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.
- You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor
- You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
- You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least once during the Easter season
- You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church
- 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.