Dear Father Angelo,
Thank you so much for your prayers. I would like to ask you whether or not observing the penitential character of Friday (i.e. doing works of prayer or charity on Fridays; in this case, I am not referring to fasting and abstinence from meat during Lent, which I already know are part of precepts of the Church) falls within the precepts of the Church.
1. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, after expounding the commandments given by God and the evangelical counsels, also speaks of the precepts of the Church.
It presents them within the horizon of sanctification.
Indeed, of the sanctification that seeks to translate what is believed into life.
At the same time, it stimulates us to conform our lives to the spirit of the liturgy that marks the seasons and times.
2. Here are the exact words of the CCC: “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 indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor” (CCC 2041).
3. The CCC reviews them with some variations with respect to the previous discipline.
The most striking variant is that it speaks of penitential days but not of Fridays.
4. First, it is useful to read all five of them:
“The first precept (“You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on 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.
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.
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).
“The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting 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.
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” (CCC 2043).
5. Let us return to the fourth precept of the CCC, which does not explicitly mention Friday and yet does not eliminate the previous discipline, much less the later one.
Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini (February 16, 1966) still spoke of Fridays.
Among other things, this Constitution reads: “Abstinence is to be observed on every Friday which does not fall on a day of obligation” (III, II, 2).
The Code of Canon Law (1984) in canons 1249-1253 also maintained the same discipline, distinguishing penance (which also consists of many other practices) from abstinence from the flesh.
In can. 1250 it says: “The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent”.
And in 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”.
6. The Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), on 4 October 1994, prescribed abstinence on Fridays.
Here are the provisions:
“2- The law of abstinence prohibits the use of meat, as well as food and drinks which, in a prudent judgment, are to be considered as particularly sought after and expensive.
3- Fasting and abstinence, in the sense just specified, are to be observed on Ash Wednesday (and the first Friday of Lent for the Ambrosian rite) and on the Friday of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ; they are recommended on Holy Saturday until the Easter vigil.
4- Abstinence is to be observed on all and individual Fridays of Lent, unless a solemnity (such as 19 and 25 March) should fall on a Friday .
On all other Fridays of the year, unless they coincide with a solemnity, abstinence is to be observed in the sense said or some other work of penance, prayer, charity must be performed“.
I thank you for the question that allowed me to recall a rather forgotten point of the Christian life: what in the past was referred to as “the five general precepts of the Church”.
I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.
Translated by Chiara P.