Aug 24, 2017
In the monastery, we just finished our annual retreat, a time when we hopefully spend some quiet time with God and remember what it means to be a monk. At the end of our retreat, we all renew our vows of obedience, stability and conversatio morum. That last one is like the sacred clause in job descriptions that says “everything else that is required.” Although Monastic profession is not an official Sacrament like marriage, the vows are just as binding and permanent. And as many of you know so well, although at a wedding the spouses promise faithfulness, love and to honor each other, a lot of “else” is also required.
But whether you are married, a monk or single, a baptized person is a member of the Church, and membership in the Church has some basic requirements that all of us are obliged to fulfill. These are called the Precepts or Commandments of the Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states them this way.
“§ 2041 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 indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:
§ 2042 The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.”) requires the faithful to participate in the Eucharistic celebration when the Christian community gathers together on the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord.
The second precept (“You shall confess your sins at least once a year.”) ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.
The third precept (“You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season.”) guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.
§ 2043 The fourth precept (“You shall keep holy the holy days of obligation.”) completes the Sunday observance by participation in the principal liturgical feasts which honor the mysteries of the Lord, the Virgin Mary, and the saints.
The fifth precept (“You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.
The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities.”
We just had one of those Holy Days of Obligation last week, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That ALWAYS occurs during our monastery retreat. The U.S. Bishops have made it easy on us by moving the Feast of the Ascension, so now Ascension Thursday falls on a Sunday.
The Post Vatican II Church has made it easy on us regarding fasting and abstinence. Meatless Fridays, which used to be required, are now an option, except during Lent. Fasting, which was required all during Lent and on Ember Days and some vigils of feasts, now is just required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
And the fast before receiving the Eucharist is now just an hour… hardly enough to be called a fast. It used to be from midnight before you received, just one reason there were no afternoon or evening Sunday Masses back then.
And back then, most people would not receive Communion on Sunday without having gone to Confession on Saturday, when there were long lines outside the confessionals in Church. If someone took too long in Confession, you couldn’t help but wonder what they had done.
So things have changed. The requirements of us today really are “an indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.”
The additional requirements, articulated elsewhere in the Catechism, are to follow the rules of the Church in regard to marriage and to participate in the Church’s mission of Evangelization. That last one is pretty broad. Parents fulfill this obligation by teaching the faith to their children; all of us can do this by joyfully living our faith so that others can see living Gospel, the living Christ in us. That is why I always end the Mass by saying “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” We each do this in our own way, but together we make up the Church being the body of Christ doing saving work in our world. It is important for all of us to do our part.