Why we wait

By  John Moore, Catholic Register Special
  • January 5, 2007

Recently, after putting myself through a crash course in selecting ladies' rings and cashing some Canada Savings Bonds, I proposed to my beautiful girlfriend. On bended knee I spoke of love and the future. She tallied up the pros and cons and fortunately the former outnumbered the latter.

A little over a month later, after meeting with clergy and catering managers and figuring out that we might have to part with some carefully hoarded RRSPs (or hold a potluck reception), we set a wedding date for next spring.

This much is unremarkable. What is perhaps unusual, even among committed Catholics, is another decision, one we made as a courting couple and reaffirmed upon our engagement: to postpone sex until the wedding night.

While I have not searched for sociological data on the subject, my impression is that premarital sex is now the norm, even among those who are regular churchgoers. Indeed, it is not uncommon for couples in Catholic marriage preparation programs to be living together. In this context, I thought it might be useful to set down three reasons for waiting. Premarital chastity is as meaningful as it ever was and there are very good reasons to adopt this discipline.

First, postponing sex until the mutual commitment of the partners has been expressed in the sacrament of Matrimony promotes the freedom and dignity of each person. Both the courtship and the betrothal periods are times for a development of commitment and discernment of God's will. While it is normal and desirable for the couple to develop a physical vocabulary involving touch and embrace, a fully sexual relationship can distort the individual and common emotional and spiritual development. It creates a powerful unifying dynamic that may outstrip the development of emotional and spiritual unity, and so create a facsimile of loving adult commitment in advance of the reality. Also, premarital sex may deprive one or both partners of a clear sense of their options, creating an aura of inevitability at a crucial moment of choice in the life of each person. It is important both for the individuals and for the whole society that persons entering into marriage do so in full freedom and in full consciousness of the choice being made. Premarital sex can reduce both the sense of freedom and the consciousness of the choice.

Second, postponing sex until the marriage allows the couple to approach the question of contraception with the prayerful deliberation that it requires. While the Catholic Church's position as expressed in Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae has been critiqued, all Catholics must acknowledge their duty to seriously consider this teaching in the light of faith and conscience. As premarital sex often involves the use of contraception, such a lifestyle may introduce the couple to the practice with little thought of its meaning or ultimate significance, and then the use of contraception may well continue after the wedding day without reassessment or a full consideration of the church's position. A chaste betrothal period provides the perfect opportunity for the couple to fully consider — through study, prayer and consultation — this issue, and then to make a decision that can be implemented in the context of a fully committed marital relationship.

Finally, premarital sex deprives the wedding of the full meaning which the church's theology of the sacrament entails. Matrimony is about two becoming one, two persons entering into what Vatican II called an "intimate partnership of married life and love," and it is about two bodies becoming one flesh. In the mind of the church, the physical union represents an entering into communion which has profound implications for the partners, their families and the whole community. If the two have already experienced physical union, the moment described in the wedding liturgy does not coincide with the stage of the couple's relationship — thus there is a disconnect. If the two have waited, the private and public moments of union coincide, and the ceremony becomes truly meaningful. The wedding becomes what it is meant to be, a rite in which God's grace is called down upon two individuals who at this moment and in the sight of the community are entering into a partnership of life and love.

I know it is not easy to wait. As my beloved and I grow closer and closer emotionally and spiritually, it feels natural to expand our vocabulary of touch and embrace, and it becomes difficult at times to hold firm to our resolution. At such times our wedding seems so far away! Yet we are certain that this is God's will in our lives at this moment, and that premarital chastity is the perfect way of demonstrating respect for one another and for the sacrament of Matrimony.

(Moore is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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