Some older Catholics will recall hearing about the Precepts of The Church, but they aren’t discussed much anymore. Despite the lack of publicity, they still exist and Catholics are obligated to follow them. Simply put, the Precepts of the Church define the bare minimum that one must do in order to be considered a Catholic in good standing. To put it bluntly, if all you are doing is meeting these precepts you have some work to do. If you aren’t even meeting them… you really better get busy!
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines five precepts (CCC 2041-2043). They are:
1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor – Sadly, there are some Catholics that don’t feel the need to attend Mass on Sunday or holy days of obligation, which is not only a violation of this precept, but can be a grave sin. For those who do attend Mass faithfully, it is still possible to get caught up in the trap of using The Lord’s Day to catch up on chores and go shopping. While at times this is necessary, we should prayerfully consider the activities that occupy our Sundays. Time spent with family is very important and fulfills the intent of this precept. Although it goes against today’s culture, saying a family rosary or watching a religious program on TV would be a great Sunday activity. Sharing a leisurely meal with relatives gives us an opportunity to engage in fellowship and relaxation at the same time. Obviously, there are some people whose jobs necessitate working on Sunday and the Church understands. The main intent of this precept is to ensure that we obey the commandment to “keep holy The Lord’s Day”.
2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year – While the Church encourages frequent confession, all those conscious of mortal sins are required to receive the sacrament of Confession at least once each year. Frequent Confession is one of our “10 Steps To A Greater Faith” and is highly recommended, even for venial sins. However, this precept gives us a concrete guideline to keep us on the right path.
3. You shall receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season – Catholics are encouraged to receive The Body and Blood of Jesus as often as possible, but this precept binds us to do so “during the Easter season”. This minimal requirement helps us to appreciate the importance of Christ’s rising from the dead and urges us to receive His Body and Blood during the joyous Easter season.
4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church – This one sounds simple, but many Catholics ignore it. The Church prescribes mandatory fasting and abstinence in order to help us share in the suffering of Christ. When compared to the excruciating pain suffered by Our Lord, abstaining from meat or fasting from food is a small sacrifice to make. Our human nature causes us to flee from any form of discomfort, so it really is a blessing that the Church helps us with this matter. The Church recognizes that most of us would not choose to voluntarily deprive ourselves, so they assist us with this precept.
5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church – Certainly not a popular topic with many Catholics, but providing for the needs of the Church is a requirement that must be obeyed. The Church doesn’t mandate any particular amount, but we should be as generous as possible. It’s easy to forget that everything we own (including our money) comes from God, but keeping that in mind makes it easier to be generous with His resources.
As I mentioned earlier, these precepts should not be viewed as a goal to aspire toward, but rather as a starting point. If we desire to become closer to Christ, following the Precepts of the Church will give us a good foundation to build upon.