from the time that preparations begin for the marriage and the
wedding ceremony even though this does not always prove easy.
With regard to the sharing of the non-Catholic party in
eucharistic communion, the norms issued by the Secretariat for
Promoting Christian Unity should be followed .
Today in many parts of the world marriages between Catholics and
non-baptized persons are growing in numbers. In many such
marriages the non-baptized partner professes another religion and
his beliefs are to be treated with respect in accordance with the
principles set out in the Second Vatican Council's declaration
NOSTRA AETATE on relations with non-Christian religions. But in
many other such marriages, particularly in secularized societies,
the non-baptized person professes no religion at all. In these
marriages there is a need for episcopal conferences and for
individual bishops to ensure that there are proper pastoral
safeguards for the faith of the Catholic partner and for the free
exercise of his faith, above all in regard to his duty to do all in
his power to ensure the Catholic baptism and education of the
children of the marriage. Likewise the Catholic must be assisted
in every possible way to offer within his family a genuine witness
to the Catholic faith and to Catholic life.
79. Pastoral action in certain irregular situations.
In its solicitude to protect the family in all its dimensions,
not only the religious one, the Synod of Bishops did not fail to
take into careful consideration certain situations which are
irregular in a religious sense and often in the civil sense too.
Such situations, as a result of today's rapid cultural changes, are
unfortunately becoming widespread also among Catholics with no
little damage to the very institution of the family and to society,
of which the family constitutes the basic cell.
80.a. Trial marriages.
A first example of an irregular situation is provided by what are
called "trial marriages," which many people today would like to
justify attributing a certain value to them. But human reason
leads one to see that they are unacceptable, by showing the
unconvincing nature of carrying out an "experiment" with human
beings, whose dignity demands that they should be always and solely
the term of a self-giving love without limitations of time or of
any other circumstance.
The church, for her part, cannot admit such a kind of union for
further and original reasons which derive from faith. For, in the
first place, the gift of the body in the sexual relationship is a
real symbol of the giving of the whole person: Such a giving,
moreover, in the present state of things cannot take place with
full truth without the concourse of the love of charity, given by
Christ. In the second place, marriage between two baptized persons
is a real symbol of the union of Christ and the church, which is
not a temporary or "trial" union, but one which is eternally
faithful. Therefore between two baptized persons there can exist
only an indissoluble marriage.
Such a situation cannot usually be overcome unless the human
person from childhood, with the help of Christ's grace and without
fear, has been trained to dominate concupiscence from the beginning
and to establish relationships of genuine love with other people.
This cannot be secured without a true education in genuine love and
in the right use of sexuality, such as to introduce the human
person in every aspect, and therefore the bodily aspect too, into
the fullness of the mystery of Christ.
It will be very useful to investigate the causes of this
phenomenon, including its psychological and sociological aspect, in
order to find the proper remedy.
81.b. De facto free unions.
This means unions without any publicly recognized institutional
bond, either civil or religious. This phenomenon, which is
becoming ever more frequent, cannot fail to concern pastors of
souls, also because it may be based on widely varying factors, the
consequences of which may perhaps be containable by suitable
Some people consider themselves almost forced into a free union
by difficult economic, cultural or religious situations, on the
grounds that if they would be exposed to some form of harm, would
lose economic advantages, would be discriminated against, etc. In
other cases, however, one encounters people who scorn, rebel
against or reject society, the institution of the family and the
social and political order, or who are solely seeking pleasure.
Then there are those who are driven to such situations by extreme
ignorance or poverty, sometimes by a conditioning due to situations
of real injustice or by a certain psychological immaturity that
makes them uncertain or afraid to enter into a stable and
definitive union. In some countries traditional customs presume
that the true and proper marriage will take place only after a
period of cohabitation and the birth of the first child.
Each of these elements presents the church with arduous pastoral
problems, by reason of the serious consequences deriving from them,
both religious and moral (the loss of the religious sense of
marriage seen grace of the sacrament; grave scandal) and also
social consequences (the destruction of the concept of the family;
the weakening of the sense of fidelity, also toward society;
possible psychological damage to the children; the strengthening of
The pastors and the ecclesial community should take care to
become acquainted with such situations and their actual causes,
case by case. They should make tactful and respectful contact with
the couples concerned and enlighten them patiently, correct them
charitably and show them the witness of the Christian family life
in such a way as to smooth the path for them to regularize their
situation. But above all there must be a campaign of prevention,
by fostering the sense of fidelity in the whole moral and religious
training of the young, instructing them concerning the conditions
and structures that favor such fidelity, without which there is no
true freedom; they must be helped to reach spiritual maturity and
enabled to understand the rich human and supernatural reality of
marriage as a sacrament.
82. c. Catholics in civil marriages.
There are increasing cases of Catholics who for ideological or
practical reasons prefer to contract a merely civil marriage and
who reject or at least defer religious marriage. Their situation
cannot, of course, be likened to that of people simply living
together without any bond at all, because in the present case there
is at least a certain commitment to a properly defined and probably
stable state of life even though the possibility of a future
divorce is often present in the minds of those entering a civil
marriage. By seeking public recognition of their bond on the part
of the state, such couples show that they are ready to accept not
only its advantages but also its obligations. Nevertheless, not
even this situation is acceptable to the church.
The aim of pastoral action will be to make these people
understand the need for consistency between their choice of life
and the faith that they profess, and to try to do everything
possible to induce them to regularize their situation in the light
of Christian principles. While treating them with great charity
and bringing them into the life of the respective communities, the
pastors of the church will regrettably not be able to admit them to
83. d. Separated or divorced persons who have not remarried.
Various reasons can unfortunately lead to the often irreparable
breakdown of valid marriages. These include mutual lack of
understanding and the inability to enter into interpersonal
relationships. Obviously, separation must be considered as a last
resort, after all other reasonable attempts at reconciliation have
Loneliness and other difficulties are often the lot of separated
spouses especially when they are the innocent parties. The
ecclesial community must support such people more than ever. It
must give them much respect, solidarity, understanding and
practical help, so that they can preserve their fidelity even in
their difficult situation; and it must help them to cultivate the
need to forgive which is inherent in Christian love and to be ready
perhaps to return to their former married life.
The situation is similar for people who have undergone divorce,
but, being well aware that the valid marriage bond is indissoluble,
refrain from becoming involved in a new union and devote themselves
solely to carrying out their family duties and the responsibilities
of Christian life. In such cases their example of fidelity and
Christian consistency takes on particular value as a witness before
the world and the church. Here it is even more necessary for the
church to offer continual love and assistance without there being
an obstacle to admission to the sacraments.
84. e. Divorced persons who have remarried.
Daily experience unfortunately shows that people who have
obtained a divorce usually intend to enter into a new union,
obviously not with a Catholic religious ceremony. Since this is an
evil that like the others is affecting more and more Catholics as
well, the problem must be faced with resolution and without delay.
The synod fathers studied it expressly. The church, which was set
up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized,
cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously
bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second
marriage. The church will therefore make untiring efforts to put
at their disposal her means of salvation.
Pastors must know that for the sake of truth they are obliged to
exercise careful discernment of situations. There is, in fact, a
difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their
first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned and those who,
through their own grave fault, have destroyed a canonically valid
Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for
the sake of the children's upbringing and who are sometimes
subjectively certain in conscience that their previous irreparably
destroyed marriage had never been valid.
Together with the synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the
whole community of the faithful to help the divorced and with
solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves
as separated from the church, for as baptized persons they can and
indeed must share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen
to the word of God, to attend the sacrifice of the Mass, to
persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to the
community effort in favor of justice, to bring up their children in
the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of
penance and thus implore, day by day, God's grace. Let the church
pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother
and thus sustain them in faith and hope.
However, the church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon
sacred scripture, of not admitting to eucharistic communion
divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be
admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of
life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and
the church which is signified and effected by the eucharist.
Besides this there is another special pastoral reason: If these
people were admitted to the eucharist the faithful would be led
into error and confusion regarding the church's teaching about the
indissolubility of marriage.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of penance, which would open the
way to the eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting
of having broken the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to
Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no
longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.
This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons such as,
for example, the children's upbringing, a man and a woman cannot
satisfy the obligation to separate, they "take on themselves the
duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from
the acts proper to married couples" .
Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of matrimony, to the
couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of
the faithful forbids any pastor for whatever reason or pretext,
even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for
divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the
impression of the celebration of a new, sacramentally valid
marriage and would thus lead people into error concerning the
indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.
By acting in this way the church professes her own fidelity to
Christ and to his truth. At the same time she shows motherly
concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through
no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate
With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected
the Lord's command and are still living in this state will be able
to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided
that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.
85. Those without a family.
I wish to add a further word for a category of people whom, as a
result of actual circumstances in which they are living, and this
often not through their own deliberate wish, I consider
particularly close to the heart of Christ and deserving of the
affection and active solicitude of the church and of pastors.
There exist in the world countless people who unfortunately
cannot in any sense claim membership in what could be called, in
the proper sense, a family. Large sections of humanity live in
conditions of extreme poverty in which promiscuity, lack of
housing, the irregular nature and instability of relationships and
the extreme lack of education make it impossible in practice to
speak of a true family. There are others who for various reasons
have been left alone in the world. And yet for all of these people
there exists a "good news of the family."
On behalf of those living in extreme poverty I have already
spoken of the urgent need to work courageously in order to find
solutions also at the political level, which will make it possible
to help them and to overcome this inhuman condition of degradation.
It is a special task that faces the whole of society, but in a
special way the authorities, by reason of their position and the
responsibilities flowing therefrom, and also families, which must
show great understanding and willingness to help.
For those who have no natural family the doors of the great
family which is the church -- the church which finds concrete
expression in the diocesan and the parish family, in ecclesial
basic communities and in movements of the apostolate -- must be
opened even wider. No one is without a family in this world: The
church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who
"labor and are heavy laden" .
 Cf. Paul VI, Motu Proprio MATRIMONIA MIXTA, 4-5: AAS 62
 Instruction IN QUIBUS RERUM CIRCUMSTANTIIS (June 15, 1972):
AAS 64 (1972), 518-525; Note on Oct. 17, 1973; AAS 65 (1973), 616-
 John Paul II, Homily at the Close of the Sixth Synod of
Bishops, 7 (Oct. 25, 1980): AAS 72 (1980), 1082.
 Mt. 11:28.
At the end of this apostolic exhortation my thoughts turn with
To you, married couples, to you fathers and mothers of families;
To you, young men and women, the future and the hope of the
church and the world, destined to be the dynamic central nucleus of
the family in the approaching third millennium;
To you, venerable and dear brothers in the episcopate and in the
priesthood, beloved sons and daughters in the religious life, souls
consecrated to the Lord, who bear witness before married couples to
the ultimate reality of the love of God;
To you, upright men and women, who for any reason whatever give
thought to the fate of the family.
The future of humanity passes by way of the family.
It is therefore indispensable and urgent that every person of
good will should endeavor to save and foster the values and
requirements of the family.
I feel that I must ask for a particular effort in this field from
the sons and daughters of the church. Faith gives them full
knowledge of God's wonderful plan: They therefore have an extra
reason for caring for the reality that is the family in this time
of trial and of grace.
They must show the family special love. This is an injunction
that calls for concrete action.
Loving the family means being able to appreciate its values and
capabilities, fostering them always. Loving the family means
identifying the dangers and the evils that menace it in order to
overcome them. Loving the family means endeavoring to create for
it an environment favorable for this development. The modern
Christian family is often tempted to be discouraged and is
distressed at the growth of its difficulties; it is an eminent form
of love to give it back its reasons for confidence in itself, in
the riches that it possesses by nature and grace, and in the
mission that God has entrusted to it. "Yes, indeed, the families of
today must be called back to their original position. They must
follow Christ" .
Christians also have the mission of proclaiming with joy and
conviction the good news about the family, for the family
absolutely needs to hear ever anew and to understand ever more
deeply the authentic words that reveal its identity, its inner
resources and the importance of its mission in the city of God and
in that of man.
The church knows the path by which the family can reach the heart
of the deepest truth about itself. The church has learned this
path at the school of Christ and the school of history interpreted
in the light of the Spirit. She does not impose it, but she feels
an urgent need to propose it to everyone without fear and indeed
with great confidence and hope, although she knows that the good
news includes the subject of the cross. But it is through the
cross that the family can attain the fullness of its being and the
perfection of its love.
Finally, I wish to call on all Christians to collaborate
cordially and courageously with all people of good will who are
serving the family in accordance with their responsibilities. The
individuals and groups, movements and associations in the church
which devote themselves to the family's welfare, acting in the
Church's name and under her inspiration, often find themselves side
by side with other individuals and institutions working for the
same ideal. With faithfulness to the values of the Gospel and of
the human person and with respect for lawful pluralism in
initiatives, this collaboration can favor a more rapid and integral
advancement of the family.
And now, at the end of my pastoral message, which is intended to
draw everyone's attention to the demanding yet fascinating roles of
the Christian family, I wish to invoke the protection of the Holy
Family of Nazareth.
Through God's mysterious design, it was in that family that the
Son of God spent long years of a hidden life. It is therefore the
prototype and example for all Christian families. It was unique in
the world. Its life was passed in anonymity and silence in a
little town in Palestine. It underwent trials of poverty,
persecution and exile. It glorified God in an incomparably exalted
and pure way. And it will not fail to help Christian families --
indeed all the families of the world -- to be faithful to their
day-to-day duties, to bear the cares and tribulations of life, to
be open and generous to the needs of others and to fulfill with joy
the plan of God in their regard.
St. Joseph was "a just man", a tireless worker, the upright
guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard,
protect and enlighten families.
May the Virgin Mary, who is the mother of the church, also be the
mother of "the church of the home." Thanks to her motherly aid,
may each Christian family really become a "little church" in which
the mystery of the church of Christ is mirrored and given a new
life May she, the handmaid of the Lord, be an example of humble and
generous acceptance of the will of God. May she, the sorrowful
mother at the foot of the cross, comfort the sufferings and dry the
tears of those in distress because of the difficulties of their
May Christ the Lord, the universal king, the king of families, be
present in every Christian home as he was at Cana, bestowing light,
joy, serenity and strength. On the solemn day dedicated to his
kingship I beg of him that every family may generously make its own
contribution to the coming of his kingdom in the world -- "a
kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a
kingdom of justice, love and peace" , toward which history is
I entrust each family to him, to Mary and to Joseph. To their
hands and their hearts I offer this exhortation: May it be they who
present it to you, venerable brothers and beloved sons and
daughters, and may it be they who open your hearts to the light
that the Gospel sheds on every family.
I assure you all of my constant prayers and I cordially impart
the apostolic blessing to each and every one of you, in the name of
the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter's, Nov. 22, 1981, the solemnity of
our Lord Jesus Christ, universal king, the fourth of the
John Paul II.
 John Paul II, Letter APPROPINQUAT IAM (Aug. 15, 1980), 1: AAS
72 (1980), 791.
 The Roman Missal, Preface of Christ the King.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank