Since they plan to marry, why can't engaged couples have sex?

Full Question

I am a soon to be 46 year old man and will be married at the end of August to a woman with an annuled marriage (it will be my first marriage). Though she is very faithful - we often pray together and attend mass together when possible - and she is doing her best to raise her chidren in the faith, she is having a difficult time with the concept of refraining from sexual relations until after the wedding. She well knows Catholic moral theology and I have repeatedly said that waiting will be good for our marriage and that even if, at times, she finds it exceedingly difficult, please offer it for me and our marriage. But she wants to know the why behind the "rule" - why does the Church have this teaching for engaged couples? As she puts it - what will be the "natural consequences"? I have suggested that beyond a pregnancy there could well be spiritual consequences. Frankly, I am beyond my capacity to help her understand and we sometimes battle over this issue. Can you offer me any assistance in this regard? I know she loves me and has these strong desires, but the wedding is at the end of August and it doesn't seem an unreasonable burden to me to wait until then.
 

Answer

Well actually it is a matter of truth. The truth is—you are not married when you are engaged. The two are distinct realities and are not the same. The difference of being engaged from being married is the difference of being from non-being. Many have been the engaged couples, who to their surprise, did not end up marrying each other.

If being engaged were like being married, then there would be no point in marrying. In one of the old rites the bride and groom announced to each other: “With my body I thee wed.” It is on the marital bed that the vows pronounced at the altar are sacramentally expressed with their bodies. Before those vows are expressed NO MARRIAGE EXISTS and any attempt at genital intimacy is fornication and mortally (deadly) sinful--because it is a lie about a very sacred matter.

I suggest that you obtain a copy of Christopher West’s book, “Good News About Sex and Marriage.”