Marriage is an original gift from God to humanity. Although sin entered the world damaging the marital relationship, this gift was not lost but redeemed by Christ and raised to a sacrament (see Eph. 5:28-32; see also Mt. 19:4-6). Sacred Scripture proclaims that God created humanity in "His image" as "male and female" (see Gen. 1:27). So unique is this relationship that the marital union makes of the husband and wife "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Procreation, Scripture teaches, is a gift from God (Gen. 1:28). When spouses conceive new life, they participate in the Lord God's creative power. This is an awesome privilege and sacred responsibility!
Over the centuries and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church has reflected upon marriage. Below you will find foundational documents which articulate these teachings.
Current USCCB Pastoral Resources on Marriage, Responsible Parenthood and NFP
Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan
This Pastoral Letter on marriage was approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2009. It provides a summary of Church teaching on marriage as a natural institution and as a sacrament.
Married Love and the Gift of Life | En Español
This document of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops summarizes Church teaching on marriage, conjugal love, and responsible parenthood in an easy to read question and answer format.
Gaudium et spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) 1965 One of the 16 documents composed at the Second Vatican Council, this pastoral constitution forms the core of the Church's teaching on the role of the Christian in modern society.Covering a broad range of political, social, economic, and theological topics, the Council fathers devote an entire section to marriage and the family. To read the section on marriage and the family, see: Gaudium et spes excerpts
Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) April 8, 2016
This apostolic exhortation, "The Joy of Love", is the result of Pope Francis's prayerful reflection on the discussions and outcomes of two synods of bishops held in Rome October 2014 and October 2015 on marriage and the family. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis shares with the Church his teaching and encouragement regarding pastoral ministry to marriages and families, and the great vocation and mission that married couples and families are called to live out. For more about this document, visit our Amoris Laetitia page.
Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) 2005, Pope Benedict XVI
Written by Pope Benedict XVI, this papal letter (encyclical) reflects upon the cardinal virtue of love or Christian charity which is central to the whole of the Christian faith.While broadly teaching about love, the work is nevertheless applicable to all facets of the Christian life, including that of marriage.
Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life)1995, Pope John Paul II This papal encyclical, written by Pope John Paul II, teaches about the gift and value of human life.The pope describes the current threats to the value of life and urges all Christians to create a new culture of life, fostering a deeper appreciation and respect for all men and women. Included in the discussion of threats to human life is the subject of contraception which is described as "intrinsically evil." The Pope draws a clear moral distinction between the immorality of contraception and the goodness of the methods of Natural Family Planning.
Letter to Families (1994)
Written during the Year of the Family, this letter is one of two key writings of John Paul II on the family (the other being Familiaris Consortio, below) and contains many themes important to his pontificate. Main sections include: The Civilization of Love, which reflects on men, women, marriage, children and society; and The Bridegroom is with You, an extended meditation on marriage and family's place in the Scriptures, the life of Christ, and the Church.
"Theology of the Body" 1979-1984, Pope John Paul II
"Theology of the Body" is the title given to a collection of talks (addresses) on God's design for human sexuality by Pope John Paul II during the course of five years. Appealing to the individual's experiences of truth, the Holy Father discusses both Sacred Scripture and Catholic Tradition on the subject. This approach seeks not only to make understandable the rich theology of Catholic teaching on the nature of humanity created as man and woman, but also to communicate the truth and beauty of God's design of human sexuality. Included in this series is a substantial reflection on the papal encyclical, Humanae vitae (Of Human Life) which treats married love and responsible parenthood.
Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) 1980, Pope John Paul II This apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II addresses the place of the Christian family both in the Church and in the modern world.At the service of both life and love, the Christian family must seek its identity in the Divine Creator, participate in the mission of the Church, and work to effect change in society. Catholic teachings on marriage, conjugal love and responsible parenthood and the methods of Natural Family Planning are also discussed.
Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) 1968, Pope Paul VI
This papal encyclical, written by Pope Paul VI, teaches about God's design for married love and the gift of life. The Holy Father teaches that the modern question about spacing and limiting births in marriage is important. It must, however, be considered within the context of God's design for married love. Married love is faithful, total, permanent and fruitful. Its nature exists to create a "Communion of Persons" (the marriage) and to participate with God in bringing new life into the world (procreation). Included in the teaching is a discussion of the immorality of contraception, direct sterilization and abortion (which are always intrinsically evil) and the morality of Natural Family Planning.
Casti connubii (On Christian Marriage) 1930, Pope Pius XI This papal encyclical by Pope Pius XI, teaches about the virtue of chastity, specifically "marital chastity." The Holy Father includes a reflection on the threats to marriage and holds up God's will for marriage as the defense. The dignity of marriage and its spiritual benefits are also treated. The Holy Father encourages Christian couples to embrace the call of Christ in their daily lives.
Documents of the Holy See
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1997 This comprehensive treatment of the Church's teaching touches upon every facet of the Christian faith. This work is divided into four main sections: the profession of faith (the Creed), the celebration of the Christian mystery (the Liturgy), life in Christ (the moral life), and Christian prayer. While references to marriage and family can be found throughout the entire book, one may find paragraphs 1601-1666 and 2331-2400 to be particularly applicable.
Dignitas personae (On Certain Bioethical Questions) 2008, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this document grapples with a number of bioethical questions raised in response to modern technological advancements in the field of human fertility and infertility. Using the principles of Catholic moral teaching, the document brings clarity and truth to the debates surrounding both procreation and genetic manipulation.
Vademecum for Confessors Concerning Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life 1997, Pontifical Council for the Family. Issued by the Pontifical Council for the Family, this brief document provides guidelines for the administration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in difficult moral circumstances (particularly those of married life).Although addressed to confessors within the clergy, the document serves as a standard to guide all Christians in carrying out the call of Christ to live the virtue of chastity.
Ethics and Human Values in Family Planning 1988, Vatican Statement
Reprinted in The International Review of Natural Family Planning (Summer 1988)
Submitted by the Vatican to XXII Council for the International Organizations of Medical Sciences, this statement notes that there are no value free methods of family planning. It then lists six ethical challenges of contraception, drawing on examples. The document also explains that though the world sees a family planning crisis, the Church sees the real problem as one of ethics. (Note: The name of the Vatican Dicastery is not provided in this reprint.)
Donum vitae (Instruction on Respect for Human Life) 1987, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, this text is the predecessor to the above document, Dignitas personae. Written in the midst of significant medical innovation on assisted reproductive technology, this document defends the gift and dignity of human life (particularly in its earliest stages), against the onset of intrusive and immoral scientific innovation.
Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology 2009, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, this pastoral teaching on marriage and infertility brings Catholic moral principles into the discussion on modern reproductive technologies. The bishops defend the dignity of procreation, reserving it to the conjugal union of spouses. The moral and immoral means of remedying infertility are clearly discussed.
Ethical Directives for Catholic Hospitals (Fifth Edition) 2009, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Now in its fifth edition, this document provides instruction for health care professionals regarding the mission and scope of their work. Addressing both pastoral and moral issues alike, the bishops provide guidance on the standards expected of those in Christian health care. The Directives include instruction on specific moral dilemmas encountered in the health care field including those that pertain to human fertility and life.
Human Sexuality from God's Perspective, Humanae Vitae 25 Years Later 1993, USCCB Committee for Pro-Life Activities
This short anniversary statement revisits the teachings of Humanae vitae on its twenty-fifth anniversary.Echoing the words of Pope Paul VI, it emphasizes the reverence due to human life and the responsibility of parents to defend such an invaluable gift.In protecting the great worth of human sexuality in God's plan, the document has a section devoted specifically to Natural Family Planning.