As you may recall, last year we spent time focusing on the third section of the Catechism which addresses our moral life in Christ. We considered the Commandments, the Beatitudes, virtues, etc. But there is a topic that I do not recall our addressing: the Precepts of the Church. Let us right away address two questions: what do we mean by the Precepts of the Church, and what are the precepts themselves?
Let’s give the definition for the Precepts of the Church according to the Catechism:
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 very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor. (CCC 2041)
Now for the list of the Precepts of the Church:
- Attendance at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation
- Confession of serious sin at least once a year
- Reception of Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter season
- Observance of the days of fast and abstinence
- Providing for the needs of the Church
For the purposes of this article, I want to focus on the first Precept of the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. In particular, how do we apply this Precept in light of what the Church celebrates on Monday (August 15) – the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary? The Church in certain areas (including ours) has decided that certain Holy Days of Obligation, when they fall on a Saturday or Monday, would have the obligation dispensed, meaning you do not have to go to Mass.
End of story, right? Not so fast! Let me draw your attention to an important word in the definition I gave above, that these precepts are “the very necessary minimum” for our lives as disciples. Is that what we should be looking for in the practice of our faith? The necessary minimum? I hope the answer for us is no. But how we react to the fact that we do not have to go to Mass on Monday likely does say something about where we stand on whether the minimum is good enough for us. Is it that much of a burden for us to go to Mass two days in a row? If our answer is yes, I am afraid the evidence points to our leaning toward the minimalist approach. If that stings your conscience a little, pay attention to that.
At this point you might be thinking: “Father Alford is trying to guilt me into coming to Mass on Monday.” You are free to make assumptions (no pun intended) about my motives, but my true intention is to invite you to consider where you at in your journey with the Lord. The Solemnity of the Assumption just happens to be a convenient way of broaching the topic in an interesting way. With the Precepts of the Church, the Church expects certain minimums from us, but when we truly love something or someone, why talk about minimums?