The original purpose behind the Mackerel Snapper Blog was to reach out to other individuals like myself who were considering joining the Catholic Church or were already in the process of doing so. My goal was to explain the Catholic faith from a convert’s perspective and present it in a simple, Joe Anybody manner that’s easy to understand and digest.
Since anyone currently going through RCIA is now about halfway through their classes, I thought I’d tackle one of the more controversial, and misunderstood, stances taken by the Catholic Church, which is the complete and total opposition to the use of contraception.
Growing up Baptist, birth control was never seen as a moral issue. It was rarely discussed and was about as natural to my church as coffee and donuts were to Sunday school.
And while many non-Catholic entities currently hold a similar view, it hasn’t always been this way. Once upon a time, most all Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, saw contraception as a grave sin, however, throughout the 20th century, its use became more and more widespread, and thus more accepted within the general public.
Today, artificial birth control has become so engrained in our society, both in the secular world and within most Protestant churches, that for many, it’s second nature—something in which people involve themselves without a second thought.
Yet, despite widespread public acceptance, the Catholic Church stands firm in Her opposition to its use. And despite what any studies or pundits might suggest, faithful Catholics who wish to remain true to the Church are forbidden from using any form of birth control. Doing so, for any reason, constitutes as a grave and mortal sin, and any Catholic who uses contraception is obligated to go to confession before they can receive the Eucharist.
But don’t just take my word for it. As the Catechism clearly states:
In contrast, “every action which, whether 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” is intrinsically evil. CCC 2370
The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception). CCC 2399
The marital act, as in, sex as it was made to be, between husband and wife, is the sacred affirmation of the marriage covenant. Its purpose is to bring the two spouses together in an expression of complete and total self-giving to one another. It is act of selfless, unconditional love, one so powerful that it has the ability to create new, sacred life.
The Church teaches that sex between the spouses must always be this way. It must always be ordered towards life. Both spouses must always present themselves to one another entirely, without any barriers.
The use of contraception does not allow for total self-giving. It inserts something synthetic into something natural and restricts one part of one spouse to the other. It eliminates the life-giving nature of the marital act and turns sex into something that exists outside of God’s design.
The Church has always held firm to this teaching, and it stretches all the way back to the early Church fathers. In AD 125, Clement of Alexandria wrote:
“Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted”
This was affirmed consistently throughout the ages, most notably in the 20th Century in Pope Paul VI’s Humane Vitae, where it is written:
[W]e must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth. Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is 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”
And again, Pope John Paul II echoed this teaching by stating, “Contraception is to be judged objectively so illicit…that it can never, for any reason be justified.
The Church’s position on this subject simply cannot be misunderstood.
And to be clear, this includes any and all forms of artificial birth control, including oral contraception, condoms, the withdrawal method, and a vasectomy. The claim that the Church’s stance against contraception is somehow tilted or sexist is completely misguided.
Of course, the Church does understand that couples can’t always afford to have multiple children. And while every child is a blessing, there are legitimate health and economic reason as to why a married couple might want to avoid becoming pregnant.
There is only one morally permissible way in which a couple can refrain from becoming pregnant. It is called Natural Family Planning, or NFP, for short.
Simply put*, NFP works by closely monitoring a woman’s fertility, and if used to avoid a pregnancy, the couple comes together in the marital act only during the times in which the woman is at her most infertile. (It should be noted that NFP can be used just as effectively to conceive as it can be to avoid.)
There are some who criticize NFP and refer to it, wrongly, as “Catholic birth control.” However, lumping NFP into the same category as artificial contraception is just simple ignorance, and here’s why.
NFP uses absolutely no artificial methods to avoid a pregnancy, and therefore allows the marital act to remain as natural as it was meant to be.
NFP begins and ends with the concept of being open to life. Contraception does not.
NFP seeks to work with the gift of fertility. Contraception works against it.
Because it does nothing to disrupt the fertility cycle, NFP allows the marital act to remain open to life at all times. Contraception absolutely does not.
I should also mention that much of the avoidance in NFP consists of patience and chastity. Yes! Even in marriage!
But even when it comes to NFP, a married couple must discern that they are using it for the right reasons. Overall, man and woman were meant to come together in love and bring life to this earth. It’s one of the most miraculous aspects of God’s creation, and it’s tragic that we are so comfortable with stifling it.
Pregnancy is good. Children are good. The ability to create life is good. These things and their goodness flow directly from God, which the Catholic Church recognizes, affirms, and protects. The opposition to contraception is law. It is unwavering, and it will always remain that way.
*Seriously, as simply as I can put it.