Having completed the Ten Commandments of God as given primarily in Exodus 20, we now turn to the “precepts” of the Church. However, given our use of the outline from within the book The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, the title of each installment here will refer to the “Commandments of the Church,” which in these articles (and in the accompanying videos) will most commonly be referred to as precepts. Before looking at each of these precepts or commandments, we need to begin with some background on “what” these precepts are and why they are part of our living of the Catholic Faith.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2041 says the precepts are laws of the Church which pertain to moral and liturgical practice and are understood as “the very necessary minimum” to be expected if one is to grow in the love of God and neighbor. The next two paragraphs of the Catechism then give the listing of the five precepts and very brief explanation of each one – these individual explanations will be given in later installments as each of these precepts is individually considered. These precepts themselves are as follows:
You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.
You shall confess you sins at least once a year.
You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
You shall help provide for the needs of the Church.
In introducing these precepts, it is noteworthy that each of them points toward what ought to be lived or carried out. Unlike the Ten Commandments, wherein some commandments are listed as prohibitions, these precepts provide the base line of what ought to be done, opening up the possibility of going beyond this minimum requirement in living the faith. Additionally, you may note some of these precepts seem quite easy to accomplish – which is their intention. The precepts by their very nature are meant to be basic starting points upon which to build ever greater practice and discipline in our individual observance of the faith. Finally, it is important to note that this list of five does not include what used to be considered the sixth of the precepts – regarding the keeping of laws of the Church pertaining to marriage. While some lists still include that one (including the list in The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism), other lists omit it given that such a precept is already understood by the right keeping of the sixth and ninth commandments. In this series, the sixth precept will also be considered in keeping with our outline.
As we go through each of the precepts, realize again the end goal of these columns/videos being aids toward a deeper relationship with God in love. Each precept will therefore be considered from the point of view of responding to God’s love for us and “how” it leads us toward greater love of God and neighbor – onto the eternal communion of heaven. Likewise, each precept will be emphasized again as the minimum requirement – that they may be true starting points for an increase of faith, hope, and love – onto heavenly fulfillment of these virtues.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2041 - 2043 gives the brief definition and the official formulations of the five precepts.