Recently, Melania Trump, the First Lady of the United States, was quoted as saying that she is a “practicing Catholic.” Publications state that the White House confirmed her statement. Since I cannot find anything about her going to Mass on Sunday but can find that she and her family went to an Episcopal church on Easter Sunday, I am going to talk about what it means to be a practicing Catholic, rather than discussing the validity of that statement in itself.
The Catholic Church, like all organizations, has a list of basic actions that one must do in order to consider oneself a “practicing Catholic.” The United States of America has laws that, if a person breaks them, he or she will no longer have the same basic rights of all non-criminal Americans. If one violates any of the laws of Islam, one is no longer considered to be Muslim. The Catholic Church is no different. Well, Holy Mother the Church is different, not least in terms of how much Truth She has to Her.
So, here are the seven precepts of the Catholic Church (or seven ways to be a practicing Catholic):
attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor
confess your sins at least once a year
receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season
observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church
help provide for the needs of the Church
observe the Church’s laws on marriage
and assist the Church in the Great Commission
Attending Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation is important because it gives us a set time and place to worship God. It is a way to give back to God, who created us and is our very reason for existing. God is entitled to our worship, and assisting at Mass sanctifies each day in which we assist worthily. Mass is also the most powerful prayer that the Church has.
Confessing our sins at least once a year is a way of remembering that we are not perfect. It is not appropriate to receive the Eucharist unless one has confessed one’s serious sins and done one’s penance. Once a year is an absolute minimum, and it is critical to receive absolution as soon as possible if one is in a state of mortal sin. Confession continues our Baptismal promises by assisting us to live holy lives by continuing our conversion away from sin.
Receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist at least once a year is important because we are receiving the literal body of Christ, the Son of God. No more intimate relationship exists between the divine and the human than this reception. Of course, one should receive the Eucharist as often as each day if one is in a state of grace. The more often we receive Him the more likely we are to remain in a state of grace, resisting sin at each turn.
Observing the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church is important because it is one of the things that Jesus Christ told us to do. Feasting is meaningless if we do not fast. Fasts prepare us for the feast. We cannot truly understand or appreciate the bounty of a feast if we have not mastered our instincts and baser desires. If we never resist meat on Fridays, do we really appreciate being able to eat it on the other days? Many people in 21st century America believe that mastering one’s desires is unhealthy and unnatural. They believe that we are mere animals with opposable thumbs and large frontal lobes. Since the Truths of the Church are written in each heart according to God’s will, we ignore them at our own peril.
Helping provide for the needs of the Church is important because the Church is predominantly run by people who do not have a day job. The salvation of souls is the Church’s day job. The Church has come a long way since the days of St. Paul, who sold tents to earn his daily bread. The Church has an infrastructure that requires time, treasure, and talent in order to maintain. We are to go forth and baptize each nation in his name. To do so takes both the expertise of those who are able to evangelize and the money to be able to travel, build, and otherwise create missions and churches throughout the world. If we do not participate in providing for the needs of the Church, we are allowing the world to go un-evangelized and unbaptized. We will have to answer for this at our final judgment.
Observing the Church’s laws on marriage is important because marriage is an important part of society. It is the building blocks of society, and the breakdown of marriage and the family has led to many societal problems. This catastrophe in our society is self-evident from the advent of so-called no-fault divorce, rampant contraception, liberalism, and now gay weddings and adoptions.
The final precept is to participate in the Church’s mission of Evangelization of Souls. The Great Commission came from Christ himself, so we can never say it is complete or unimportant.
When the modern catechism was rewritten the final two precepts were dropped or folded into the others. Each of these precepts builds on the other, and they cannot really be taken separately. If we are to be fully, authentically Catholic – practicing Catholics – we must stay as close to Holy Mother Church as possible.
It is easy to say that I am Catholic. When I tell someone that I am a practicing Catholic, though, I know what that means; what it requires.