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The Precepts of the Church


Reverence for the Mass  |  Spiritual Counsels  |  Books  |  About CSF

Introduction | Mass Attendance and Holy Days of Obligation | Confession | Receiving Communion | Fasting | Needs of the Church



THE PRECEPTS of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] 2041).



“The first precept (You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor) requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days” (CCC 2042).

Supporting texts from the Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici):

Can. 1246 §1 The Lord’s Day, on which the paschal mystery is celebrated, is by apostolic tradition to be observed in the universal Church as the primary holyday of obligation.

In the same way the following holydays are to be observed:

the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

the Epiphany

the Ascension of Christ

the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

the feast of Mary the Mother of God
her Immaculate Conception
her Assumption

the feast of St. Joseph

the feast of the Apostles SS Peter and Paul

the feast of All Saints.

§2 However, the Episcopal Conference may, with the prior approval of the Apostolic See, suppress certain holydays of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday.


At their plenary assembly in November 1991, with follow-up mail balloting by absentees, the members of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops . . . decided that whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated. . . . the effective date of this decree for all the Latin rite dioceses of the United States of America will be January 1, 1993. . . . (See Holy Days of Obligation from the USCCB.)


Can. 1247 On Sundays and other holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.

Can. 1248 §1 The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a catholic rite either on a holyday itself or on the evening of the previous day.

§2 If it is impossible to assist at a eucharistic celebration, either because no sacred minister is available or for some other grave reason, the faithful are strongly recommended to take part in a liturgy of the Word, if there be such in the parish church or some other sacred place, which is celebrated in accordance with the provisions laid down by the diocesan Bishop; or to spend an appropriate time in prayer, whether personally or as a family or, as occasion presents, in a group of families.


“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” (CCC 2042).

Supporting text from the Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici):

Can. 989 All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year.


“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).

Supporting texts from the Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici):

Can. 920 §1 Once admitted to the blessed Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy communion at least once a year.

Can. 919 §1 Whoever is to receive the blessed Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from all food and drink, with the sole exception of water and medicine.

Can. 917 One who has received the blessed Eucharist may receive it again on the same day only within a eucharistic celebration in which that person participates.

Can. 916 Anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord without previously having been to sacramental confession, unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, which includes the resolve to go to confession as soon as possible.


“The fourth precept (You shall observe the days of fasting [1] and abstinence established by the Church) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (CCC 2043).

Supporting texts from the Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici):

Can. 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

The law of Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs or the products of milk.
The law of Fasting allows for one full meal per day. Other food sufficient to maintain strength may be taken in the morning and evening, but together these “meals” should not equal more than a full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and fruit juice are allowed.[2]



“The fifth precept (You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church) means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability. The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities” (CCC 2043).

Supporting texts from the Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici):

Can. 222 §1 Christ’s faithful have the obligation to provide for the needs of the Church, so that the Church has available to it those things which are necessary for divine worship, for apostolic and charitable work and for the worthy support of its ministers.

§2 They are also obliged to promote social justice and, mindful of the Lord’s precept, to help the poor from their own resources.


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1. Fasting can also be referred to as sacrifice or suffering. Fasting, in its literal sense, means to do without our accustomed food so that in feeling physical hunger we might recognize a spiritual hunger for holiness; suffering, in its literal sense, means to endure pain that we have done nothing to deserve. But the broad sense of sacrifice means that we must give up what we don’t really need, so as to give to others what they do need. In other words, we must give up the psychological defenses that protect us from feeling unloved by the social world so that we can give true love to others. And so we must feel the pain of all the sins of the world, we must bear that pain patiently, and we must offer our suffering as our own daily “fasting” for the sake of all those souls who might turn back to God because of our constant sacrifices for them.
     In this regard, the great Lenten fast should entail more than just giving up chocolate or sweets or coffee. If you are really serious about your faith, your fasting should be a matter of being attentive for opportunities to make sacrifices of kindness for others.

2. See Pope Paul VI, Constitution Pœnitemini, February 17, 1966. Note that in the early Church, fasting was meatless. Today, it is generally allowable to eat meat during a fast. But why would you want to? If you say, “But I’ll die if I can’t eat meat!” then you have missed the point of the whole concept, haven’t you?


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