What Does a Celibate Priest Know about Marriage?

“What does he know about married life?” is an often frequently voiced criticism of priests when they speak about the intricacies of married life. These same critics do not realize that a celibate priest is married… but in a different way.

Why do our people call us “Father ?” We are married to the Church. The Church is our bride. The priest is another Christ (alter Christus) , who gives his life as a gift to the bride.

Celibacy is a special gift from the Holy Spirit, a charism. It is a beautiful gift for the Church. When he is faithful to his calling, the celibate priest, in and through his body; i.e., through his very physical reality, is a sign or a witness not only of his total gift of himself to his bride, the Church, but he is also physically, through his body, pointing the way to the eschatological reality of eternal life. “For when they rise from the dead, men and women do not marry; no, they are like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12: 25).

Eternity is not only perfect communion with God it is also perfect communion with all men and women in the communion of saints. The charism of celibacy is a sign or an anticipation of this eschatological reality. Through the gift of celibacy, the human person is able to immerse himself in a fulfilling communion with God and with humanity here on earth.

The priest gives his entire being to God in the covenant of spiritual marriage. When a celibate priest develops a profound life of contemplative prayer and reaches the heights of mystical prayer, the joys of the spirit become much greater than the joys of the flesh.

Thus the sacraments of holy matrimony and holy orders complement each other in the mystery of divine love. The priest gives his entire being to God in the covenant of spiritual marriage. He then takes bread and wine, and pronounces the words of Jesus: This is my body and this is my blood given for you. A man and a woman called to the covenant of marriage stand before the altar of sacrifice and give themselves to each other as a gift: this is my body and this is my blood given for you .

As I wrote in my new book, Man to Man: A Real Priest Speaks to Real Men about Marriage, Sexuality and Family Life , “t he faithful celibate reminds married couples that love is eternal. Faithful married couples remind celibates that love is tender.

At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope John Paul II spent a long time speaking about marriage and sexuality. His discourses, (129 teachings from September 5, 1979 – November 28, 1984), comprise a monumental teaching called The Theology of the Body . Without a doubt, John Paul’s Theology of the Body will be considered the most profound and most complete teaching on the subject in the years to come.

In the arrangement of discourses by the Holy Father, we find that before the pontiff treats the sacrament of marriage, he first discusses celibacy for the kingdom of heaven. Why is this so? According to the amazing insight of John Paul II, we can only understand marriage by understanding celibacy. Maybe you never thought of celibacy in this way!

In Heaven we will participate in the awesome mystery of the marriage of the Lamb. This reality is the fulfillment of both the charism of celibacy and the vocation of matrimony. The sacrament of marriage is an image or a reflection of this mystery lived out here on earth. The charism of celibacy is an anticipation of the heavenly marriage lived out here on earth as a charismatic sign. Celibacy is lived as an anticipation of the world to come. It is celibacy that witnesses to married people that their marriage here on earth is an image of a heavenly reality, because the celibate makes present to them the eschatological reality in which all will live in heaven. The priest gives his entire being to God in the covenant of spiritual marriage. When a celibate priest develops a profound life of contemplative prayer and reaches the heights of mystical prayer, the joys of the spirit become much greater than the joys of the flesh.

This is not a rejection of the good of the priest’s bodily masculine existence! Far from it – it is a fulfillment of all it means to be a man. Always remember the awesome reality that heaven is not just for the soul. The resurrection of the body is going to be really amazing. With the advent of the Second Coming, heaven is going to be for us an eternal physical reality.

These were the thoughts I had in mind when I wrote my Man to Man — a helpful and practical book with a very inspirational message. You all know that as men – priests and laymen alike — we are constantly being challenged by a crazy and dysfunctional world. Now, more than ever, the Church and the world need men who are willing to be faithful, authentic, mature, coherent, and heroic. Al Hughes, age 69 and a retired air force lieutenant colonel – a real man’s man – had this to say about my book: "If I had read this book 50 years ago, I would be levitating and bilocating by now."

I’m not promising you that if you read my book you will be floating above ground, but I do promise that if you read it and apply what I have to say to you – man to man – you will be rising far above the culture that surrounds us. And you will conclude that, yes, a priest does know something about marriage.


Fr. James Farfaglia is the pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, TX. His Sunday homilies and blog can be found at http://www.fjicthus.com. You can contact Father James at fjficthus@gmail.com.

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  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Robert Colquhoun writes the following in another CE article, “Women and the Church” (http://tob.catholicexchange.com/2009/12/04/1213/): “The 1983 charter on the rights of the family by the Holy See said that spouses had the right to decide upon the spacing of births and the number of children to be born, in accordance with the objective moral order, which excludes contraception, sterilization, and abortion. While in truth children are a blessing from God and large families are the result of great generosity, the contraceptive mindset that has been pulled over the eyes of women wholesale has masked this truth.”

    Celibate priests speak this truth every day. Spacing children is, of course, only one of the valid reasons for recourse to the infertile time through the use of NFP. There are many others: illness, necessary spousal separation such as that which our married military men and women undergo, living the hormonal ups and downs of the return to fertility after childbirth, pre-menopause. Though this list is by no means comprehensive, these particular reasons can often require extended abstinence within marriage. Sometimes the abstinence is so extended that husband and wife live a temporary celibacy within their own marriage.

    This is not unlike the sort of temporary celibacy lived by single men and women before marriage, if they are faithful to the Church. It also mirrors the sort of celibacy that can remain when a widow or widower chooses not to re-marry — sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily. Finally, accident or disability can lead married couples to be physically incapable of the marital embrace for an extended period of time — or even permanently.

    The faithful priest offers hope in the reality of his life well-lived to people in situations like these, and these situations are commonplace. Everybody is single until married. Married couples experience myriad difficulties that lead them to extended abstinence. A priest’s celibacy, therefore, is not only the reflection of an eschatological reality; it exactly mirrors the (sometimes temporary) physical reality of single and married people who struggle with the Church’s teachings in a sex-saturated society.

    Priests should talk about this. It is not easy to live the Church’s teachings faithfully when you get ridiculed by other people in the pews for doing so. Those who struggle honestly with the Church’s teachings deserve the support of their priests in their struggle. Those who do the ridiculing, quite frankly, deserve to be rankled by a priest who speaks honestly about this issue. I have heard it described, somewhat pithily, that the Church’s role is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. This is almost always cited in the context of economic wealth and poverty. But our sex-saturated society offers a spiritual poverty so barren that one is sometimes left without hope.

    Those who ridicule the Church for her teachings and those within the Church who selectively reject the Church’s teachings on married sexuality within a sex-saturated society are, among other things, comfortable. They deserve to be afflicted, not only out of concern for the eternal welfare of their souls but also out of proper justice for those who struggle honestly with the Church’s teachings and have to deal with the scorn of those who do not.

    And no one is in a better position to talk about the lived realities of faithful laity than a celibate priest because a celibate priest does exactly what many of the Catholic laity do: he struggles to live the Church’s teaching on married sexuality in an honest way.

  • Joe DeVet

    What can a celibate priest say about marriage? It’s about time we turned this question around:

    What can a contracepting couple say about marriage?
    What can one who cohabited before marriage say about marriage?
    What can someone who opens up internet porn say about marriage?
    What can someone who has had multiple sex partners, whether before or during marriage, say about marriage?
    What can one who, while making love with his wife, watches or fantasizes about other naked women say about marriage?
    What can someone who has had an abortion, or encouraged one, say about marriage?

    There. That just about includes anyone who thinks that a celibate priest has nothing to say about marriage.