The efficacity of non-catholic sacraments, the do's and don'ts of the Billings method and the problems with annulments is the subject-matter of this month's questions. Don't hesitate to send in a few of your own that have worried you!
Q. Do the valid sacraments of other Churches confer grace?
Do the people attending the Greek Orthodox and one or two other churches who have valid sacraments receive the sacramental effects and grace from those sacraments if they are in the state of grace and in culpable ignorance of the schism they are patronising?
A. Certainly. The efficacity of a sacrament depends on the rite of the sacrament being validly and fittingly performed on the one hand, and upon the dispositions of the person receiving the sacrament being appropriate, on the other. In the Greek Orthodox Church the sacraments are valid and fittingby the latter I mean that the prayers and ceremonies that clothe the sacraments are reverential and prayerful, and give honour and glory to God. A Greek Orthodox layman will, normally-speaking, have received enough catechetical formation to benefit spiritually from the sacraments.
However, the Greek Orthodox Church is in schism, and schism, being an objective evil, brings harm upon those involved in it, even if they are in good faith. Comparing Greek Orthodoxy with Catholicism, one can see two defects in the former.
Firstly, the Greek Orthodox faith is less developed than the Catholic Faith, since it holds only to the teaching of the first seven Ecumenical Councils. Later Catholic Councils brought in developments and previsions which were an enrichment to the Faith; these Greek Orthodoxy lack, which in practice makes for a poorer Faithand hence poorer disposition for the sacramentsamongst Greek Orthodox members.
Secondly, the Greek Orthodox faith contains an admixture of error, and error retards spiritual development. These errors concern the nature of Church government with a denial of papal primacy, the status of Our Lady (the definitions of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are not accepted by them), and others which one need not go into here. Although none of these errors bear directly on the sacraments, their cumulative effect is the weaken their efficacity in the recipient.
Q. What is the absolute ruling on the Billings method?
In marriage, a
couple is permitted to practise complete abstinence by mutual agreement,
as opposed to the Natural Family Planning method (the Billings method)
for a very grave reason (such as serious health problems or dire poverty)
which then has to be authorised by a priest. However, SSPX priests differ
in their rulings, and cause confusion amongst Catholics of even
Bishop Fellay said if one could not educate one's children, that was a good reason for practising the Billings method
Being able to have only about 6 Caesarians means that a woman who cannot space them out puts herself in serious risk of making a seventh mistake if she has the six too quickly, because she might have about ten years of fertility still in front of her. Yet it is apparently a sin to practise the Billings method for more than two years even with permission. Is this with or without a grave reason?
A. The absolute ruling on the Billings method permits its use in four specific situations: first, if there is a real danger to the mother-to-be's life or the life of her child should she conceive; secondly, if there is a moral certitude that any child she conceives will be gravely handicapped; thirdly, if here and now the parents cannot provide for the minimum necessary requirements of another child; and fourthly, if there is a psychological imbalance or inadequacy in the couple making them unfit to be parents. It is for the priest to judge whether one of these situations applies to a specific couple.
In the case of child
spacing, there is not an absolute ruling. It is permissible depending
on the case, i.e. on whether there is a real need for it or not. Again,
the final decision as to whether there is a real need depends upon the
priest who may say yes or no.
Q. Is the Billings method allowed to be used for any reason whatsoever when a couple first get married?
Is a couple, under
any circumstances, permitted to practise the Billings method as soon as
they get married (for a couple of years)?
A. No. The primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and rearing of children. The secondary purpose, which is founded on the primary and derives much of its strength from it, is the mutual love and support of the spouses. To enter into marriage with the intention of frustrating the primary purpose (without being obliged to out of necessity), even if only for a time, is to denature marriage.
Q. Is pregnancy at the time of marriage a valid reason for annulment?
Does the Society
consider a girl getting married because she is pregnant to be a reason
for annulment later on if she asks for it? The Conciliar Church says that
a girl in this state could be frightened of her parents, fearful of shame,
and emotionally pressured into marriage.
A. Such a girl may feel pressured into making an unfortunate marriage, but that still would not invalidate it. A marriage made under the impetus of fear would be invalid only if the fear were strong enough to completely override free will, i.e. if the girl was coerced into acting against her will out of fear, say, of her life. However, if such a girl marries, under moral pressure and with misgivings, but still of her own free will, then the marriage is valid and cannot be annulled.
One of the great difficulties of the Conciliar Church is the undeniable fact that many annulments are granted on insufficient grounds and cannot be accepted by the Society. This can and does create a real problem for Catholics whose previous marriages were "annulled" and have remarried, and who come to Tradition. The problem, however, is not of our making.
Q. Does the pre-decision to use the Billings method to cut down births invalidate a marriage?
Does the intention
before marriage by both partners of having only a few children by using
the Billings method invalidate that marriage?
but such a decision, taken without a sufficient grave reason and without
the Church's consent, would be seriously sinful. If both partners decided
before marriage to have no children at all, then their marriage would
be invalid, since to reject any of the ends and necessary conditions of
marriage (e.g. that marriage lasts as long as both spouses are alive)
renders null and void the marriage contract. To limit without rejecting
outright the first end of marriage, namely having children, does not nullify
the contract, is still wrong.
Q. Was Mother Teresa's campaign on natural family planning wrong?
To help the poor
in India, Mother Teresa was advocating and teaching the Billings method.
Was that wrong?
A. I do not know enough about the details' of Mother Teresa's work in India to be able to comment on her advocacy of the Billings method. However the question is important in that many Pro Life groups, Catholic and otherwise, promote the Billings method in acceptance of the modern idea that the average couple should have one or two, or at the most three, children. What should one think of this idea?
As a Catholic, one is bound to reject it, since it is, built on fallacious arguments. Let's look at them.
The first argument is population control. This argument is based on the assumption that material miseries like hunger, disease, inadequate housing, etc., are caused by there being too many people. A glance at a demographic world map, however, shows that this is not the case. The regions in the world of highest population density are in some cases the richest, e.g. western Europe. China, a Communist country with all the economic inefficiency that that entails, is still able to feed its 1100 000 000 people. Countries where starvation is widespread can be sparsely populated, like Ethiopia. The material ills of the world are caused by corrupt and brutal governments, economic inefficiency and civil strife, not by large populations.
Closer to home, the second argument in favour of small families is that with salaries and expenses being what they are, one cannot afford to raise many children. This argument is not born out in practice. In all the large families I know (6 children or more) everyone has enough food to eat, clothes to wear, toys to play with, a roof and a bed and an adequate (yes! adequate!) education. People are influenced by this argument one the one hand because they consider to be necessities what are ready superfluities, and on the other because they have learned not to trust Divine Providence, but rather the current economic structure, which caters for a two-child family with both parents working. A large family may have to be less complacent and more resourceful than a small one, nevertheless it will not starve.
The advantages of having a large family, especially today, are inestimable, but need a separate article to adequately describe. Perhaps some mother or father out there could send me something?...