This is the cover of a 50th anniversary edition of "Humanae Vitae" with related papal texts and published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical reaffirmed the church's moral teaching on the sanctity of life, married love, the procreative and unitive nature of conjugal relations, responsible parenthood and its rejection of artificial contraception. (CNS photo)
This is the cover of a 50th anniversary edition of "Humanae Vitae" with related papal texts and published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Blessed Paul VI's 1968 encyclical reaffirmed the church's moral teaching on the sanctity of life, married love, the procreative and unitive nature of conjugal relations, responsible parenthood and its rejection of artificial contraception. (CNS photo)
Today marks the 50th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, which provides a good time to return to the message of the document that remains relevant today in its affirmation of the beauty of married love. Here are a few of the key takeaways from the encyclical:
  1. Married couples reflect God’s nature and participate in His creative work through their self-giving and conjugal love:

    “Conjugal love reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme source, God, who is Love, ‘the Father from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth draws its name.’

    “Marriage, therefore, is not the effect of chance or the product of the evolution of blind natural forces; it is a wise institution of the Creator for realizing in mankind his design of love. By means of the reciprocal personal self-giving which is proper and exclusive to them, husband and wife tend to the union of their beings with the goal of helping each other to personal perfection in order to collaborate with God in the begetting and rearing of new lives.” (8)

  2. Sexual union within marriage should be aimed at giving to the other, not at satisfying one’s own desires:

    “This love is first of all fully human; that is to say, it is at the same time both physical and spiritual. It is not, therefore, a simple transport of instinct and feelings but also, and principally, an act of the free will, destined to endure and to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one heart and one soul, and together attain their human perfection.

    “And this love is total; that is to say, it is a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations. Whoever truly loves his spouse, does not love her only for what he receives from her but for herself, happy to be able to enrich her with the gift of himself.” (9)

    It is, in fact, correctly observed that a conjugal act imposed upon one’s spouse without regard for his or her conditions and legitimate desires is not a true act of love, and therefore denies a requirement of the right moral order in relations between husband and wife.” (13)

  3. The procreative and unitive aspects of sex are inseparable, even for couples struggling with infertility:

    These acts, by which husband and wife are united in chaste intimacy and by means of which human life is transmitted, are, as the Council recalled, ‘good and honorable,’ and they do not cease to be legitimate if, for causes independent of the will of husband and wife, they are forseen to be infertile, because they remain ordained to expressing and strengthening their union.” (11)

     “Those who make use of this divine gift while destroying, even if only partially, its significance and its finality, act contrary to the nature of both man and woman and of their most intimate relationship, and, therefore, contradict also the plan of God and His will. On the other hand, those who enjoy the gift of conjugal love while respecting the laws of the generative process show that they acknowledge themselves to be not the masters of the sources of human life, but rather the ministers of the design established by the creator.” (13)

  4. Church teaching is aimed to bring about the good of individuals and society.

    “The Church was not the author of the moral law and therefore cannot be its arbiter; she is only its depository and its interpreter, and can never declare to be permissible that which is not so by reason of its intimate and unchangeable opposition to the true good of man.

    “In defending conjugal morality in its entirety, the Church knows that she contributes to the establishment of a truly human civilization. The Church challenges man not to abandon his own responsibility in exchange for reliance on technical means; by this very fact she defends the dignity of husbands and wives.” (18)

  5. The Church wishes to partner with doctors and scientists to make Natural Family Planning a practical option for couples.

We now wish to express our encouragement to men of science, who ‘can contribute much for the benefit of marriage and the family and for the peace of consciences, if by uniting their efforts they seek to shed more light on the various conditions that make possible a proper regulation of human procreation.’” (24)

We hold in the highest esteem those physicians and medical personnel who, in the exercise of their profession, value above every human interest the higher demands of their Christian vocation… Let them also consider as their proper professional duty the task of acquiring all the knowledge necessary in this delicate sector, so as to be able to give to the married persons who consult them the wise counsels and sound directives that these have a right to expect.”(27)