From a priest…
I am trying to clarify whether or not the precepts of the church bind under mortal sin? According to the catechism of St. Pius X they do, however the current CCC gives no clear indication.
I have read it a dozen commentaries on the issue and some say they do, others say they don’t. This question is specifically in regards to “confessing our sins once per year.” Does a person need to confess even venial sin once a year under pain of mortal sin?
The Precepts involve grave matter. Neglecting them can be a matter of mortal sin, under the usual conditions (that is, you have to know that neglecting confession is wrong, etc.). Of course the Precepts reflect the low bar for our conduct as Catholics, not a high bar.
The Precepts or Commandments, which are for the most part also reflected in the Church’s Canon Law, are strong guidelines which point a Catholic to a bare minimum of conduct of Catholic life. They are not comprehensive. They are the “At Least Do These Things” List. They also concern outward, concrete actions and not interior thoughts or attitudes. You either go to Mass for your Sunday obligation when possible or you don’t. You receive the Eucharist once a year or you don’t. Etc.
These days, however, there is a bit of confusion over the Precepts or Commandments of the Church. Lists differ.
First, the Commandments or Precepts can change. The Church determines what they are. They are not doctrinal, though they are rooted in doctrine. They concern discipline, our outward conduct.
The online article in the Catholic encyclopedia has a fascinating review of the history of the Commandments and show how their number changed according to time and place. HERE I can’t improve on the last part of that article. Perpend:
The Church in her supreme authority has defined nothing regarding the form and number of the Commandments of the Church. The Council of Trent while recommending in a general way in its twenty-fifth session the observance of these precepts says nothing regarding them as a particular body of laws. Neither is any specific mention made of them in the “Catechismus ad parochos” published by order of the council and known as the “Catechism of the Council of Trent” or “Roman Catechism”. We have seen that St. Antoninus of Florence enumerates ten such commandments while Martin Aspilcueta mentions only five. This last number is that given by St. Peter Canisius. According to this author the precepts of the Church are: To observe the feast days appointed by the Church; to hear Mass reverently on these feast days; to observe the fasts on the days during the seasons appointed; to confess to one’s pastor annually; to receive Holy Communion at least once a year and that around the feast of Easter. Owing undoubtedly to the influence of Canisius, the catechisms generally used at present throughout Germany and Austria-Hungary have adopted the above enumeration. The fourth precept has, however, been amended so as to allow of confession being made to any duly authorized priest.
In Spanish America the number of church precepts is also five; this being the number as we have seen, set down by Aspilcueta in the sixteenth century. Here, however, the First and Second commandment in the table of Canisius are combined into one, and the precept to pay tithes appears. It is to be noted, also, that the precept of annual confession is more specific; it enjoins that this confession be made in Lent, or before, if there be danger of death. (Synod of Mexico, 1585, Lib. I, tit. i, in Hardouin, Conc., X, 1596.) French and Italian catechists reckon six precepts of the church, the enumeration given by Bellarmine. According to this writer the Commandments of the Church are: To hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days; to fast during Lent, on prescribed vigils, and the ember-days; to abstain from meat on Fridays and Saturdays; to go to confession once a year; to receive Holy Communion at Easter; to pay tithes; and finally not to solemnize marriage during the prohibited times.
The French catechisms, following that of Bossuet, omit the last two precepts, but retain the same number as that given by Bellarmine. This they do by making two Commandments cover the obligations to observe Sunday and the Holy Days, and two also regarding the obligations of fast and abstinence. It will be readily observed that the omission by French writers of the Commandment to pay tithes was owing to local conditions. In a “Catechism of Christian Doctrine” approved by Cardinal Vaughan and the bishops of England, six Commandments of the Church are enumerated. These are:
- to keep the Sundays and Holy Days of obligation holy, by hearing Mass and resting from servile work;
- to keep the days of fasting and abstinence appointed by the Church;
- to go to confession at least once a year;
- to receive the Blessed Sacrament at least once a year and that at Easter or thereabouts;
- to contribute to the support of our pastors;
- not to marry within a certain degree of kindred nor to solemnize marriage at the forbidden times.
This list is the same as that which the Fathers of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore (1886) prescribed for the United States.
That said… the Catechism of the Catholic Church has this:
II. The Precepts of the Church
2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. [NB] The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor: [If you knowingly and willingly break these precepts, you commit a mortal sin.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities.
Note that the Precept about marriage is not listed. Issues concerning marriage are spelled out in Canon Law (Cf. can. 1091).
To your question, I say, and the Church seems to say, that if you don’t make a sacramental confession of mortal at least once a year, you are – objectively, at least – sinning either by omission (because you are being generally negligent about your soul) or – if you consciously refuse to go – you are sinning by commission (because you know and will the neglect for your soul). Culpability for the sinful omission or commission might vary.
So, I say yes. More than likely if a Catholic doesn’t confess her sins at least once a year (which also means she probably can’t receive Communion once a year), she commits an additional sin. She is neglecting her immortal soul and needlessly endangering her salvation. She might also be committing a sin of scandal, by giving a bad example to her family and friends.
We all have an obligation to see to, to tend our immortal souls.
Some people are so far gone for one reason or another that they never think about their eternal fate. Others are in a pattern of neglect that could eventually lead to total heedlessness.
Back in the day, I think that most Catholics, even lazy ones, knew that they ought to go to confession. These days, after decades of horrid, negligent, bizarre or empty “catechism” and vapid, feckless, incompetent preaching in pulpits and teaching in classrooms… who knows?
The Precepts are a simple list of the bare minimum that are easy to communicate and remember.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you victims of the feckless, and feckless perps are warbling, “Francis says you are a legalistic sour-puss! You cling to laws? We are an Easter people now! You obviously hate…”.
This time I respond, “SHUT THE HELL UP! Souls are risk!”
Obey Holy Church! She is the greatest expert on humanity that ever was. Laws, divine or ecclesiastical, are not given to spoil what otherwise might be a good time. They are given, from love, to help us to avoid pitfalls on the way salvation. They tell us, “Don’t hurt yourself!”
Dear readers… disregard the Precepts at your peril! Hell is real and you can go there.
GO TO CONFESSION!