The Precepts of the Church

Dear friends in Christ:

Do you remember The Precepts of the Church? For those of us who are of a certain age and had the Baltimore Catechism, these precepts (laws/obligations/rules) were drilled into us and committed to memory. In some ways they may seem a little odd or peculiar today and need a little bit of an explanation, but they are still very much in effect.

To refresh our memories, The Precepts of the Church are:

  1. You shall attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.
  2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
  3. You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter Season.
  4. You shall keep holy the Holy Days of Obligation.
  5. You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.
  6. The faithful have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to their ability.
  7. In the United States, a seventh precept was often added: You shall obey all the laws and teachings of the Church in regards to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

The good thing about these precepts is that they are simple and concise. The bad thing is that they can be looked at in a very minimalistic way. One could possibly believe (erroneously) from looking at this list that all you have to do is check the box and “Presto!” you are a good and faithful Catholic. If only it were so easy.

The precepts of the Church are the very minimum of what we have to do to live our lives as Catholics. It is not all that we have to do. These are not the ends or goals of living a Catholic life, but constitute the basic minimum requirements to begin living a Catholic life. These precepts “are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life.” (CCC #2041). What is assumed but not explicitly stated is that these are the bare minimum actions involved in a RELATIONSHIP. What is understood as most important is that to be a Catholic is to be in a relationship with God and with the Church. Could you imagine being a Houston Astros fan if you never watched, listened to or attended a game, never kept up with the scores or the standings, never talked to anyone about the team or the team’s games and didn’t even know who was on the team and worst of all really didn’t even care or know much about baseball? One could rightly conclude that you couldn’t be too much of a fan or a fan at all. Likewise, buying a José Altuve jersey and having gone to a game ten years ago doesn’t make you a strong supporter of the Astros! At the very least, you would have to know and do some bare minimum things on a regular basis to be considered a fan! Conversely, the more you pay attention, the more involved you get and the closer you follow the team, the more joy, fun and satisfaction you will get from being an Astros fan.

The Precepts of the Church are indeed the bare minimum. They are designed to help us and encourage us into growing and strengthening our relationship with God and His Church. The Catechism describes these precepts as the “indispensable minimum”. Not a very high bar in our lives as disciples, but important. If we want to grow in our love of God and our neighbor, if we want to begin to grow in the spiritual life and in the life of grace, this is the starting point, the bare minimum, the “indispensable minimum”. Often times people will lament that they don’t “get anything” from Church or Mass. The issue is not what we “get”. It is what we give!

The simple truth is the more we give the more we receive. If we do not give the bare “indispensable minimum” should we be surprised that our faith life and relationship with God is not what it could be or should be?

The truth of the matter is that we can never out do God in generosity. He is always more generous to us than we are with him, but we still have to do our part. God wants more for us than we do for ourselves. May none of us settle for the least when God desires the most for us! More to come.

In Pace Christi,

Fr. Troy Gately