Thursday, January 3, 2008

Precepts of the Church

Since it is the beginning of a New Year, it seems a good time to review the precepts of the Church. A precept is simply a commandment of the Church - not to be confused with the Ten Commandments. The precepts are what we call positive laws meaning; they are “thou shalls” rather than “thou shall nots.” Neither the Ten Commandments nor the precepts (commandments) of the Church are “suggestions.” These are rules that must be followed. To not do so results in being in a state of mortal sin.


It has been pointed out to me by many people that the RCIA programs in many parishes are deficient in what our pastor calls “meat and potatoes.” All the focus is placed on the emotions, and very little on the intellectual. Our conversion experience needs to be a healthy balance of “mind and heart.” When we accept the gift of faith, freely offered by God, we also accept the responsibility to follow the laws of the Church.

Paragraph 2041 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.

  1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor

  2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.

  3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least once during the Easter season

  4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church

  5. You shall provide for the needs of the Church.

The first precept is in the number one position for a reason – it is the foundation of a good Catholic life. When I grew up, it would have never occurred to me not to go to Mass on Sunday. When we traveled, my Mother always made arrangements to attend Mass wherever we happened to be on Sunday.

The number of Catholics who do not attend Mass has risen steadily over the past several decades, while the teaching of the Church has remained the same. You are obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Period!

Holy Mother Church, in her wisdom, has given us these laws because she knew, left to our own devices, we would probably not do very well at leading a Christian life. Since the Holy Eucharist is the centerpiece and source of our divine life and grace, it is vital for our spiritual well being to attend Mass.

The second part of this precept concerning servile work is a bit more difficult, in my opinion, because it is open to different interpretations. Since we live in a secular society, many of our decisions are based on secular worldviews.

When I was a girl, back in the covered wagon days, servile labor was pretty easy to define. In addition, our government supported a Judeo/Christian worldview. Stores were closed, except for the designated emergency pharmacy, so most people could actually have a “day of rest.” Nurses, police officers, and other necessary workers were exempt from this part of the precept.

As a child, we had a large family meal after Mass, and were then expected to play or read quietly. The adults did not engage in unnecessary work. Not all people are in the position to take advantage of full and proper observance of the Lord’s Day. Those that are able should. Dress up for Mass, have a lovely family dinner, do some spiritual reading, and curtail shopping. Make every effort to make Sunday the special day it was meant to be.

15 comments:

swissmiss said...

When we were growing up, no matter if we were travelling or not, my parents found a place to go to Mass. There was no excuse not to. Since I've been an adult, I've done a lot of travelling and always found a place to go to Mass. One of the neat things is that I have heard Mass said in a lot of different languages. Very cool.

Fr John Speekman said...

Lovely and thoughtful article full of teaching. Who was it referred to the 'happy face theology of the Gospel of Nice'? So many catechumenates are characterised by it - and the new catholics come out blushing and smiling and promptly give up whatever practice they may have engaged in while making the catechumenal journey.

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

When I went to Alaska on vacation in the 1980's it was difficult to prepare for Mass visits. Fortunately I was able to locate & call a parish in Sitka to find out their Mass schedule.
With the internet now there is a couple of sites available. For the USA I find ParishesOnline.com a good site and MassTimes.org covers the World (although I've found some of their info a little dated).

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

"Gospel of Nice"? Is that French?

Angela M. said...

The precepts - yes! And it's in the Catechism - bonus!

PaulaB52 said...

I'm all for the no servile work on Sunday, but you know what's annoying? When your children play sports and the sports directors INSIST on putting games on Sunday. Ugh!

Melody said...

There is also one about obeying the laws of the Church concerning marriage; and (I was unaware that this one had been added until I read of it last year): "To participate in the Church's mission of Evangelization of Souls."

Tom in Vegas said...

Very good points made in this post. Indeed, you highlight the teachings of the Church, which have been around for quite sometime.

Tom

Cathy_of_Alex said...

adrienne: I started righting a realy long comment so I think I'm going to have to do a blog post!

:-) I will link to you.

God bless!

Adrienne said...

Sorry everyone - been busy with Rose's medical emergencies.

Swiss -- same at my household except it was a lot harder to find Masses in advance since phones hadn't been invented yet:)

Father John - our folks out of the diocese don't give their RCIA folks a catechism until mystagogia. Their drop out rate is almost 100%.

AA --- I'm jealous - Sitka is soooooooo beautiful. Gospel of Nice = French ROTFLMAO

Angela - catechism?? what's that?? Only kidding!!

Paula - planning a post on that very subject of sports and our faith.

Melody -- you take the prize for being the first person to notice that missing. Seems they don't include that when speaking of the precepts although it is Canon Law (which is totally ignored). I debated mentioning it and decided to see if a smart person like you would catch it.

Tom - yes,yes, yes!!!

Cathy --- Glad I could help you out with your post. Some days it is just so hard. I have mine but since this medical emergency has taken over my day, I may not get to it in a timely fashion.

Plus - Erica, the wonder cat, is walking on my keyboard which is not helping.

Cathy_of_Alex said...

adrienne: I know my cats do that too!

I will remember Rose in my evening prayers.

Melody said...

I hope Rose is doing better now; I'll pray for her

Rita said...

Recent "helpful" comments from priests I've heard:

"Hey, you don't even need to go to confession once a year"

"I hear many people say that they can be good Christians without going to church, and to some extent they are right"

"We come to church to get the support of the people around us"

Having helped deliver RCIA, I'd have to agree with you. To a large extent much of the programme is unnecessary if a parish truly lives through the sacraments (ALL 7 OF THEM!), they teach themselves through their action and administration.

Excellent post!

gman59 said...

Love the article. It really is bang on and should be sent out to all catholics.
I too still remeber the covered wagon days when only the pharmacy was open on Sunday and a family did spend tme together.
I guess today the termnuclear family means to blow up ones family.
Dressing up for mass. The old parish i used to go to that was an option. Flip flops, short shorts t-shirts. Not my cup of tea!
Thanks and god bless!

Alexandra said...

Missing mass(on purpose) is actually a mortal sin. Our pastor reminds us of this frequently.