Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 1, 2001
Do the Church's precepts still apply?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
Do the precepts of the Church still exist? We know the Ten Commandments but I find that many people have never heard of the Church's precepts. Some people go to Communion at every Mass but haven't been to Confession since they made their first Confession.
It is true that in the last 30 years, we have talked much less about the precepts of the Church but that does not mean that they are not still valid. Some of the precepts, however, have a less direct focus today than in certain periods of history.
The precepts of the Church give us specific ways of living our Catholic life. They deal with some of our obligations as Catholics. They are meant to enhance our relationship to God and help us live our lives more fully as Christians. They are not intended to be a burden.
The first precept gives us the way to sanctify Sunday by assisting at Mass. That is still the way as we gather to celebrate who we are as the Body of Christ, liberated from and victorious over sin and death through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The third precept, to receive Communion at Eastertime, was necessary during the period of history when there was such awe for the Blessed Sacrament that people believed they were too unworthy to actually receive the Bread of Life and that gazing upon the Eucharistic species was the only thing they could do.
Therefore the Church obliged reception of Communion at least in connection with the Paschal Mystery, the centre of Christian Life. Now, of course, as you observed, most people receive Communion at every Mass.
As for the second precept, Confession is required once a year and is often part of the Easter Communion precept. For many, private Confession had degenerated into a laundry list of peccadilloes, repeated each week.
Today, private confessions are fewer, except at special times like pilgrimages, retreats, etc. However, large numbers take part in communal reconciliation services and find them a great help to healing and renewal.
The fourth precept, observing the holy days of obligation, has a different focus today as most of the feasts that were holy days are celebrated on Sundays.
However, the intent of this precept still holds true. We need to bring the sacred mysteries of our salvation to mind throughout our daily lives. Special days devoted to remembrance of these events, as well as of feasts of Mary and the saints can keep us centred on God and open to God's actions in our lives.
In earlier times, in order to keep that connection to God (as the Gospels show Jesus did), we prayed each time the clock struck; each day of the week and each month of the year was dedicated to a specific belief or tradition of our faith. These helped keep us connected to God.
The fifth precept on fasting and abstinence is still valid but in a different way. Being sinners, we all need constantly to re-focus our lives and overcome tendencies to excess, not only in food but in many other areas as well.
That is why most specific days for fasting and abstinence have been removed but we are encouraged to choose penances appropriate to our own lives. These can be in areas of consumption of food and drink from our over-stocked tables but also in areas of entertainment, active engagement in the needs of our neighbour, charity and social justice in our homes and workplaces, etc.
Prior to Vatican II, many people felt the Church treated them like children. With Vatican II, we began to stress adult responsibility and individual initiative.
We began to emphasize a more positive approach: develop a loving relationship with God through prayer and reflection on Scripture, reach out to others in community worship and in social justice efforts, participate more fully in the sacred banquet by reception of Communion at every Mass, etc.
Less importance was placed on God's justice and our sinfulness, and more on God's goodness and love, as well as on our seeing God in others and in everyday life situations. But that doesn't mean we believe we are sinless.
Instead, we focus on God to give us strength and sustain us in our weaknesses while we do our best to carry out our responsibilities on this earth.
All of this should lead to lives of personal responsibility with a total giving of self to God and others. One can cite countless examples of this all around us, in spite of the fact that present generations are sometimes considered self-centred.
Look at the number of volunteers, both young and old offering their time for the food bank, for Meals on Wheels, and many other charities. Look at the young people who, even in the elementary grades, prepare boxes of gifts for needy children overseas, raise money to build wells in water-starved countries and other charities, work on behalf of child-slaves in factories, etc.
The list is endless. Thank God for the many truly great and marvellous people we have today.