Monday, February 28, 2011

The Precepts of the Catholic Church

What are the precepts of the Church?

The precepts of the Church are the minimum requirements for living an authentic Catholic life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists five precepts (cf. nos. 2041-2043). I would like to comment on each one.

1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, and rest from servile labor.

One day a week: it’s the least we could do for a God who has given us so much. By “servile labor,” the Church means any “work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body” (Code of Canon Law, no. 1247). In other words, try to mow the lawn, clean the dishes, do the laundry, finish your homework, etc. on Friday or Saturday, instead of on Sunday.

2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.

Mortal sins must be forgiven through the sacrament of Confession, and this must be done before one can receive the Eucharist. Of course, we are encouraged to confess our venial sins as well, and to go to Confession much more regularly than once a year. Pastors and spiritual directors usually advise going to Confession at least once a month, but you can go more often if necessary.

3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.

There’s no better time to receive the Eucharist then during the season in which we commemorate Jesus’ offering of himself to the Father (and to us) for our salvation. Of course, we are encouraged to receive the Eucharist any time that we are properly disposed to receive it -- meaning, we have no mortal sin on our soul, we have observed the one-hour fast before Communion, and we believe that what we are receiving is truly Christ.

4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church

All Fridays of the year are days of penance. However, only on Fridays in Lent are Catholics, aged 14 and older, bound to abstain from meat. On all other Fridays, Catholics in the U.S. are permitted to substitute abstinence with some other act of penance or charity. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, moreover, Catholics aged 18 to 59 inclusive, are bound to fast, which means, at the least, having one full meal during that day and two smaller meals, with no snacking between.

5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

This is important so that the Church has available to it “those things which are necessary for divine worship, for apostolic and charitable work and for the worthy support of its ministers” (Code of Canon Law, no. 222).

Pax Christi,

Monday, February 07, 2011

Kneeling and the Eucharistic Prayer

Sometimes, when I go to certain Catholic churches, no one kneels during the Eucharistic Prayer. When that happens, should I kneel or just remain standing like everyone else?

First, I should say that only the bishop can speak authoritatively on this matter. I can only share my personal thoughts as a student of the liturgy and the Church.

That said, it might help to define what the “Eucharistc Prayer” is. Basically, this is the period of the Mass when the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of our Lord. This is when the Sacrifice of Christ, together with our own sacrifices, is offered to the Father for the salvation of souls. It begins after the gifts are taken up to the altar and the priest prays over them. It ends after the “Great Amen”, when we stand to pray the “Our Father.”

There is a reason why we are called to kneel during this time. As the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (or “GIRM”) tells us, the Eucharistic Prayer is “the center and summit of the entire celebration” (no. 78). This is when a great miracle takes place. It is in the midst of the Eucharistic Prayer that Jesus Christ Himself becomes substantially present among us, waiting to abide within us. It stands to reason that we should give this moment our greatest act of reverence and worship, which is kneeling.

That we should kneel, instead of sitting or standing, to show this reverence and worship is not so much dictated by our culture as it is by Sacred Scripture and Tradition. In the Old Testament, we see that, at the dedication of the Temple, Solomon knelt "in the presence of all the assembly of Israel" (2 Chron 6:13). Ezra fell upon his knees during the evening sacrifice (cf. Ezra 9:5). The Acts of the Apostles tells us how Peter (9:40), Paul (20:36), and the whole Christian community (21:5) prayed on their knees. Jesus himself knelt down to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Lk 22:41). As you can see, it is not above anyone to kneel.

Now, the GIRM does say that one is excused from kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer if “prevented on occasion by reasons of health, lack of space, the large number of people present, or some other good reason” (no. 43). But, I’ve never been to a church or chapel in Owensboro where I wasn’t able to kneel. Yes, it may be a little uncomfortable if there are no kneelers, and it can be a little embarrassing if you are the only one kneeling. But, as long as you are physically able to kneel, you should.

The Son emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (cf. Phil 2:7-8). The least we can do is kneel in worship of him (and praise Him if it requires a sacrifice on our part), so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:10).

Pax Christi,
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