Previously, I had written about the first precept of the Church. The first precept of the Church is actually quite simple to remember: Go to church! Primarily, I addressed the precept of attending mass regularly and precepts in general through the lens of being ‘rules of engagement’ that the Church imposes onto all Catholics. The conclusion we arrived at is that whether these rules take on a legalistic definition or are viewed as efficacious signs of our love for Christ and His Church depends significantly on us. Our relationship with Christ determines what our relationship will be with these rules. I wanted to clarify some imagery, as well, because going back I noticed that I used both the “Church-as-Mother” analogy then went on to employ the “Christ-and-Church-Spousal” analogy and that might have gotten confusing. Quick summary: Christ seeks to sanctify His Church, as a husband does (or should do) for his wife. However, within the Bride (the Church) there exists a unique dynamic that mirrors a mother & child relationship in that certain teachings and ‘rules’ have been established so that the Church might examine her own conscience. Overall, one could say that Christ seeks to make His bride holy but, she must be a willing participant in this journey as well.
Up to this point, we know that going to church isn’t only good but necessary for the spiritual well-being of the Christian. The Church also teaches, as precepts, that one must go to confession as least once per year as well as receive communion [at least] during the Easter season. We’ll tackle these two together because they are so closely related that one wouldn’t really make sense without the other. The Eucharist, I believe, is the source and summit of faith for all of Christianity and that this truth is more of a question as to who recognizes it to be true. Many of you may agree or disagree, but I firmly believe that the entire Christian movement is called to come together around one table; one heavenly banquet. The Catholic Church preaches this longing as well; that our separated brothers and sisters would, one day, no longer be separated. The precepts that deal with confession and receiving Christ in the Eucharist are the most effective way of expressing our desire for unity. What I aim to say is that we cannot call others to join us at the wedding feast if we, ourselves, are not able to partake. I also like to view these two precepts as the ‘bare minimum’ precepts. It is reminiscent of when our mom would tell us to ‘at least clean your room’ or something to that effect.
Confession, as a sacramental practice, is already a source of debate among our Protestant brothers and sisters as it is among some of the faithful within the Church. If I could be blunt for a moment and possibly ‘hit the nail on the head’ I would assert that the greatest single cause for such a debate is pride. We are naturally prideful creatures and humility is something that we work towards. We can be humbled, of course, but to seek out a lifestyle of humility takes endurance and a great deal of grace. We are prideful, plain and simple. One of the most common questions we hear is “Why do I have to go to a priest? Why can’t I go directly to God?” These questions can be so daunting that they drive many of the faithful away from Church altogether for years on end. Private contrition is easy but it doesn’t provoke change. If we are completely honest with ourselves “going directly to God” is a glorified version of sweeping it all under the rug because it lacks any sense of real accountability. What if I told you that ‘going directly to God’ is necessary as a part of our reconciliation but that it wasn’t way in which Christ would have us be forgiven? What if I told you that this truth is written about in the New Testament?
“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:21-23
Through Jesus and the continuing ministry of His apostles, the course of salvation history took on a whole new meaning. Jesus came and established a new covenant so that all people, Gentile and Jew, might be saved. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the realization of the forgiveness of sins as mentioned in John’s gospel. As a rule of engagement, the Church has defined the second precept as the need to confess our sins at least once each liturgical year (the Church’s calendar year). Right disposition and being in a state of grace is necessary to receive our Lord in a worthy manner. The precept of the Church that deals with receiving the Eucharist focuses specifically on the season of Easter. This focus is directly related to the fulfillment of Christ’s sacrifice for the atonement of our sins. The Eucharist is our participation in that very sacrifice. Not to say that Christ is ‘re-crucified’ at each mass; rather, His coming as the new, acceptable sacrifice is something that he charged us with observing until he comes again. Not only that, it is in the Eucharist that Christ remains with us until the end of the age. (cf. Matthew 28:20)
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.
The third precept (“You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist 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. – CCC 2042
These two precepts, as I have made apparent, are ‘bare minimum’ precepts. The Church exists as the vessel of our salvation. We are saved by Christ through His Church that He established. Like a mother who looks out for the wellbeing of her children; it is through confession and faithful reception of the Eucharist that the Church seeks to safeguard our souls against the enemy.