Q & A: Do marriage and sex exist in heaven?

By Fr. Kenneth Doyle | Catholic News Service

Q. After decades of a really good marriage, my partner has passed away, and I have some questions. Is there marriage in heaven? Does the one who is in heaven have a special link with the one who is still alive? When both of them have died, will there be a particular relationship between them in the context of perfect happiness? —A small town in upstate New York

Q. In a recent column, when asked whether pets go to heaven, you said that if you need your pet to be happy in heaven, you can be sure they will be there. That begs this question: If the physical body gets resurrected and spouses meet in heaven, will sex continue to be a part of their life? (I know this might be a delicate question to handle in print, but I would really like an answer.) —Virginia Beach,Va.

A. As to what life will be like in heaven, a preliminary disclaimer is proper: We don’t know. We have been cautioned by Paul that “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

We are reduced, then, to speculation. But our speculation must begin with what we know, which is that a similar question was once asked of Jesus.

In Matthew 22:23-30, some Sadducees, in an attempt to ridicule the belief of the Pharisees in an afterlife, posed to Christ the problem of seven brothers who had been married successively to the same woman — the issue being whose wife she would be in heaven. Jesus said, “At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.”

Resurrection means not just resuscitation, a return to the bodies we currently experience. In heaven, our bodies will no longer be mortal or vulnerable, nor will we need to worry about the survival of the species or the continuation of a family name.

But at the same time, it seems logical that a special relationship would continue into eternity between a man and woman married on earth. There is, in the marriage relationship, a quality of transcendence that points beyond itself to a reality that is divine.

We are made in the image of the Trinitarian God, a divine whirlwind of self-giving love, and I can well imagine that a couple will find their ultimate fulfillment in rejoicing together before the face of God, which is the ecstasy hinted at in all earthly intercourse.

Q. I am 94 years old and live in a nursing home with the meals furnished. Must I abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, or may I eat what the home is serving? —Marion,Ohio

A. Canon No. 1253 of the Code of Canon Law gives national conferences of bishops wide latitude in determining the observance of fasting and abstinence.

In the United States, the bishops have “preserved for our dioceses the tradition of abstinence from meat on each of the Fridays of Lent, confident that no Catholic Christian will hold himself lightly excused from this penitential practice.”

Whereas the discipline of fasting (one full meal a day, no eating between meals — applicable on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) binds only those between the ages of 18 and 59, abstinence (refraining from meat) covers those who are 14 or older.

All commentators would agree that sickness or frailty excuses a person from such penitential disciplines.

In your case, it would be reasonable to ask yourself what you think God might want from someone in your situation. It might be difficult for the food service at your nursing home to provide a substitute meal every Friday in Lent, so you needn’t request that.

Perhaps on Good Friday only — if you feel comfortable doing this and it would not burden you physically — you might ask for a meatless meal. That would be a good way of reminding the staff of the value you attach to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.