J.M.J. Humanae Vitae, the July 25, 1968 Encyclical authored by Blessed Paul VI (1963-1978), offers to all persons a meditation on the mystery of life and love. This important teaching was reconfirmed dozens of times by Saint John Paul II (1978-2005).
Following are only a few of the points made by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae that can help us to better understand marriage and the family.
1) The Magisterium, or Teaching Authority of the Church, has every right to speak about procreation. Why? Because Jesus Christ bestowed upon Peter and the Apostles the divine authority to teach His commands and to interpret their meaning and application. This special authority extends not only to Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition but also to the Natural Law, which Saint Paul said can be known by everyone regardless of creed.
2) Husbands and wives are to share everything with each other. The love between spouses is faithful and exclusive until death. The "responsible exercise of parenthood" demands, in the words of Pope Paul VI, "that husband and wife recognize fully their own duties toward God, toward themselves, toward the family, and toward society, in a correct hierarchy of values."
3) The marital act is "noble and worthy" and has two dimensions--the unitive (love-giving) and the procreative (life-giving). The Church has constantly taught that each and every act of marital intercourse "must remain open to the transmission of life." God the Creator has established for all time the inseparable link between unity and procreation in the conjugal act.
4) The "totality" argument--that the marital act need not be open each and every time to the possibility of procreation but that married couples should be receptive at least some of the time during the totality of their marriage to the gift of children--must be rejected. It is immoral to do evil (for example, using contraception even for a time) so that a supposed good (for example, conceiving a child when a husband and wife are "ready") may result.
5) Direct, procured abortion is intrinsically evil, as are any actions that deliberately make procreation impossible. This includes the use of drugs and devices, such as Depo-Provera, Norplant, the Morning-after Pill and RU-486, which are clearly abortifacient. Many of these chemical abortions parade as contraceptives but actually prevent implantation of a conceived child.
6) Direct sterilization is intrinsically evil. To cure a disease, however, it is permissible for a man or a woman to undergo a medical treatment that will result in sterility, as long as the sterility is not directly intended.
7) For just motives, husband and wife may have marital intercourse during the wife's monthly infertile period--even though procreation may not result--since there are "natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions." The Church teaches that a vast difference exists between contraception and Natural Family Planning (NFP). The former advocates unlimited sexual activity between spouses, while the latter makes use of the infertile period only when serious reasons warrant.
Catholic couples may be assured that the Church does not shirk her sacred duty to give direction and counsel to them about their grave responsibility to bring forth new life into the world.
While one Christian denomination after another has granted "permission" for their members to use contraception, the Catholic Church stands virtually alone as the major force that refuses to countenance contraception. This fact in itself speaks loudly about the Church's insistence on obeying God's law no matter the subsequent scorn and outcry.
Almost five decades after Humanae Vitae, the truth about the gift of children has not changed. Married couples are summoned by the Creator Himself to cooperate in the conception and birth of His sons and daughters.
Blessed Paul VI was right. Saint John Paul II was right. The Church is right. To do the just and moral thing may be difficult, but God will not fail to reward those married couples who have--with His grace--hurdled the obstacles against procreation and generously accepted the treasure of human life.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!
(This article, which has been slightly edited, was originally published in the July 19-25, 1998 issue of Catholic Faith and Family on page sixteen. Used with permission.)