Reflections on the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Benedict
Marriage, family, Eucharist, life
by Alfonso Cardinal Lopez Trujillo
President of the Pontifical Council for the Family
The "literary genre" of Apostolic Exhortations that began with
Evangelii Nuntiandi was also chosen by His Holiness
Benedict XVI for his first Post-Synodal Document. The theme of
the Synod has been a privileged subject in his books. After
attentively following the interventions in the Synod Hall, the
Pope accepted and published at the end of the Synod its
propositions. In this Exhortation, he develops and deepens them.
The Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis shows a
dynamic ecclesial communion, cum Petro and sub Petro, in many
vital matters, crucial for the community of believers and for
In the Hall, the many doctrinal and pastoral interventions on
the family and closely linked to life that were given in the
light of the Eucharist, attracted attention. They moved the
hearts of the Pastors, offering certain basic directives "aimed
at a renewed commitment to Eucharistic enthusiasm and fervour in
the Church" (Sacramentum Caritatis, n. 5).
Also striking is the Pope's special encouragement to families,
to enable them to draw inspiration and strength from this
Sacrament. The Document also provided a providential opportunity
to explain several questions about which some confusion had
arisen in various places. The Successor of Peter, as teacher of
the faith, has been speaking of these matters since the very
first months of his Pontificate.
In Sacramentum Caritatis, the Holy Father addresses the
family and the Eucharist in various paragraphs; he starts from
basic presuppositions for a deeper understanding of the love
between man and woman [united in marriage], a necessary
foundation in all the ages (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, n.
27). This is also an important part of his first Encyclical,
Deus Caritas Est.
Eucharist and nuptial
The nuptial mystery stems from the redemptive power of Baptism,
which establishes the whole of Christian existence in a nuptial
dimension with God. The Cross itself is present and active in
By virtue of its sacramental character, the conjugal bond is an
intrinsic sign of the sacred unity between Christ the Bridegroom
and the Church, his Bride (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, n.
In fact, since the Eucharist is a "mystery of faith", it is par
excellence the "sum and summary of our faith" (Catechism of the
Catholic Church, n. 1327), "constitutive of the Church's being
and activity" (Sacramentum Caritatis [SC], n. 15), and
"the supreme sacramental. manifestation of communion in the
Church" (ibid.) as well as in the family, the domestic Church,
"a primary sphere of the Church's life" (SC, n. 27).
In the sacrifice of the Cross, "Christ gave birth to the Church
as his Bride and his body", which "leads us to reflect on the
causal connection between Christ's sacrifice, the Eucharist and
the Church" (SC, n. 14).
In general, it can be said that the Holy Father pieces together
in summary form various elements that have been reaffirmed in
the Papal Magisterium and which we can only present briefly
Eucharist, sacraments of initiation
The Bishops see in the sacraments of initiation "key moments not
only for the individual receiving them but also for the entire
family" (SC, n. 19). Baptism and Confirmation lead to entry into
the Eucharistic community, especially to reception of the
Eucharist and to the "importance of a personal encounter with
The efforts made in parishes are well known but must involve the
whole family even more, especially today when there is the risk
of tragic pressure to dissolve the family institution.
For this reason it is necessary to increasingly associate
Christian families with the course of initiation to the
sacraments. Most important in the context of the family is the
memorable day of First Holy Communion, the first personal
encounter with Jesus.
The Eucharist, as a nuptial sacrament, "inexhaustibly
strengthens the indissoluble unity and love of every Christian
marriage" (SC, n. 27).
In the family — the domestic Church (Lumen Gentium, n.
11) — women have a unique mission "that needs to be defended,
protected and promoted. Marriage and motherhood represent
essential realities which must never be denigrated" (SC, n. 27).
Eucharist, unicity of marriage
On the basis of the nuptial character of the Eucharist, the Pope
reinterprets the theme of the unicity of Christian marriage
(monogamous). In this perspective, he emphasizes the unitive
aspect of marriage as opposed to polygamy, which in certain
places is a real challenge to pastoral care. Only a long and
patient process can help those who desire to open themselves to
the Christian faith and "to integrate their life-plan into the
radical newness of Christ" (SC, n. 28).
Christ "calls them to embrace the full truth of love, making
whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to arrive at perfect
ecclesial communion" (ibid.). This calls for pastoral care "that
is gentle yet firm" (ibid.).
The Holy Father, with balance and depth, addresses the problem
of polygamy with an invitation to the radical newness of Christ,
in whom the human life-plan is integrated in accordance with the
original model of God's design. We know well that this topic
causes deep pastoral concern in various regions.
The Pope reaffirms the indissoluble ties of the marriage bond in
the light of the Eucharist, which expresses the irreversibility
of God's love in Christ for his Church. He then goes on to speak
of the sorrowful situations of many of the faithful who have
celebrated the Sacrament of Matrimony and have then divorced and
After reaffirming that despite their situation they continue to
belong to the Church who cares for them with special attention,
the Pope lists several ways to participate in the life of the
Ecclesial Community for these faithful who, although without
receiving Eucharistic Communion, may nevertheless live a
Christian way of life.
Since the Covenant of redemption unites us to Christ and since
matrimony is and must be the sacramental representation of this
redemptive Covenant between Christ and the Church, the union
between man and woman, not only because of natural law but also
because of this new divine status, must be an "indissoluble,
exclusive and faithful bond" (ibid.).
Thus, it can be said that the Eucharist is the loftiest
expression of the mystery of redemption; but at the same time,
it is a sacramental expression of the mysterious reality that
unites a man and a woman (cf. ibid.).
The Pope then proposes that those who are unable to fulfill the
new bonds they have contracted (those divorced and remarried)
because of objective conditions, should live "their relationship
in fidelity to the demands of God's law, as friends, as brother
and sister" (SC, n. 29).
Basically, he is reasserting the doctrine of the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, n. 84.
Eucharist and coherence
In Propositio n. 46, the Synod spoke of the Eucharistic
coherence on non-negotiable values in respect for and defense of
human life, of the family founded on the marriage between a man
and a woman, to which politicians and legislators must have a
sense of their grave responsibility via a correctly formed
Therefore, "Catholic politicians and legislators, conscious of
their grave responsibility before society, must feel
particularly bound on the basis of a properly formed conscience,
to introduce and support laws inspired by values grounded in
"There is an objective connection here with the Eucharist (cf. I
Cor 11:27-29). Bishops are bound to reaffirm constantly these
values as part of their responsibility to the flock entrusted to
them" (SC, n. 83).
Young people and life
At the conclusion of this commentary, it seems to me important
to present what the Holy Father says about the need for the
Christian formation of young people who are preparing for
"Given the complex cultural context which the Church today
encounters in many countries, the Synod also recommended
devoting maximum pastoral attention to training couples
preparing for marriage and to ascertaining beforehand their
convictions regarding the obligations required for the validity
of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Serious discernment in this
matter will help to avoid situations where impulsive decisions
or superficial reasons lead two young people to take on
responsibilities that they are then incapable of honoring. The
good that the Church and society as a whole expect from marriage
and from the family founded upon marriage is so great as to call
for full pastoral commitment to this particular area.
"Marriage and the family are institutions that must be promoted
and defended from every possible misrepresentation of their true
nature, since whatever is injurious to them is injurious to
society itself" (SC, n. 29).
Each one of the points considered here certainly deserves to be
explored further in the light of the Post-Synodal Apostolic
Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis.
I renew my deepest gratitude to the Holy Father for this gift he
has given to the Church.
© Copyright L'Osservatore Romano
August 15, 2007