THE CATECHISM OF ST. PIUS X – The Precepts of the Church

The Precepts of the Church in General

1 Q: Besides the Commandments of God what else must we observe?

A: Besides the Commandments of God we must also observe the Precepts of the Church.

2 Q: Are we obliged to obey the Church?

A: Undoubtedly we are obliged to obey the Church, because Jesus Christ Himself commands us to do so, and because the Precepts of the Church help us to observe the Commandments of God.

3 Q: When does the obligation to observe the Precepts of the Church begin to bind?

A: As a rule the obligation to observe the Precepts of the Church begins to bind us as soon as we come to the age of reason.

4 Q: Is it a sin to transgress a Precept of the Church?

A: Knowingly to transgress a Precept of the Church in grave matter is a mortal sin.

5 Q: Who can dispense from a Precept of the Church?

A: Only the Pope, or one who has received from him the power to do so, can dispense from a Precept of the Church.

6 Q: Name the Precepts of the Church.

A: The Precepts of the Church are:

1. To hear Mass on all Sundays and on Holy days of obligation.
2. To fast during Lent, on Ember Days and appointed Vigils, and not to eat meat on forbidden days. 3. To confess our sins at least once a year, and to receive Holy Communion at Easter each one in his own parish.
4. To contribute to the support of the Church, according to local custom.
5. Not to solemnize marriage at forbidden times, that is, from the first Sunday in Advent until the Epiphany, and from the first day of Lent until Low Sunday.

  • NOTE: Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church [1992] expresses the current form of the precepts of the Church:

    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.<Cf. CIC, cann. 1246-1248; CCEO, can. 881 # 1, # 2, # 4>

    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.<Cf. CIC, can. 989; CCEO, can. 719>

    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.<Cf. CIC, can. 920; CCEO, cann. 708; 881 # 3>

    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.<Cf. CIC, can. 1246; CCEO, cann. 881 # 1, # 4; 880 # 3>

    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.<Cf. CIC, cann. 1249-1251; CCEO, can. 882>

    The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities.<Cf. CIC, can. 222>

The First Precept of the Church

7 Q: What does the First Precept of the Church: To hear Mass on all Sundays and on Holy days of obligation, order us to do?

A: The First Precept of the Church: To hear Mass on all Sundays and on Holy days of obligations, orders us to assist devoutly at Mass on all Sundays and on Holy days of obligation.

8 Q: At which Mass does the Church desire us to assist on Sundays and on Holy days of obligation?

A: The Mass at which the Church desires us to assist, if possible, on Sundays and Holy days of obligation is the Parochial Mass.

9 Q: Why does the Church recommend the faithful to assist at the Parochial Mass?

A: The Church recommends the faithful to assist at the Parochial Mass: (1) In order that all the parishioners of the same parish may unite in prayer together with their Pastor, who is their head; (2) In order that the parishioners may participate more abundantly in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is applied principally for them; (3) In order that they may hear the truths of the Gospel, which Pastors are bound to explain during Mass; (4) In order that they may learn the regulations and notices which are published at that Mass.

10 Q: What is meant by the Lord’s Day?

A: The Lord’s Day means the day of the Lord, that is, the day specially consecrated to divine service.

11 Q: Why in the First Precept of the Church is special mention made of the Lord’s day?

A: In the First Precept of the Church special mention is made of the Lord’s Day, because it is the principal Christian festival, as the Sabbath was the principal Jewish festival, and because it was instituted by God Himself.

12 Q: What other festivals have been instituted by the Church?

A: The Church has instituted Feasts of our Lord, of the Blessed Virgin, of the Angels and of the Saints.

13 Q: Why did the Church institute other Festivals of our Lord?

A: The Church instituted other Festivals of our Lord in memory of His divine Mysteries.

14 Q: And why have Festivals of the Blessed Virgin and of the Saints been instituted?

A: Festivals of the Blessed Virgin and of the Saints have been instituted: (1) In memory of the graces which God has given them, and to thank His divine goodness; (2) In order that we may honor them, imitate their example, and be aided by their prayers.

The Second Precept of the Church

15 Q: What is commanded by the Second Precept of the Church in the words, To fast on the days prescribed?

A: By the words, To fast on the days prescribed, the Second Precept of the Church commands us to observe the fast: (1) During Lent; (2) On certain days of Advent, where this is prescribed; (3) On Ember Days; (4) And on certain Vigils.

16 Q: In what does fasting consist?

A: Fasting consists in taking but one meal a day and in abstaining from prohibited kinds of food.

17 Q: On fast days may a collation be taken in the evening?

A: Through the concession of the Church, a collation may be taken in the evening on fast days.

18 Q: What is the good of fasting?

A: Fasting serves to dispose us better to prayer; to do penance for past sins; and to preserve us from sinning again.

19 Q: Who are bound to fast?

A: Every Christian over twenty-one years of age who is not dispensed, or excused for some good reason, is bound to fast.

20 Q: Are those who are not bound to fast, exempt from all mortification?

A: Those who are not bound by the obligation of fasting are not exempt from all mortification, because all are bound to do penance.

21 Q: For what purpose has Lent been instituted?

A: Lent has been instituted to imitate in some way the rigorous fast of forty days undergone by Jesus Christ in the desert, and to prepare us by penitential exercises to celebrate the feast of Easter devoutly.

22 Q: Why has the Advent fast been instituted?

A: The Advent fast has been instituted to prepare us to celebrate devoutly the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity.

23 Q: Why has the fast of Ember Days been instituted?

A: The fast of Ember Days has been instituted: (1) To consecrate each of the Four Seasons of the year by some days’ penance; (2) To beg of God the preservation of the fruits of the earth; (3) To thank Him for those already given us; (4) And to beseech Him to give good priests to His Church, the usual days for ordaining priests being the Ember Saturdays.

24 Q: Why has fasting on Vigils been instituted?

A: Fasting on Vigils has been instituted to prepare us to celebrate the principal Feasts devoutly.

25 Q: What is forbidden on Fridays, and also on Saturdays where not dispensed?

A: On Fridays, and also on Saturdays where not dispensed, it is forbidden to eat meat, except in case of necessity.

26 Q: Why does the Church wish us to abstain from eating meat on these days?

A: In order that we may do penance each week, and especially on Friday, in honor of the Passion, and on Saturdays in memory of the burial of Jesus Christ, and in honor of the Blessed Virgin.

  • NOTE: The current Code of Canon Law [1983] states: “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the universal Church. Abstinence from eating meat . . . is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and [Good] Friday. All adults who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year.”

    In the United States, “Catholics are obliged to abstain from the eating of meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during the season of Lent. They are also obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. Self-imposed observances of fasting on all weekdays of Lent is strongly recommended. Abstinence from flesh meat on all Fridays of the year is especially recommended to individuals and to the Catholic community as a whole.”

The Third Precept of the Church

27 Q: What does the Church command us in the words of the Third Precept: To go to Confession at least once a year?

A: By the words of the Third Precept: To go to Confession a least once a year, the Church obliges all Christians, who have come to the use of reason, to approach the sacrament of Penance at least once a year.

28 Q: What is the best time to satisfy the precept of annual Confession?

A: The best time to satisfy the precept of annual Confession is Lent, in accordance with the usage introduced and approved by the whole Church.

29 Q: Why does the Church say that we are to confess at least once a year?

A: The Church uses the words at least to let us see her desire that we should approach the sacraments more frequently.

30 Q: Is it useful, then, to go often to Confession?

A: It is most useful to go often to Confession, especially as it is difficult for one who goes only rarely to make a good Confession and to avoid mortal sin.

31 Q: What does the Church command us to do by the other words of the Third Precept: To receive Holy Communion at Easter, each one in his own parish?

A: By the words of the Third Precept: To receive Holy Communion at Easter, each one in his own parish, the Church obliges all Christians who have come to the age of discretion to receive the Blessed Eucharist every year at Paschal time in their own parish.

32 Q: Are we bound to go to Holy Communion at other times besides Easter?

A: We are also bound to go to Holy Communion when in danger of death.

33 Q: Why is it said that we are to receive Holy Communion at least at Easter?

A: Because the Church earnestly desires us to approach Holy Communion which is the divine food of our souls, not only at Easter, but as often as we possibly can.

34 Q: Is this Precept fulfilled by a sacrilegious Confession or a sacrilegious Communion?

A: This Precept of the Church is not fulfilled by sacrilegious Confession and Communion, because the intention of the Church is that we receive those Sacraments for the end on account of which they were instituted, that is, for our sanctification.

The Fourth Precept of the Church

35 Q: How are we to observe the Fourth Precept: To contribute to due support of the Church?

A: The Fourth Precept is satisfied by paying the dues or making the offerings which have been established in recognition of God’s supreme dominion over all things and as a means of providing for the becoming support of His ministers.

36 Q: How are these dues and offerings to be paid?

A: They are to be paid in the way and manner customary in the place in which we live.

The Fifth Precept of the Church

37 Q: What does the Church forbid in the Fifth Precept: Not to solemnize marriage at forbidden times?

A: In the Fifth Precept the Church does not forbid the celebration of the sacrament of marriage; but only the nuptial solemnities, from the first Sunday of Advent until the Epiphany, and from the first day of Lent until Low Sunday.

38 Q: What are the nuptial solemnities which are forbidden?

A: The nuptial solemnities forbidden by this Precept are the celebration of the nuptial Mass, the nuptial benediction, and marriage festivities on a large scale.

39 Q: Why are marriage festivities on a large scale out of place in Advent and Lent?

A: Pompous displays are out of place in Advent and Lent because these seasons are specially consecrated to penance and prayer.

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