The accompanying photo shows Jesus proclaiming his message of salvation to His disciples. What is it that he might be saying? Of course, there are literally hundreds of possibilities. Today, I’m thinking of this: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat 16:18-19). This statement is the basis of what Catholics believe about papal authority. The “church” is the Catholic Church and Peter was given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and thereby became the first pope. Jesus proclaimed the “bind and loose” statement a second time (Mat 18:18), this time to His other apostles as well as to Peter, thus giving authority to the apostles and their successors, the bishops, as well as the pope. Today we have the Church’s Magisterium, which includes all bishops in union with the pope.
What sort of things has the church subsequently proclaimed that, by this authority, binds the people on earth? Though there are many things that the Church has proclaimed as seriously sinful, such as premarital or extra-marital sex, abortion, artificial contraception, euthanasia, etc., I’m thinking specifically of what has come to be known as the six “Precepts of the Church” by which the Church binds Catholics under pain of mortal sin just as the Ten Commandments binds them. By way of these six precepts, all Catholics are bound to (1) attend Holy Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; (2) receive the Holy Eucharist during the Easter season, (3) if guilty of mortal sin, confess sins to a priest once a year, (4) fast and abstain on appointed days, (5) observe the marriage laws of the Church, and (6) contribute to the support of the Church.
Let’s take the first one as an example. Why would the Church require such weekly Mass attendance and make it seriously sinful if ignored? I’m sure it has as its basis, the third of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath.” What more fitting way is there for keeping the Sabbath (Sunday) holy than to “break bread” by attending Holy Mass and receiving the Eucharist? The Eucharist consists of the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine. Jesus Himself said this: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54). Attending Holy Mass and receiving the Eucharist is thus the ultimate in holy acts. The Church only requires it once a week! How can any Catholic not want to adhere to this simple requirement? On a personal note, in my retirement, I attend Holy Mass and receive the Eucharist daily. It is the highlight of my day and I can’t imagine life without it.
Similar statements could be made about all six of the precepts. The Church has our spiritual well-being in mind always and, despite what you might think or have heard, it is easy. My prayer today, and every day, is for all baptized but lapsed Catholics to choose the narrow gate (Mat 7:13-14), the gate of salvation, and come back to the Church that Jesus founded. On Judgement Day, I have to believe that you will be very glad you did.