Q. What do you mean by the commands of the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. The commands of the Church, in general, signify all those laws, rules, and regulations, which the pastors of the Church have made for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry and for the edification of the body of Christ; but what is meant in particular by the commands or precepts of the Church, are six general laws, which are of more eminent note in the Church, both on account of their antiquity, having been observed, as to their substance, from the very first ages, and on account also of their universality, as obliging every member of the Church, without exception, whom they concern.
Q. Are the people obliged, in conscience, to obey the laws of the Church?
A. We have seen this obligation at large in the chapter on the Church, (which see,) and hence it is the constant doctrine of the church, that all her children are obliged in conscience to obey her commands; that it is always a sin wilfully to transgress them, and a mortal sin if it be done in a matter of moment, or out of contempt. And the council of Trent, one of the greatest and most respectable general councils that have been in the Church, condemns, and pronounces anathema upon all those who shall teach the contrary. This obligation will appear still more fully if we consider the light in which the sacred scripture considers these commands.
Q. In what light does the scripture consider the commands of the pastors of the Church?
A. It considers them as the commands of God himself, more than as the commands of men. For,
First, Christ declares to the pastors of the Church, "He that hears you hears me;" consequently they are the ministers of Christ by whom he discovers his will to his people.
Second, When the apostles and other pastors, in the council of Jerusalem, gave orders to abstain from "blood, and things strangled," they began their decree in this manner: "It has seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things," Acts xv. 28; where they plainly affirm that this command of abstinence was a command of the Holy Ghost, though published by this decree of the pastors of the church.
Third, St. Paul also, writing to Thessalonians concerning the commands he had laid upon them, says, "You known what precepts I have given you by the Lord Jesus," and a little after he adds, "Therefore, he that despises these things, despiseth not man, but God, who also hath given his holy Spirit in us," 1 Thess. iv. 2, 8; alluding to what our Saviour said, "He that despiseth you, despiseth me."
Fourth, Our Saviour also declares to the pastors of the church, in the persons of his apostles, "whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven," Matth. xviii. 18; consequently, when the pastors of the church make laws to the Christian people, and bind them, by their commands, to do what they judge necessary for "the edification of the body of Christ the people are bound in heaven to obey these commands as being ratified and confirmed by God himself.
Fifth, When we consider the six principal commands of the church in particular, we shall see that the duties prescribed by them, are duties which God himself expressly demands from us, and that all the part the Church has in them, is only to determine the particular time, place, or manner, in which we ought to practice them, lest, if left to ourselves, we should neglect them entirely.
Q. What is the first command of the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. To hear Mass on Sundays and Holy days, and to rest from servile work.
Q. What is the end and design of this command?
A. To direct us in the manner in which we ought to employ the time set apart for the service of God.
Q. Does God himself require that we should set apart some of our time to be wholly dedicated to his service?
A. He does and has expressly commanded one day in seven to be allotted for that purpose. Under the old law, he also ordained six great solemnities to be kept holy throughout the year, in memory of the great temporal favors he has bestowed upon his people, and in the twenty-eight and twenty-ninth chapters of the book of Numbers; all which he commanded to be kept with the same strictness as the Sabbath itself, and two of them lasted for eight days together.
Q. Are these holydays of God's appointment under the old law binding upon Christians under the gospel?Return to Table of Contents
A. By no means; they were instituted in memory of the particular temporal benefits bestowed on the people of Israel, and were binding on them alone; and, like the rest of the exterior of their religion, which was all a figure of the good things to come under the gospel, they were figures of the Christian holydays that were to be ordained by the Church of Christ, in memory of the spiritual benefits bestowed by him on Christians, and therefore were fulfilled and done away when the Christian religion was established.
Q. By whom are the Christian holydays appointed?
A. By the Church of Christ; which, also, by the authority and power given her by her Divine Spouse, ordained the Sunday, or the first day of the week, to be kept holy, instead of Saturday, or the seventh day, which was ordered by God to be kept holy among the Jews.
Q. For what end does the church appoint holydays?
A. For the same ends for which the seventh day, and the holydays of the old law were instituted by God himself, whose example in this she follows. These ends are,
First, To dedicate a portion of our time to the service of God alone, to whom the whole belongs.
Second, To have leisure from our worldly affairs to apply ourselves more earnestly to the concerns of our souls. God takes to himself the glory of having these days dedicated to his service, as is most due; but he gives all the profit to us.
Third, To keep up the continual remembrance of the great spiritual benefits we have received from God in the different mysteries of our redemption, and to adore and thank God for them; as we would be very apt to forget them entirely, were it not for the return of these holy solemnities.
Fourth, To honor God in his holy saints, and to be encouraged by their example, and helped by their prayers, to live a life of virtue and piety.
Fifth, That those who have little or no leisure on other days, on account of the duties of their state of life, to be instructed in their religion, may have time, on these holydays, for so necessary an employment.
Q. In what manner does the Church command these holydays to be kept?Return to Table of Contents
A. In the same manner as the Sundays; by abstaining from all unnecessary servile works, and employing such a portion of the day in the exercises of piety and devotion, that we may be truly said to keep the day holy, and particularly to assist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Q. Why are the holydays commanded to be kept the same way as Sundays?
A. Because First, The intention of instituting both Sundays and holydays is the same.
Second, God commanded the holydays of the old law to be kept in the same way as the Sabbath; and, as these were only figures of the Sunday and holydays of the new law, if this was done in the figure, where only temporal benefits were commemorated, much more ought it to be done in the substance, which regards the great spiritual benefits of our redemption.
Q. Why is hearing Mass only; and no other particulars exercise of piety, commanded on Sundays and holydays?
A. We are commanded, both by the law of God and the law of his Church, to keep these days holy; but, as all the various exercises of piety are not always fit for every one; therefore it is left to each one's own devotion, to spend these days in such exercises as may be the best for himself. yet, as the assisting at the holy sacrifice of Mass is the duty of all, especially upon these days; therefore, the Church obliges all her children, by an express command, to do so. Not as if this alone were enough to keep the day holy, but that this must be done by all as an essential duty of the day; other pious exercises being left to each's one's devotion.
Q. Would it be a mortal sin to work upon holydays?
A. It would, except necessity, or the small quantity of the work done, excused from the guilt of a grievous sin; because it would be a transgression of the laws of the Church of Christ, whom he commands us to obey, under pain of being condemned as heathens and publicans. It would also be a profanation of those sacred days, set apart for the service of the Almighty, by doing what is expressly forbidden to be done upon them.
Q. Would it be a mortal sin to omit hearing Mass on a Sunday or a holyday?
A. Most certainly, unless we were hindered by a just necessity; for it would be a transgression of the law, a disobedience to the highest spiritual authority upon earth, and a depriving God of that homage which we are commanded to give him on these sacred days.
Q. What is the proper idea of this first precept of the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. It is this, that Almighty God absolutely requires in general some certain portions of our time to be set apart for his service, and the concerns of our souls: that he has himself appointed one day in seven to be allotted for that purpose, and has left power to his Church to determine others as circumstances may require; and that the Church, in virtue of this power, having appointed several holydays, we ought to consider them as determinations of the general law of God himself, of giving a portion of our time to him.
Q. But is it not a great loss to the people to lose their work on those days?
A. In answer to this let us consider,
First, It is not an infinitely greater loss of their souls, to lose the grace and favor of God, by robbing him of that portion of their time which he demands from them, and by bringing upon themselves the guilt of mortal sin?
Second, How many days and hours do they throw away in idleness and sinful occupations, without any regret? Is it not a shame for Christians to throw away their time, with pleasure, when serving the devil, and ruining their souls; and only then to regret it when spent in the service of God, and the concerns of salvation?
Third, Has not God a thousand ways to make up that loss, by giving a blessing to their affairs, and making things proceed prosperously with them? And is it not a criminal distrust to his providence, to imagine he would let us be hurt in our affairs, by our attention to his service; especially when he has often promised, in his holy scriptures, to bless our temporal affairs, if we be careful to sanctify the days set apart for his service; and has expressly said, "Seek y first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added to you," Matth. vi.
Fourth, Has he not often threatened, in the holy scripture, to punish us in our temporal affairs, if we profane his holy days? Has he not numberless ways to put these threats in execution, unknown to us? And will not this be an infinitely greater loss than that of a day's work?
Q. What is the second command of the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. To fast during the time of Lent, on Ember days and Vigils, and to abstain from flesh on Fridays and other days.
Q. What is the end and design of this command?
A. It is to direct us in the times and manner in which we are to perform the duty of fasting, which God, by a general command, lays upon all.
Q. What is meant by fasting?Return to Table of Contents
A. The not taking our usual food, either as to the quality or quantity of it. The not taking our usual food as to the quality, or the abstaining from certain kinds of food, is properly called abstinence; the diminishing the usual quantity of our food, is properly called fasting; though fasting, in general, always includes both.
Q. Is it agreeable to the spirit of religion, and to the word of God, that we sometimes abstain from certain kinds of food, for some good end?
A. Nothing can be more so; for,
First, The very first command that God laid on man, and the only command he laid upon them in the state of innocence, was a command of abstinence, forbidding our first parents to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the garden of Paradise.
Second, When noah came out of the ark, God gave him leave to eat animal food; but expressly commanded him to abstain "from flesh with blood," Gen. ix.4
Third, When God brought his people out of Egypt, he laid a most strict command upon them, of abstaining from leavened bread, during the seven days of the solemnity of the passover. He even forbade them to have it in their houses under pain of death. See Exod. xii. 15.
Fourth, He commanded his priests, under pain of death, to abstain from wine and all strong drink, when they went to serve in the tabernacle, Lev. x. 9.
Fifth, He laid a strict command on all his people, to observe a perpetual abstinence from several of the most delicate kinds of animal food; and ordered them to look upon all these forbidden creatures as unclean, and an abomination, declaring that the eating of them would defile their souls, and render them unclean; "Do not defile your souls," says he, after showing what they should abstain from, "nor touch aught thereof; for I am the Lord your God; be holy, because I am holy," Levit. xi. 43.
Sixth, He commanded them, under pain of death, to abstain from eating the blood of any animal. Levit. vii. 26.
Seventh, The Nazarites were commanded to abstain from wine and every thing that belongs to or comes from the grape, during all the time of their sanctification, Numb. vi. 2, 3. And the mother of Sampson was ordered to abstain from wine, and all intoxicating liquors, during the time she was with child of him; because he was to be a Nazarite from his mother's womb, Judg. xiii. 7. From all which it is manifest, that abstinence from particular foods, especially such as are most agreeable to flesh and blood, and more nourishing to the body, whether continually or for a time, is most agreeable to religion, and to the word of God; and that when done, in obedience to proper authority, and for a good end, it contributes to sanctify the soul, and unite us with God.
Q. Did the people of God, in the old law, observe exactly this command of abstinence?Return to Table of Contents
A. To the shame and confusion of Christians now-a-days, who are so negligent in this duty, the servants of God, in the old law, observed it with such exactness, that they chose rather to die, upon occasion, than to break it. Thus Eleazar, a venerable old man, when a heathen king wanted him to eat forbidden meat, and "he pressed to open his mouth to eat swine's flesh, he, choosing rather a glorious death than a hateful life, went forward, of his own accord, to the torment - and when he was ready to die with the stripes, he groaned, and said, O Lord, who hast the holy knowledge, thou knowest manifestly, that, whereas, I might be delivered from death, I suffer grievous pains in body; but in soul I am well content to suffer these things, because I fear thee," 2 Macch. vi. 18, 30. After him seven brothers with their mother, suffered most cruel torments, and cheerfully went to death for the same cause, the mother herself exhorting them to constancy, as is related in the following chapter. In like manner, Daniel and his companions, in their captivity chose rather to live upon pottage and water, that "be defiled with the king's table, and with the wine which he drank," Dan. i. 8. 12. contrary to the abstinence which their religion required from them.
And the same holy prophet, when he wanted to obtain understanding from God, had recourse to voluntary abstinence from things not forbidden by the law, but pleasing to flesh and blood, as a most powerful means to get his petition granted. "In those days," says he, "I Daniel, mourned the days of three weeks; I ate no pleasant bread, and neither flesh nor wine entered my mouth; neither was I anointed with oitment till the days of three weeks were accomplished," Dan. x. 2. And this voluntary abstinence was so agreeable to God, that at the end of three weeks, an angel was sent from heaven to tell him as he desired to know, who said to him, "From the first day that thou didst set thy heart to understand, to afflict thyself in the sight of thy God, thy words have been heard, and I am come for thy words," ver. 12. Could any thing more evidently show the great advantage of abstinence, and how agreeable it is in the sight of God?
Q. Is there any authority for practicing abstinence in the New Testament?Return to Table of Contents
A. There is the strongest authority for it, from the apostles themselves; for they being met in council at Jerusalem, gave out an express command to the new converted Gentiles, "to abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled," Acts xv. 29. And declared at the same time that this command was dictated by the Holy Ghost.
Q. But does not St. Paul say, that it is the doctrine of devils to forbid to marry, and to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving?" 1 Tim. iv. 3.
A. Certainly St. Paul cannot mean that the apostles taught the doctrine of devils, when the commanded to "abstain from blood and things strangled," Acts xv. 29. But what St. Paul condemns is the doctrine of those heretics, who taught that flesh and wine were evil in themselves, because not created by the true God, but by an evil principle; and, therefore, in confutation of these heretics, he adds, that "every creature of God is good, and nothing to be rejected that is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God, and by prayer," 1 Tim. iv. 4. These heretics were the Manicheans foretold here by the apostle, and who, when they afterwards appeared, were loudly condemned by the Church, for this their impious doctrine; but it is evident this doctrine has nothing to do with abstaining from some of the good creatures of God, which are more pleasing to our corrupt natures, than from the motive of obedience, or of self- denial and mortification, at particular penitential times.
Q. What then does St. Paul mean when he says, "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, eat, asking no question for conscience sake," 1 Cor. x. 24.
A. He is here speaking of those who, from a scruple of conscience, were afraid of eating meat that had been offered to idols. Against this he argues strongly in the eight chapter; and resuming it here, he concludes, that whatever is publicly sold in the shambles, they should buy and eat, without asking any questions or troubling their minds whether it had been offered to idols or not. But it is manifest, that this has nothing to do with abstaining from particular meats, at a time, for a good end.
Q. Is there any command of God obliging us to fast?
A. There is a general command obliging all to the practice of fasting; but without prescribing the particular time or manner of doing it.
Q. How does this command appear from the scripture?
A. In several ways;
First, God expressly requires fasting, as a condition with which our repentance ought to be accompanied, in order to please him. "Be converted to me," says he, "with your whole heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning," Joel ii. 12.
Second, Our Savior assures us, that after his ascension, his followers should fast: "The days will come," said he, "when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then they shall fast," Matth. ix. 15.
Third, He also gives us rules about intention with which we ought to fast, and promises a reward for doing it. "When thou fastest," says He, "anoint thy head and wash thy face, that thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret, and they Father who seeth in secret will repay thee," Matth. vi. 17.
Fourth, St. Paul requires fasting, among other virtues, as necessary to make us true servants of God; and exhorts us to do it, "Let us in all things," says He, "exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience - in labors, in watchings, in fastings," 2 Cor. vi. 4.
Q. Do we find that the servants of God practised fasting?
A. Through the whole history of religion, we find that all the servants of God have been most assiduous in the practice of this holy virtue. The forty days' fast of moses and Elias, are well known to all. The royal prophet assures us, that "his knees were weak with fasting, and that he mingled ashes with his bread, and tears with his drink." Daniel prayed to God "in fasting, sackcloth and ashes," Dan. ix. 3. Judith was remarkable for her constant fasting. Anna the prophetess is commended in the gospel, because she, "served God night and day in fasting and prayer," Luke ii. 37. St. Paul tells us, that his life was spent "in hunger and thirst, and often fasting," 2 Cor. xi. 27. The apostles "ministered to the Lord, and fasted," Acts xiii. 2. And "when they had ordained priests in every church, they prayed with fasting," Acts xiv. 22. All which shows, that they considered fasting as a necessary duty, which God required from his servants. To this practice we are also encouraged by the example of Christ our Lord, who fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert, without tasting bread, or drinking water.
Q. Is fasting of any benefit to those who practise it?Return to Table of Contents
A. Many and great are the advantages of fasting;
First, It obtains pardon of sins, as we see in the Israelites, 1 Kings vii. 7. And in the Ninivites, Jonas iii. And God requires it of sinners, in order to find mercy: "Be converted to me in your whole heart in fasting," Joel ii.
Second, It causes our prayers to be heard, as we have seen above in Daniel, chapters ix. and x. Judith assured her people of this truth; "Know," says she, "that the Lord will hear your prayer, if you persevere in your fasting and prayer before the Lord," Judith iv. 11. And the angel Raphael declared to Tobias, that "prayer is good when joined with fasting."
Third, It obtains great strength against the temptations of the devil; some of which, as Christ himself assures us, "cannot be cast out but by prayer and fasting;" and St. Peter requests us "to be sober and watch," as the best preservative against his infernal assaults."
Fourth, It also obtains many temporary blessings; thus king "Jehosaphat being exceedingly afraid," at the multitude of his enemies, "Betook himself to pray to the Lord, and proclaimed a fast to all Juda," 2 Chron. xx. And on this account, gained a most miraculous victory. Esdras, being much afraid on his journey, says, "Wherefore, we fasted and prayed to the Lord, and it happened prosperously to us," Esdr. iii. 23. Nehemias going to intercede with the king for his people, says, "I wept and lamented many days, and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven," 2 Esdr. i. 4. 11.; and he found mercy with the king, and got all he desired. Esther, by her fasting, obtained the preservation of her people, and so of many others.
Q. Why did not Almighty God determine himself the time and manner of fasting?
A. Because the circumstances of times, and places, and people's constitutions, are so various and changeable, that no particular rules could be laid down to agree to all; and therefore, it was necessary that the times and manner of fasting should be left to be determined according to these circumstances, and to be altered as circumstances might require.
Q. To whom has God given power to determine this?
A. To the apostles and their successors, the pastors of the Church, to whom, as we have seen above, he has given the full power and authority of making laws and regulations for the Christian people, the perfecting the saints, "for the work of the ministry, and the edification of the body of Christ," Eph. iv.
Q. Why was it not left to each one in particular to fast as he pleased?
A. Alas! the backwardness and the aversion which too many have to the practice of this duty, and the too general neglect of it, even when we are obliged by the command of the Church to perform it, too clearly proves, that if it were left wholly to ourselves, we should soon give it up entirely; and therefore, it was highly necessary that a living authority should be appointed, with power to enforce the exercise of so useful and necessary a duty, and prevent its being neglected.
Q. What is the part that the Church acts in her commandments of fasting?
A. It is to ordain the particular times and the manner, in which we are to obey the law of fasting, which God himself lays upon all in general. So that, properly speaking, the obligation of fasting is laid upon us by God himself, and the times and manner of doing it are prescribed by the Church according to circumstances.
Q. Are the people then obliged to fast, when and in what manner the Church commands?Return to Table of Contents
A. Most undoubtedly; they are obliged to it, under pain of mortal sin; because as God has not specified the times and manner of fasting but left this to be done by His Church, to whom He has given power and authority for this purpose, if we transgress her orders, we resist the ordinance of God; of which the scripture says, "He that resists, purchases to himself damnation," Rom. xiii. We despise the voice of Jesus Christ speaking to us by the pastors of His Church; "For he that despises you," says he, "despises me, and he that despises me, despises him that sent me;" and, for refusing to heart His Church, we will be classed by Him with heathens and publicans.
Q. What is the rule prescribed by the Church for fasting?
A. The practice of the Church has been different, in this respect, in different ages, according to the circumstances; and even in the same age it is not exactly the same in all places, especially with regard to the point of abstinence. in the primitive ages, the general rule of abstinence on fasting days was to abstain from flesh, and all white meats that come from flesh, and abstain from wine; and the general rule for the quantity was, to take only one meal in four and twenty hours, and not to take it till the evening. Thus St. Basil, in his First Homily on Fasting, says, "You eat no flesh, you abstain from wine, and you wait till the evening before you take your food." But in process of time, the fervor of Christians becoming cold, this ancient rule of fasting was much relaxed, insomuch, that, at present, the general rule of abstinence is,
First, On all fasting days out of Lent, and all Fridays and Ember days throughout the year, to abstain from flesh and broths, and other things made of the same; and,
Second, During Lent, to abstain from flesh, and ny thing made of flesh, and also from all white-meats, as they come from flesh, such as eggs, milk, butter, cheese, &c. And the general rule for the quantity is, 1. To take, but one full meal in the day, 2, To take it about mid-day, and not before, 3, A small collation is allowed at night, as a moderate support to the weakness of nature till next day at noon.
Q. Does this general rule of fasting take place every where throughout the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. In general it does; though there are some exceptions in particular places, especially in those countries where people having little or nothing else to eat with their bread but white-meats, these are more or less permitted in Lent.
Q. Does this great indulgence of the Church make her children more fervent in observing this easy rule, of fasting, which she lays upon them by her present discipline?
A. The rule of fasting which the Church prescribes at present, is easy when compared to the ancient practice; and this ought to excite her members to comply, with great exactness, with what is required of them. No doubt, there are great numbers every where who observe it with the greatest attention; but it must be admitted that worldly opinions with regard to the obligation of fasting and the consequent practices which prevail are the cause why the spirit, and practice of fasting are more and more disappearing away from amongst us. So many complaints are daily heard of the difficulty and hardship of it; and so many inconveniences found in observing it; such weakness of faith as to the spiritual benefits and advantages of it; such unchristian ideas of the greatness of the obligation of complying with it; and, in consequence of these dispositions, such liberties are every where taken in violating this duty, both as to the quantity and quality does give the utmost concern to every serious Christian, and calls upon all, who have any zeal for the glory of God, and especially on those whose duty it is to conduct others in the road to salvation, to contribute all they can by their prayers and example, to stop the growing evil; lest, if, that powerful means of appeasing the wrath of God be banished from amongst us, his offended justice should fall upon us with redoubled vengeance. What would have been the fate of the people of Nineveh, if fasting had not interposed to preserve them?
Q. Why do not the pastors of the Church exert the authority Christ has given them to remedy this evil?
A. The learned and pious Head of the Church, Pope Benedict XIV. was very sensible of this evil, and of the fatal consequences of it; and in order to put a stop to its progress, he issued two different decrees, addressed to all the bishops of the Church, containing several salutary regulations, which, with all the weight of his authority, as supreme Had of the church, and Vicar of Jesus Christ, he enjoined to be observed by all her children throughout the whole world. And, in his introduction, he showed the high esteem all the faithful ought to have for this sacred duty, and he lamented the unhappy dispositions of Christians with regard to it in the following manner:
"We make no doubt, venerable brethren, but that it is well known to all those who profess the Catholic religion, that the fast of Lent has always been looked upon as one principal point of orthodox discipline throughout the Christian world. This fast was of old prefigured in the law and in the prophets, and consecrated by the example of our Lord Jesus Christ; it was delivered to us by the Apostles, every where ordained by the sacred canons, and retained and observed by the whole Church from her very beginning. As we are daily offending God by sin, in this common penance we find a remedy; and, by partaking of the cross of Christ, we perform, by this means, some part of what Christ did for us; and, at the same time, both souls and bodies being purified by his holy fast, we are more worthily prepared for celebrating the most sacred mysteries of our redemption, the passion and resurrection of our Lord. This is, as it were, the ensign of our spiritual welfare, by which we are distinguished from the enemies of the cross of Christ, and by which we avert from ourselves the scourges of the Divine vengeance, and are daily strengthened with the assistance of heaven against all the powers of darkness. Hence, if this sacred fast should come to be despised, it will certainly prove a detriment to the glory of God, and a disgrace to the Catholic Religion, and expose the souls of the faithful to great danger: Nor can we doubt, but that this is one great cause of the calamities and miseries that oppress both states and particular persons. But alas; how different, how opposite is the prevailing practice of many at present, to the ancient respect and reverential observance of this holy time, and of other fasting days, which was so deeply imprinted in the hearts of all Christians from the very beginning."
Q. What are the regulations which this learned Pope prescribed?
A. He observes, that one great cause of the present relaxation of this ancient discipline, is the too importunate demands of many people to be dispensed with in the rule of fasting, or their imprudently taking dispensations in their own hands and the too great easiness of their pastors in granting them, and therefore, to put a stop to this he declares:
First, That it is unlawful, and a sin, for any person, audaciously to usurp the power of dispensing with himself in these laws of the Church.Return to Table of Contents
Second, That none ought to importune their pastors to grant such dispensation, and endeavor, as it were, to extort it from them.
Third, That no dispensation ought to be given without real and just cause.
Fourth, That when a dispensation is granted to eat flesh on fasting days, it is absolutely forbidden to eat fish at the same time.
Fifth, That a dispensation to eat flesh on fasting day, does not free the person from the strict obligation of eating but one meal:
Sixth, He enjoins all pastors, and burdens their conscience with it, as they must account to their great judge, to use all proper caution and discretion in granting these dispensations.
Q. What rule is to be followed in taking the collation at night?
A. When the time of taking one meal on fasting days was changed from the evening to about mid-day, the custom of taking a small collation was then introduced, chiefly for two reasons;
First, because it was found too hard upon many constitutions to want food from mid-day to mid-day; and,
Secondly, because many could not get their night's sleep without some little food upon their stomach; and the collation was intended merely as a support to this weakness of human nature. Hence, as it is an infringement on the ancient rule of fasting, for a particular reason, it plainly follows, that it ought to be such, both as to the quantity and quality, as is merely necessary for answering the end proposed.
At first, it consisted only of a little bread and drink; but as the heart of man is always prone to gratify and indulge the cravings of the sensual appetite, by degrees greater liberties were taken, and became customary. However, to put a stop to further relaxation, the Pope Benedict XVI. and his successor, Clement XIII, being severally applied to for this purpose, both declared, that, even, when a dispensation was granted for eating flesh or white-meats at dinner, on any fasting days, this was by no means to be extended to the collation at night. Conformable, the, to this regulation, it follows, that, in thos countries where milk, and things that come from ilk, are used on fasting days, by the common law of the place, and eggs, only as a privilege, or by a dispensation though the former may be used also as a collation, yet eggs certain cannot. As for the quantity to be used at collation, that must depend a great deal upon circumstances, though the general voice of theologians agree that it ought not exceed about eight ounces.
Q. But what if any person, from his particular constitution of body could not sleep with so small a quantity?
A. There is a very easy remedy for that: let him take his collation about mid-day, and his full meal at night.
Q. Who are exempt from the obligation of fasting?Return to Table of Contents
A. Both Almighty God and his Church, inlaying upon us the obligation of fasting intend by it to promote the real good of our souls, but by no means to destroy or even to impair the health of our body, or to hinder us from the lawful, and much less the virtuous employments of our state of life. on this account all those are exempted from the law of fasting, as to the quantity, whose state of health, or weakness of age, or the necessary duties of their state of life, render fasting improper for them, such as young people under the age of twenty-one; because, till about that age nature requires full sustenance for the growth of the body; also decrepit old people, who are able to take but little at a time, but require it frequently; woman with child, and those that give suck because they have to support and nourish their child as well as themselves; people whose state of life subjects them to hard labor of body, which requires full nourishment to support them under it.
But though these are exempted from the obligation of fasting, as to the quantity, yet they are still obliged to observe the rules of abstinence, unless some other particular reason require the contrary, as is often the case with people in sickness, where not only the quantity, but also the quality of the food, must be dispensed with, as their condition, according to the opinion of physicians, may require it. On the other hand, where a person, on account of his health, is dispensed from the rule of abstinence, yet he is till obliged to observe the rule of fasting, as to the quantity, unless some other dispensation is given, it is sometimes enjoined, and always supposed that they make up for this permission by other works of piety, such as more frequent prayer, and works of mercy towards their fellow creatures in distress.
Q. Is the injury to health always a just excuse from fasting?
A. Where it is real, it is certainly a most just excuse, as is commonly the case with those who are actually sick; but, where the fear of hurting the health is alleged as a motive to be dispensed from this duty, it is much to be suspected that it is often a mere pretext, without reality, and that such fears are much greater than the danger. For there is daily experience of people, who were far some time afraid of hurting their health from abstinence, and on that account always seeking dispensation, but who, upon a fair trial, have found their health much bettered by it; and, in the strictest orders of religious people, it is found, that the members are generally the most healthy, and the longest livers; so true it is, as the word of God declares, that "by surfeiting many have perished, but he that is temperate shall prolong life," Eccls. xxxvii. 34.; and, from this experience, many wise men of the world have even advised people to have one fasting day every week merely on account of preserving their health. It is true, that, at the beginning of Lent, the change of diet, and the diminishing the usual quantity of food, may occasion a little uneasiness for a few days; but experience shows this soon goes off, and no further hurt is felt from it. People therefore would do well to be very certain of the reality of this motive before they give way to it, lest what appears a just cause to them may prove a very insufficient one before God, and bring upon them the guilt, besides depriving their souls of all the benefits of his holy exercise.
Q. Is the fear of being ridiculed or laughed at by others, a sufficient excuse for eating forbidden meat on days of fasting or abstinence?
A. The scripture says "There is a shame that bringeth sin, and there is a shame that bringeth glory and grace," Ecclus. iv. 25. When a person is ashamed to do an evil action contrary to his duty, and therefore abstains from doing it, that is "a shame which brings glory and grace;" but when a man is ashamed of doing his duty for fear of being laughed at and ridiculed by others, and therefore acts contrary to his duty, that is "as shame which bringeth sin," and therefore can never be an excuse. Of this last shame our Savior says, "Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this sinful and adulterous generation, the Son of Man shall be ashamed of him when he shall come in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels," Mark viii. 38. Now, there is no part of the words of Christ, that is of his doctrine, which he more inculcates, than obedience to his Church; and therefore, to be ashamed of obeying her, for fear of the laughter of men, is a crime for which Christ will be ashamed of u s at the last day. Besides, experience itself shows that, when a person transgresses this command of the Church, by eating flesh on forbidden days, for fear of being laughed at, and in weak compliance with those of another religion, it, for the most part, exposes him the more to their laughter and contempt; for they look upon him as a person of no conscience, who acts contrary to his profession and principles; whereas, when one stands firm to his duty on such occasions, though they may joke with him for a little on that account, yet in their heart, and when they speak seriously, they esteem and regard him the more.
Q. But what answer should be given to those who say, in the words of our Savior, "It is not that which goeth into the mouth that defiles a man," and that flesh is as good upon all days prescribed as on any other day, and is as much the creature of God>
A. Ask those who say this, If eating the forbidden fruit defiled our first parents? or if the Jews would have been defiled, if they had eaten leavened bread on forbidden days? Ask them, what Almighty God means, when, after forbidding his people to eat several kinds of creatures, he concludes, "Do not defile your soul, nor touch aught thereof?" Levit. xi. 43. Ask them If the first Christians would have been defiled, if they had eaten blood, or things strangled, after the prohibition of the apostles? Ask, if all these forbidden meats were not as good in themselves as any others, and as much the creatures of God? But those who make this objection, only show their own great ignorance; for the sin of eating flesh on forbidden days does not consist in supposing any evil to be in the meal itself at those times more than any other, but in disobedience to the command of God and his Church, and in preferring our own unbridled appetite, or the fear of the world, and what men will say, to the will of the most high God, and to the obedience which we owe to his commands.
Q. What is the third command of the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. To confess our sins, at least once a year, to our own pastor.
Q. What is the fourth command of the Church?
A. To receive Holy Communion, at least once a year, and that at Easter.
Q. What is the end and design of these two commands?
A. To direct us as to the time when we are obliged to obey the general command, given by our Lord himself, of approaching the sacraments of confession and communion.
Q. Has Jesus Christ given a general command for all to approach the sacrament of confession?
A. He has: As he has instituted the Sacrament of confession, the ordinary means by which our sins are to be forgiven, and be restored to the favor of God, it follows of course, that he obliges all to receive this sacrament, otherwise their sins will not be forgiven. And, though it be true, that, when a person cannot possibly get an occasion of receiving it, a perfect contrition, or repentance for sin, arising from a perfect love of God, and accompanied with an earnest desire of receiving the Sacrament itself, is sufficient to cancel the guilt of sin, without actually receiving the Sacrament; yet this perfect contrition is so difficult to be had, and so seldom to be met with, and one is so apt to be deceived who thinks he has it, that the command of approaching the Sacrament obliges all, without exception, whether one thinks he has a perfect contrition or not; the receiving it, when it can be had, being a condition expressly required, without which there is no forgiveness.
Q. Has Jesus Christ given a general command for all to receive the Holy Communion?Return to Table of Contents
A. He has: For he expressly says in the gospel, "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood,you shall not have life in you," Jo. vi. 54.; consequently, all those who are come to the years of discretion, and capable of discerning what they here receive, are commanded to receive these divine mysteries, under pain of eternal death, if they neglect it.
Q. How often are we obliged to obey these divine commands of receiving he Sacraments of confession and communion?
A. This our Lord has not determined himself, because different circumstances make it necessary to follow a different practice; and therefore, no general rule could be laid down to answer all times. But his is left to be done by his Church, which could vary her rules for practice s the circumstances might require. Accordingly, we find, that in the primitive ages, the rule was to receive the holy communion every day; afterwards it came to be every Sunday; in process of time, as the fervor of charity began to wax cold, it became more seldom; and at last, the church, in the general council of Lateran, made a decree, by which she obliges all her children, who are capable of it, to receive these holy Sacraments of confession and communion at least once in the year, and that the communion be about Easter time, in memory of the great Paschal solemnity. So that, by the third and fourth commands, the Church only fixed the particular time at which the general command laid upon us by Jesus Christ, obliges us to its observance.
Q. Would it be a grievous sin to neglect our Easter duties?Return to Table of Contents
A. Most certainly it would be a grievous mortal sin to omit them through negligence, and without a just cause; because it would be a breach of the general command laid on us all by Jesus Christ, and also of the command of his Church, which obliges us to put that general command of Jesus Christ in execution about Easter time.
Q. What if a person be not properly prepared to go about these duties at Easter time?
A. It is always in his power, with the help of God's grace, and the assistance of his pastor, to prepare himself for them; and, therefore the same command that obliges him to perform them, obliges him also to prepare himself for them; so that his neglecting to prepare himself is itself a sin and a continuing in a state of sin.
Q. But what if a person endeavors to prepare himself, but cannot get it properly done in time?
A. He must then follow the advise of his pastor, who has power to defer his communion till he be properly prepared.
Q. What is the fifth command of the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. To pay Tithes to our Pastors.
Q. What is the end and design of this command?
A. It is to direct the Christian people in discharging the obligation they lie under of supplying the temporal necessities of their pastors, who dedicate their whole time and labor to the spiritual good of their souls.
Q. From what does this obligation arise?
A. Both from the law of nature, and from the positive law of God, both in the Old and New Testament.
Q. How does it arise from the law of nature?
A. This will easily appear from considering what a pastor of souls is; for a pastor of souls is one chosen by a special vocation of the Divine Providence, and ordained for men in the things that "appertain to God, that he may offer up gifts as sacrifices for sins," Heb. v. 1. that is, he is one whose business is to attend to the immediate service of God, and to the care of the souls of the people committed to his charge. The duties of his vocation are many and weighty. He is obliged to offer up daily prayers and frequent sacrifices for both these ends; to instruct the ignorant; to preach the gospel; the assist the sick and dying; to comfort the afflicted, to administer the sacraments, and to be ready at all times, both by night and by day, to answer the calls of his flock, when their spiritual need require his assistance. That he may have nothing to take up his mind or time from these essential duties, he is prohibited, and binds himself by oath, from entering to the married state, lest the cares and solicitude that attend it should binder him from the necessary duties which he owes to God and his people.
He is strictly forbidden to follow any worldly business, trade or employment; for "no man," says St. Paul, "being a soldier of God, entangleth himself with secular businesses, that he may please him to whom he hath engaged himself," 2 Tim. ii. 4.; because, were he to engage in any of these, he neither could attend to the service of God, as his office requires, nor to the necessary care of the souls of his people. When, therefore, a person, following the vocation of God, engages in this sacred state, and out of a zealous charity for the salvation of souls, dedicates himself entirely to the spiritual service of his people, How is he to live? How is he to be maintained? He is not an angel: He is composed, like other men, of a frail corruptible body, which must be supported. He cannot apply to any way of making a livelihood for himself, his whole time and employment being taken up with the duties he owes to God and his flock.
If therefore plainly follows, from the very light of nature itself, that those who receive the spiritual fruits of his labors for the good of their souls are obliged, in justice, to supply the temporal necessities of his body. And indeed, if the civil magistrates and soldiers are entitled, in justice, to be supported by the people, because they are employed in promoting their temporal good, even though they may have other means of providing for themselves, how much more justly are the pastors of their souls entitled to the like support from the people, who labor for their eternal good - and are deprived of every other means of providing a livelihood, that they may attend with the greater diligence to that great end of their calling? Hence St. Paul makes use of this very argument, and says, "Who serveth as a soldier at any time, at his own charges? who planteth a vineyard, and eateth not the fruit thereof? who feedeth a flock, and eateth not of the milk of the flock?" 1 Cor. ix. 7.Return to Table of Contents
Q. How does this obligation appear from the command of God in the old law?
A. It is laid down there in the strongest terms; for no sooner did Almighty God institute a religion among his chosen people, than he spoke to Moses, saying, "Take the Levites out of the midst of the children of Israel, and thou shalt purify them." Then, after describing the rite of their purification, he says, "And Aaron shall offer the Levites as a gift in the sight of the Lord, from the children of Israel, that they may serve in his ministry - and thou shalt separate them from the midst of the children of israel, to be mine - to serve me for Israel in the tabernacle of the covenant, and to pray for them," Numb. viii. 6, 11, 14, 19. here we see the whole tribe of Levi chosen, by a special vocation of God himself, for his immediate service, and to be the priests and pastors of the people. Being thus dedicated to Almighty God, he would not allow them to have any portion, possession, or inheritance in the land with the other tribes; for "the Lord said to Aaron, you shall possess nothing in their land, neither shall you have a portion among them. I am thy portion and inheritance in the midst of the children of Israel, Numb. xviii. 10.
How then did he provide for their maintenance? He made a law that the tenth part of everything belonging to the people, should be consecrated and devoted to God. He it was that gave them all that they possessed, and he required that they should give back a tenth part of the whole, as a tribute to him. "All tithes of the land," says he, "whether of corn, or of the fruits of trees, are the Lord's - of all the tithes of oxen, or of sheep, or of goats, that pass under the shepherd's rod, every tenth that cometh shall be sanctified to the Lord," Levit. xxvii. 30, 32. The first fruits also of all their substance he reserved for himself: "Thou shall give me," says he, "the first born of thy oxen and sheep," Exod. xxii. 30.; and "thou shalt carry the first fruits of the corn of thy ground into the house of the Lord thy God," Exod. xxiii. 19.; and he was so strict in demanding this tribute from them, that he forbade them to taste these things themselves, until they had offered their first fruits to god: "You shall not eat either bread, or parched corn, or frumenty of the harvest, until the day that you shall offer thereof unto your God. It is a precept forever throughout your generations, and all your dwellings," Levit. xxiii. 14. This was the portion which God reserved for himself; and all this he ordered to be given to his priests and Levites, who were his portion, from among the people, as a support and maintenance to them for their service. "And the Lord said to Aaron, Behold I have given thee the charge of my first fruits: All things that are sanctified by the children of Israel, I have delivered to thee, and to thy sons, for the priestly office, by everlasting ordinances - and I have given too the sons of Levi all the tithes of Israel in possession, for the ministry wherewith they serve me in the tabernacle of the covenant," Numb. xviii, 8, 21. And he was so jealous of this right, which he had reserved for himself, of these things, that he declares their neglect in complying with this duty, to be an afflicting of God himself, and which he would punish, by sending the curse of poverty upon them; and, on the contrary, protests to them, that, if they be exact in giving him what thus belonged to him, he would bless them with plenty of all good things, even to abundance. "Shall a man afflict God?" says he, "for you afflict me. And you have aid, wherein do we afflict thee. In tithes, and in first fruits: and you are cursed with want. And you afflict me, even the whole nation of you. Bring all the tithes into the store-house, that there may be meat in my house; and try me in this, said the Lord, if I open not to you the flood gates of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, even to abundance," Malach. iii. 8.Return to Table of Contents
Q. How does this obligation appear from the gospel?Return to Table of Contents
A. We have seen above, that St. Paul makes us of the argument drawn from the law of nature, to enforce this duty. But he does not stop there; he goes on, in the same chapter, to show, that it is an express command of God, and a law of Jesus Christ, under the gospel, that the pastors of his church should be maintained in their bodily necessities by their flock. "know yet not," says he, "that they who work in the holy place, eat the things of the holy places, and they that serve the altar, partake with the altar? So also hath the Lord ordained, that they who preach the gospel, should live by the gospel," 1 Cor. ix. 13.
Here we see the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of his apostles, declares, that this duty is ordained by Jesus Christ; and, in fact, we find it expressly ordained by him, when he sent the apostles to preach the gospel to the Jews: "Go," says he, "behold I send you as lambs among wolves; carry neither purse nor script, nor shoes - into whatever house you enter - in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they have; for the labourer is worthy of his hire," Luke x. 3, 5, 7. In which words, he commands this duty, and lays down the natural reason of justice on which it is established. Hence St. Paul repeats the same obligation on different occasions. Thus, "if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, they ought also, in carnal things, to minister unto them," Rom. xv. 27.; and "Let him that is instructed in the word, communicate to him that instructeth him in all good things," Gal. vi. 6. Also, "Let the priests that rule well, be esteemed worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine; for the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn, and the labourer is worthy of his hire," 1 Tim. v. 17.
This scripture also cites for the same purpose to the Corinthians and applies it thus, "Does God care for the oxen? or doth he say this for our sakes: For these things are written for our sakes. And a little after he concludes, "If we have sown unto you spiritual things, it is a great matter if you reap your carnal things?" 1 Cor. ix. 11. Thus we see how strongly, both the law of nature and the written law of God, both in the Old and New Testament, inculcate and enforce this duty upon us.
Q. How then does this law of the church interpose to it?
A. This duty was so liberal and so cheerfully complied with in the primitive ages, that there was no need of any further authority to enforce it; and the necessities of the pastors of the church were amply supplied by the voluntary offerings of the people; but, in process of time, the charity of many waxing cold, and a worldly spirit getting in among them, they became more remiss in the observance of this duty, and several abuses were practiced in it; and as our Savior had only explained, in general, that "those who preach the gospel, should live by the gospel," without specifying any particular quantity to be given by the people for this purpose; therefore the Church interposed her authority, and made a law, requiring a certain portion, called tithes, to be contributed by the people for the decent support of their pastors. This law was confirmed and promulgated by the civil powers of all Christian nations; some in one form, some in another, according to the different genius and circumstances of the people; so that the duty of supporting the pastors is established by all different kinds of laws, natural, divine, and human, civil and ecclesiastic.
Q. Is this law strictly observed strictly in the Church?
A. It is universally observed in all countries where the Catholic Religion is established; but where it is not established, and especially where it is exposed to persecution, it is not enforced. In these places, the pastors study more the salvation of souls in such difficult circumstances, than their own worldly convenience; and content themselves with the scanty subsistence that Providence otherwise provides for them, and with such voluntary benefactions and offerings as it pleases God to inspire their people to give them. In this they imitate the example of that great model of all apostolic men, St. Paul, who, after having, by repeated arguments, established this right which pastors have from the law of God and nature, to be maintained by their flock, declares, however, that he never exacted any maintenance from them himself, nor writes so strongly upon it with any view of exacting it, but only to inform them of their duty concerning it; for, after declaring that, "so hath the Lord also ordained, that they who preach the gospel, should live by the gospel," he immediately adds, "But I have used none of these things, neither have I written these, that they should be so done unto me; for it is good for me to die rather than to make my glory void," 1 Cor. ix. 15.
Q. What is the sixth commandment of the Church?Return to Table of Contents
A. Not to solemnize marriage at certain times, nor to marry within forbidden degrees of kindred.
Q. What are the times in which it is forbidden to solemnize marriage?
A. From the first Sunday in Advent to Epiphany; and from the first day of Lent, or Ash Wednesday, to Low Sunday, both included.
Q. Why does the Church forbid to solemnize marriage at these times?
A. Because the time of Advent and Lent are times set apart for humiliation, penance, and prayer; therefore, it is quite contrary to, and inconsistent with, the spirit of those times, to be employed in feasting, drinking, and dancing, which generally accompany the solemnizing of marriage.
Q. Would it be a sin to be present at marriage feasts in these forbidden times of Advent and Lent?
A. It would: because St. Paul declares, that not only they are worthy of death who do things forbidden by the law, but also they who consent to those who do them. now, to be present at such meetings, in these forbidden times, is not only to consent to them, but also to encourage them; besides the great offence and scandal it gives to others.
Q. Why does the Church forbid marriage between those who are within certain degrees of kindred?Return to Table of Contents
A. Nature itself has an abhorrence to marriage connection between those who are nearly related in blood, which nothing but absolute necessity could excuse, as was the case of the first propagation of mankind; but afterwards, Almighty God made several laws forbidding such near connections among his chosen people: even the heathens themselves had an aversion to them, from the very feeling of nature. The Church, therefore, enforces this dictate of God and nature, by the particular law she has made for this purpose. For, as the light of nature only points out, in general, that people should not marry who are nearly connected in blood, the Church determines the particular degrees to which this prohibition is to be extended, and forbids marriage as far as the fourth degree of kindred, counting in a direct line from the common stock in which the parties are united in the same father and mother.
Q. How is this to be understood?
A. The father and mother are the common stock; their children, to wit, brothers and sisters, are in the first degree of kindred, because they are one degree from this common stock; the children of brothers and sisters, or cousin- germans, are in the second stock; the children of cousin-germans are in the third degree of kindred, because they are three degrees from the common stock; and the children of these last are in the fourth degree of kindred, being four steps from the common stock, in which they are untied in the same father and mother. Within these degrees the laws of the Church prohibit marriage to be contracted; as also between those who are connected by affinity from lawful marriage with the same degrees.
Q. What do you mean by affinity from lawful marriage?Return to Table of Contents
A. The scripture declares that "husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh, "Matth. xix. 5; consequently the blood relations on the one become equally connected with the other; and this connection which the husband contracts with the blood relations of his wife, and which the wife contracts with those of her husband, is called affinity.
Q. Is the same connection contracted by cohabitation between people not married, and the relation of each other?
A. It is; for the scripture says, "Know ye not that he who is joined to a harlot is made one body; for they shall be, says he, two in one flesh?" 1 Cor. vi. 16.
Q. Does the prohibition of marriage extend to the fourth degree of affinity, of cohabitation without marriage?
A. No; it only extends, in this case, to the second degree.
Q. Why is the prohibition of marriage extended to the fourth degree of kindred?
A. Chiefly for two reasons:
First, that, by this means, people being obliged to marry at greater distance from their own blood relations, marriage connections may be the more extended, and different families be the more united in the bonds of human society and Christian charity.
Second, Because people, who are nearly connected in kindred, being frequently in one another's company, and upon a family footing among themselves, there is great danger that they might be guilty of unlawful familiarities and crimes, were they encouraged to it by the hopes of marriage; but all such hopes of marriage being cut off by the prohibition of marriage between such relations, this puts an efficacious bar against such unlawful doings.
Q. What is the effect of this prohibition of marriage between each relations?Return to Table of Contents
A. It renders all marriages between them null and void in the sign of God; so that, were two people, within the prohibited degree, to marry one another, though they should live as man and wife, and ever be esteemed as such in the eyes of men, yet they would be living in a state of sin before God.
Q. How can the prohibition of the Church hinder the validity of marriage, if the parties consent between members?
A. In the same way that this is done by the civil laws of any State; for both the one and the other have power to put such conditions to the contract of marriage, and if not observed as should be, the marriage is void and null in the eye of the law. Thus, in some countries, the consent of parents is required as a condition, without which children cannot legally contract marriage. In the same manner, by the laws of the Church of Christ, except the parties be without the forbidden degrees, the marriage is void and null before God, by whose authority these laws are made?
Q. Does the Church never dispense with the strictness of this prohibition?
A. All the laws of the Church are made for the edification, and not for the destruction or hut of her children; therefore, where there are just and solid reasons for doing it, the Church dispenses with this prohibition, especially in the third and fourth degrees, but very seldom, and not without the strongest reasons in the second.
Q. To whom does it belong to grant such dispensations?Return to Table of Contents
A. It properly belongs to the head of the Church, and to others by commission and authority from him.
Q. Have priests who are the immediate pastors of the people, this authority?
A. In countries where the Catholic Religion is exposed to persecution, and the number of the faithful but small, their immediate pastors have this commission communicated to them by their bishops, with regard to their own flock, in the third and fourth degrees; but, to dispense in the second degree, or cousin-germans, is reserved to the bishops only.
Q. Why are the priests empowered to do this in the third and fourth decree?
A. Because in such countries the reasons for doing it more frequently occur, especially that of encouraging the faithful to marry with one another, which, it were to be wished, were always done, for many strong reasons.
Q. Why are the dispensations in the second degree reserved to the bishops only?
A. Because the Church has a particular aversion to the marrying of persons so nearly connected, and because experience shows that such marriages seldom or never prove fortunate; and, therefore, the power of dispensing in them is reserved to the bishops, that the people may from this conceive the greater aversion at engaging in them, and that the greater difficulty of obtaining the dispensation may deter them from attempting it; for it is expressly enjoined to the bishops not to grant dispensations in the second degree, but for the most urgent cause.
Q. Would it be a grievous sin for two cousin-germans to marry, without such dispensation?
A. It would be a very grievous mortal sin, and the marriage itself would be void and null.
Q. If a bishop should give such dispensation without a just cause, would it be valid?
A. He would himself commit a grievous sin to grant it without a just cause, and the dispensation itself would be of no effect before God.
Q. Is there any thing more to be observed concerning the commands of God and his Church?
A. What we have seen is sufficient to give a general idea of the most necessary things our faith teaches concerning the laws of God. But there are numberless things to be considered on each particular duty, of which we ought to endeavor to acquire as perfect a knowledge as possible, by daily and serious meditation on this holy law; that by so doing we may the more efficaciously be excited, and the more powerfully enabled perfectly to keep it, and effectually avoid the most dreadful of all evils, the transgression of the law of God by sin.