What does it mean to be a practising Catholic?
At a wedding or a funeral you might hear the priest say that only ‘practising Catholics’ may come forward to receive Holy Communion, while all others are invited to come forward for a blessing. We also require that candidates for Confirmation should be practising Catholics because a real commitment to the Faith is required. And in Catholic education, there are ‘reserved posts’ for which only a practising Catholic may apply. There is a difference between being a baptised Catholic, or a Catholic in name, and one who actually practices the Faith. So what does it mean to say you are a practising Catholic?
We should certainly be striving to keep the Ten Commandments and we should also accept the teaching of the Catholic Church and be striving to live by it. These teachings come from Christ and are part of Divine Revelation. Then we should do our best to follow the Five Precepts or Commandments of the Church, because these are the bare minimum in the spiritual life (See Catechism of the Catholic Church #2041).
The first precept is to attend Mass on all Sundays (or Saturday Vigil) and on all Holydays of Obligation. This might seem incredibly demanding, but really it isn’t. It works out at just over an hour a week. God commands us to keep the Sabbath holy, and the Church, given authority by Christ, tells us how to do it, which is by attending Mass. This is binding under mortal sin unless you are prevented from doing so for a serious reason, such as you are ill, or you have to look after a sick person, or there is no Mass available to you within a reasonable travelling distance.
The second precept is to go to Confession at least once a year. Note this is the minimum, but if you are only going once a year, you might not be taking your spiritual life very seriously! If you are aware of having committed a mortal sin you should confess as soon as possible. This precept leads onto the next.
The third precept is to receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter season. Priests encourage the faithful to confess at least during Lent, so that they may fulfil this precept and receive Holy Communion at Easter in a ‘state of grace’ (that is with no unrepented mortal sins on your soul). St Paul tells us that he who receives the Body and Blood of Christ unworthily (ie. not in a state of grace) “eateth and drinketh judgement to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:29).
The fourth precept is to observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence. This rule has changed over the years and now the only days of fasting and abstinence are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition we may not eat meat on any Friday unless it is a Solemnity.
The fifth precept is to contribute to the support of our pastors and the material needs of the Church according to your ability. This simply means do what you can to help the Church out within your means. We are not required to give any percentage of income, but a millionaire would have a responsibility to give more than someone who has a family and who has trouble paying their bills.
These precepts are actually very reasonable and are what it means to be a practising Catholic. So we should try to live up to these precepts and even to transcend them. To reject them is to endanger our eternal salvation. Remember these are the bare minimum. JESUS Christ and His Church want to lead you to the heights of holiness. If by God’s grace it has been possible for others, it is possible for you too.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC