Baltimore Catechism 3

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The Commandments of the Church; The First and Second Commandments


 * Q. 279. Whence has the Catholic Church the right to make laws?
A. The Catholic Church has the right to make laws from Jesus Christ, who said to the apostles, the first bishops of His Church: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven."


 * The power of the Church to bind and to loose is known as "the power of the keys" and includes everything necessary for the government of the Church and for the direction of the faithful in order that they may attain their eternal destiny. The primary purpose of Church laws is the eternal salvation of men.

 * The Church has power from Christ to make laws and to enforce their observance. It is a mortal sin to disobey a law of the Church in a serious matter, a venial sin in a slight matter. The Church has indirect power over those temporal matters which are necessary or useful for the salvation of men.

 * > "Amen I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

 * > "He therefore said to them again, 'Peace be to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you' " (John 20:21).


 * Q. 280. By whom is this right to make laws exercised?
A. This right to make laws is exercised by the bishops, the successors of the apostles, and especially by the Pope, who as the successor of the chief of the apostles, Saint Peter, has the right to make laws for the universal Church.


 * The Roman Pontiff has full, supreme, ordinary (that is, in virtue of his office), and immediate jurisdiction over the universal Church.

 * All the bishops of the Church assembled in a general council in union with the Pope can make laws for the universal Church. A residential bishop or one who is empowered by the Holy See as an Ordinary, whether invested with the episcopal character or not, has immediate jurisdiction over his own diocese or territory.

 * See Scripture, question 137, Matthew 28:18-20; question 14, Matthew 16:17-19.


 * Q. 281. Which are the chief commandments, or laws, of the Church?
A. The chief commandments, or laws, of the Church are these six:


 * 1. To assist at Mass on all Sundays and holydays of obligation.

 * 2. To fast and to abstain on the days appointed.

 * 3. To confess our sins at least once a year.

 * 4. To receive Holy Communion during the Easter time.

 * 5. To contribute to the support of the Church.

 * 6. To observe the laws of the Church concerning marriage.


 * Besides these six commandments there are many other laws regulating the government of the Church and the administration of its affairs. The collection of laws binding the Latin Church is contained in an official book called the Code of Canon Law.


 * Q. 282. What sin does a Catholic commit who through his own fault misses Mass on a Sunday or holyday of obligation?
A. A Catholic who through his own fault misses Mass on a Sunday or holyday of obligation commits a mortal sin. 29


 * The grave obligation to hear Mass on Sunday and holydays of obligation does not bind the following: first, those who must care for the sick; second, those whose illness does not permit them to go outdoors; third, those who live a considerable distance from a church; fourth, those who must give immediate attention to urgent work. A person in doubt about this obligation should consult a priest.

 * See Scripture, question 236.


 * Q. 283. Which are the holydays of obligation in the United States?
A. The holydays of obligation in the United States are these six:


 * 1. Christmas Day (December 25)

 * 2. The Circumcision (January 1)

 * 3. Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter)

 * 4. The Assumption (August 15)

 * 5. All Saints' Day (November 1)

 * 6. The Immaculate Conception (December 8)


 * There are four other holydays of obligation in the universal Church: the Feasts of Epiphany, Corpus Christi, Saint Joseph, and Saints Peter


 * Q. 284. What else does the Church oblige us to do on holydays of obligation?
A. The Church obliges us to abstain from servile work on holydays of obligation, just as on Sundays, as far as we are able.


 * Catholics who must work on holydays are obliged to hear Mass unless excused by a reasonably grave cause.


 * Q. 285. Why were holydays instituted by the Church?
A. Holydays were instituted by the Church to remind us of the mysteries of our religion and of the important events in the lives of Christ and of His Blessed Mother, and to recall to us the virtues and the rewards of the saints.


 * Q. 286. What is a fast day?
A. A fast day is a day on which only one full meal is allowed, but in the morning and evening some food may be taken, the quantity and quality of which are determined by approved local custom.


 * The one full meal may be taken either at noontime or in the evening. At this meal only may meat be taken. To take liquid does not break one's fast, provided it is not equivalent to food. Malted milk or cream, for example, is equivalent to food.


 * Q. 287. Who are obliged to observe the fast days of the Church?
A. All baptized persons between the ages of twenty-one and fifty-nine are obliged to observe the fast days of the Church, unless they are excused or dispensed.


 * The sick and those who do extremely hard labor are excused from fasting. A person who is in doubt regarding the obligation to fast should consult a priest.


 * Q. 288. What is a day of abstinence?
A. A day of abstinence is a day on which we are not allowed the use of meat.


 * Q. 289. Who are obliged to observe the abstinence days of the Church?
A. All baptized persons seven years of age or over who have attained the use of reason are obliged to observe the abstinence days of the Church, unless they are excused or dispensed.


 * The sick who need meat, persons who do extremely hard work, and those who would otherwise be deprived of sufficient food are excused from the law of abstinence.

 * For a just cause, a parish priest can dispense his subjects from the law of fast or of abstinence, or of both, in particular cases. He can dispense individuals or particular families of his parish. He can grant this dispensation to his subjects even when they are outside the limits of his parish, and also to visitors who are, at the time, in his parish. A bishop enjoys the same power with respect to his diocese.

 * Furthermore, the bishop of a diocese, when there is a gathering of many people, or when there is question of public health, can dispense a particular locality, or even the whole diocese, from the law of fast or of abstinence, or of both. The bishop can give faculties to dispense from the law of fast and abstinence to particular priests or to the confessors of the diocese.


 * Q. 290. Why does the Church command us to fast and to abstain?
A. The Church commands us to fast and to abstain in order that we may control the desires of the flesh, raise our minds more freely to God, and make satisfaction for sin.


 * It is not because meat and other foods are evil in themselves that the Church prescribes days of fast and abstinence. The Church commands us to deny ourselves for the glory of God and the good of our souls.

 * > "Prayer is good with fasting and alms: more than to lay up treasures of gold" (Tobias 12:8).

 * > "Now therefore saith the Lord: 'Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting ...' " (Joel 2:12).

 * > "Then Jesus was led into the desert by the Spirit, to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry" (Matthew 4:1 -2).

 * > "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, who disfigure their faces in order to appear to men as fasting. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou dost fast, anoint thy head and wash thy face, so that thou mayest not be seen fasting by men, but by thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who sees in secret, will reward thee" (Matthew 6:16-18).


 * Q. 291. Why does the Church make Friday a day of abstinence?
A. The Church makes Friday a day of abstinence to remind us of Our Lord's death on Good Friday.


 * Q. 292. How can we know the days appointed for fast or abstinence?
A. We can know the days appointed for fast or abstinence from the instructions of our bishops and priests.


 * From the general laws of the Church, we know the following regulations: first, abstinence binds on all Fridays; second, fast and abstinence bind on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays and Saturdays of Lent, the Ember Days, and the vigils of Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception, All Saints and Christmas. The Ember Days are twelve in number, three in each season, namely, the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after December 13; after the first Sunday of Lent; after Pentecost; and after September 14; third, fast binds on all the other days of Lent.

 * There is no obligation of fast or of abstinence on Sundays and holydays of obligation except when the holydays are in the season of Lent.

 * In the United States at present, most dioceses have special rules regarding fast and abstinence.




 * As is customary in every organized society, in the Church the lawful rulers have the authority to make laws for the other members. Christ Himself explicitly gave this power to the first bishops, the apostles, and from them it has been passed down through the centuries to the bishops of the present day. The fullest measure of this authority resides in the Pope, the chief bishop of the entire Church who can make laws for all its members, whereas other bishops can legislate for their respective dioceses only.

 * The laws of the Church are all directed to one great purpose-to bring men to eternal salvation. For more than nineteen centuries the Church has had experience in making laws; in her legislative action she is guided by the Holy Ghost. Indeed, on account of the infallibility of the Church it would be impossible for her to pass any general law that would be harmful to the faith or morals of Christians. Like a good mother, the Church is not too severe in her laws. She knows the inclinations of human nature and human frailty; she is ready to dispense from her laws when there is good reason for a dispensation. Moreover, the Church is always ready to adapt her legislation to local conditions and to the customs of different nations.

 * What are known as the six commandments of the Church are in reality certain laws selected from the body of the Church's legislative enactments, stating the more urgent duties of the practical Catholic. The two commandments considered in this lesson concern the two important virtues of religion and temperance. In order that her children may practice religion, the Church prescribes that they assist at the sacrifice of the Mass, the most sublime act of Christianship, at least on every Sunday and on certain great feasts. In order that they may practice temperance the Church prescribes fast and abstinence at certain times -some days being days of both fast and abstinence, others imposing only one of these forms of self-denial.

 * These laws, like all the laws of the Church, are reasonable and easy to observe. The first of these two commandments calls for only one hour of our time every Sunday and on six other days in the course of the year.

 * This is a grave precept, so that one who misses Mass, or a considerable portion of it, on a Sunday or holyday by his own fault is guilty of a mortal sin. If a person failed to come before the Offertory but was present from the Offertory to the end of the Mass, he would substantially fulfill his obligation but he would be guilty of a venial sin, in the supposition that the omission was culpable. But a person would not substantially satisfy his obligation if he were present only from the beginning of the Offertory through the Communion. It is permitted to fulfill the obligation by hearing successively portions of two Masses which together constitute an entire Mass, as long as one is present at both the Consecration and the Communion of one of the Masses.

 * In former centuries there were many more holydays of obligation than at present. In fact, even today Catholics in the United States are dispensed from the observance of four of the ten holydays that are prescribed for the universal Church. Similarly, our present-day laws regarding fast and abstinence are much easier than those of the early Church, when the precept of fasting forbade a person to touch food until late in the afternoon. Even at the present day among the Catholics of the Oriental rites the laws of fasting are much stricter than those binding Latin Catholics. And the Church is quite lenient in granting dispensations when there is a good reason. Thus, in the United States the laws of fast and abstinence have been considerably mitigated. For example, besides the points mentioned in the lesson, the soldiers and sailors of our country are dispensed from fast and abstinence on all days except Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Christmas, and all of Holy Saturday, and if the soldier or sailor lives with his family, all the members share in this privilege.

 * Generally speaking, the laws of the Church begin to bind only when a Catholic has passed his seventh birthday and has attained the use of reason. This rule holds in regard to the law of abstinence and of attendance at Mass on Sundays and holydays. However the law of fasting binds only those who have passed their twenty-first birthday and have not yet passed their fifty-ninth birthday. On the other hand, a child who has attained the use of reason but is not yet seven years old is obliged to obey the law of annual Holy Communion.

 * The two commandments we have considered in this lesson are a good test of a Catholic's loyalty to his religion. Catholics who observe them faithfully are usually practical Catholics, while those who habitually neglect Mass and the laws of fast and abstinence-particularly the Friday abstinence are Catholics only in name and are in grave danger of losing their souls.




 * Resolve never to miss Mass on a Sunday or a holyday of obligation, and never to eat meat on a Friday without a very grave reason.

 * Complete Exercises For Lesson 21





 * (Select the word or phrase in the parentheses which most exactly and most completely fills out the sentence).


 * The Church has received the power to make laws from the (apostles ... St. Peter

 * The primary purpose of the Church's laws is (to procure the eternal salvation of souls ... to increase the power of the Church ... to test the virtue of Catholics).

 * The collection of laws binding the Latin Church is called (the digest of law ... the Code of Canon Law ... the summary of ecclesiastical law).

 * There are (six ... ten ... twelve) holydays of obligation according to the general law of the Church.

 * There are (eight ... ten ... twelve) Ember Days in the course of the year.

 * On Sundays of Lent (there is neither fast nor abstinence ... there is an obligation to abstain but not to fast ... there is an obligation to fast but not to abstain).

 * On a fast day a person who is obliged to fast (may not eat meat at all ... may eat meat at all meals ... may eat meat at the principal meal only).

 * A Friday in Lent is (a day of fast and abstinence ... a day of abstinence only ... a day of fast only).

 * For a just reason a parish priest can dispense his subjects from (the laws of fast and abstinence ... from the law of fast only ... from the law of abstinence only).

 * The Pope can make laws for the entire Church (only with the consent of the bishops ... only with the consent of the cardinals ... by his own authority without asking the consent of anyone else).



 * (Answer the questions orally or write them as your teacher may direct):


 * Whose authority does the Church exercise when she makes laws for us? Is disobedience to Church laws always a serious sin? Explain.

 * Near the church, before the children's Mass on Sunday, and Linus are playing marbles. Knowing that the Mass has started, they continue to play. When they enter the church, the priest is reading the Epistle. Are they guilty of sin? Explain your reply.

 * Clare and her sister Assunta are awakened promptly by their mother on Sunday morning. Carelessly, they delay their rising, are tardy in dressing, and idle on their way to the church. When they arrive the priest has already finished the Gospel, made the announcements, and is nearing the end of his sermon. Of what kind of sin are these girls guilty? Why? If they remain for the next Mass and supply the part they have missed will they be guilty of the sin of missing a part of the Mass?

 * Norbert and his sister Monica are anxious to go on an automobile trip with their uncle Otto. Carelessly, they enter the church late for Mass, the priest having just finished the "Credo." When the priest drains the chalice of the Precious Blood, Norbert nudges Monica and says: "C'mon, let's go; we've heard the three principal parts of Mass!" What do you say of their conduct? Explain your answer.

 * Sheila, a precocious child of 5 1/2 has been admitted to her First Holy Communion. Her big sister Pauline wants to know if Sheila is obliged to go to Mass next Sunday. What is your opinion?

 * Herbert and Oliver, High School boys, buy a second-hand car for $25.00. All day Thursday they are busy cleaning it. On Friday, a holyday of obligation, after they hear Mass, they continue the work of overhauling the car, and have the job finished by 8:00 o'clock that night. What comment have you to make about their observance of the holyday?

 * Xavier and his sister Harriet are on a motor tour of the Rockies. On Friday, August 15th, they hear Mass at Our Lady of the Snows. In a nearby roadway lunchroom they ask for a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast; the proprietor prevails on them to breakfast on some New England sausages. What do you think about the propriety of their breakfast that Friday morning? Why do you think so?

 * What general commandment of Christ is obeyed through the faithful observance of Church laws governing fast and abstinence?

 * Imogene, "fat and forty," is taking treatments at a gymnasium for reduction of weight. In Lent she continues the treatments, but two or three times a week she takes a double portion of ice cream and a piece of cake. Her breakfast, dinner and supper satisfy the requirements of the Church and of the gymnasium director. Is she observing the Lenten fast? Explain your reply.

 * Jim and Jack are going for a fishing trip on Sunday, and they want to start about 6 o'clock in the morning. The first Mass in the parish church is at 6:30; if they attend Mass, they will not be able to start until about 7 o'clock. Jim says that they will commit a mortal sin if they miss Mass, but Jack says that they have a sufficient reason to be excused. Which of the two do you think is right?

 * Mrs. Aylward's baby daughter is very sick. On Sunday morning her older daughter, ten years old, offers to take care of the baby while her mother goes to Mass. Should Mrs. Aylward trust the baby to the little girl's care and go to Mass, or should she stay away from Mass to take care of the sick baby?

 * On Christmas Eve Eunice, a healthy college student, 22 years old, who has eaten a big dinner at noon, goes to a party in the evening, and there consumes a large number of turkey sandwiches with several glasses of malted milk. Which laws of the Church has Eunice violated?


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