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Matrimony, Eucharist and the social Doctrine of the Church

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28-02-2017 - by Stefano Fontana

There is a very close bond between the sacraments of Matrimony and the Eucharist on one hand, and the Social Doctrine of the Church on the other. This may seem a strange relationship when considering that the first ambit has to do with the sacramental life in the Church, while the second has to do with commitment in society and politics. These two dimensions, however, are not extraneous to one another because the theological motivation and support of grace for the commitment of Christians in the construction of the world according to the designs of God and for the salvation man are to be found in the Eucharist and in all the sacraments, stemming forth from which is the regeneration that will then turn into the transformation of social relations as well.  This is why it may be argued that if the sense of the value of the sacraments wanes, and in particular the relationship between matrimony and the Eucharist, the social and political commitment of Catholics loses sight of both its ultimate foundation and its authentic meaning, and is thereby destined to being limited to nothing more than social endeavors driven by solidarity.  

The family is founded on matrimony and society is founded on the family. Conversely, without matrimony we have neither family nor society, but a cluster of individual relations intertwined in various random ways and bereft of any order. Matrimony pertains to the natural order. Nature, however, is not able to provide completely for itself and degenerates when it loses contact with the supernatural. The same thing happens with matrimony. Even though being of natural order and having autonomous dignity within this order, it is not able to remain faithful to itself without elevation to the state of grace.  This happens not only for matrimony, but for the entire natural order. Empirical proof of this may be seen in the decline of civil marriages after couples began taking their distance from religious matrimony as a social praxis. If nature were to suffice unto itself, reducing religious matrimony or eliminating it altogether, civil marriage should remain a constant practice since it is of the natural order of things. This, however, is not the case. Civil marriage as well is also declining in the forms we have today before our very eyes.

The family is based on matrimony and hence so is society. In fact, found only in matrimony between a man and a woman is the complementary receptivity of other-than-self according to an order which then serves as the basis of any other social relationship meant to exist according to an order and not according to subjective desires. Without matrimony there is no sociality, no society, and no social order. There is no sociality because at the origin of society there must be a relationship not in the sense of a sum of two individuals, but as their integral complementarity, and this only comes about between a man and a woman. There is no society because only heterosexual couples generate new lives in a natural way. There is no social order because a sum of individuals, contrary to heterosexual couples open to life that thereby manifests a “plan” for them,  reveal mere juxtaposition and not any order pursuing an end or an aim.

If matrimony is eliminated, very little remains of society. If society does not highlight or project an order, as in the Christian vision whereby the creative act of God also includes the foundations of social life, public moral norms lose their very grounds and everything comes down to a contract between interested parties. The non negotiable principles will then be lost, as will as any objective and absolute moral norm along with them.

Marriage needs the sacrament of matrimony, and this in both social and political terms. The doctrine of the faith has always considered adultery to be a sin and a grave moral act for which no justification is possible. Adultery belongs to the realm of what is “intrinsically evil”. Thus has the Church also protected marriage as a social institution, and in that way protected both society at large and its order. If all this were to disappear from view, if adultery were to become not an objective situation of sin but a situation to be assessed on a case by case basis, if the interpretation of such a situation were to be ceded to individual conscience alone, and if it were possible for a remarried divorcee living more uxoria to receive the Eucharist, then this protection would no longer exist. Hence, grave indeed would be the ensuing negative consequences on the social and political level, especially as regards the selfsame use of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

The sacrament of the Eucharist has a social foundation and an indirect political foundation of utmost importance. A lesser theological consideration thereof by the Catholic Church would also entail alarming consequences regarding the commitment of Catholics for the Social Doctrine of the Church. The sacrament of the Eucharist is the true foundation of communion among persons. Charity, the queen of all the social virtues, is ultimately nourished in the Sacrament of the Altar. No human and social virtue, such as justice for example, which is so important for the Social Doctrine of the Church, could hold out on the basis of its own strength alone. Any impoverishment of the supernatural dimension involves costs in the natural dimension. In the Sacrifice of the Altar, Christ, who died and rose from the dead, brings about a new creation, including the re-creation  of human togetherness which originates in matrimony. Therefore, channeled through matrimony and the Eucharist are the supernatural energies for commitment in society in the light of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

The admission of remarried divorcees to the Eucharist, albeit according to the rationale of case by case and hence without formally undermining the doctrine as such, but marring it with less than compliant pastoral practices, would create many difficulties in commitment on the part of Catholics to defend and promote the family and incarnate the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church in society.

 

Stefano Fontana

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Anno XIII (2017), numero 1, GENNAIO-MARZO

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