By Fr. Tirso Villaverde


Calling all Catholics--come home!!

Recently, I met with a couple who was planning a wedding. They were both raised Catholic but they admitted to me that they were not as active in the practice of the faith as they ought to be. One of the questions they asked me was “What constitutes an active Catholic?” This question seems to be a good one for all of my Catholic readers to ponder.

To be clear, being an active Catholic is not a matter of having a checklist of different activities that we have to be doing in order to consider ourselves to be an active Catholic. Catholicism is a commitment to following Christ in the Catholic Church. Therefore, it must be understood more as a way of life than a set of “rules” or practices. It is a way of life that must permeate every aspect of one’s being.

Let us consider the following analogy which I use on various occasions. Let us imagine that we call ourselves a true and skilled basketball player. However, the only trouble is that we never pick up a basketball. We do not even know how to dribble a basketball—which is one of the most basic skills any basketball player needs to be able to do. Can we consider ourselves to be an actual basketball player in name and in fact? Whether we want to admit it or not, the answer must be “No.” We are only fooling ourselves into thinking that we are an actual basketball player without having the skills to back it up.

Likewise, we can buy all of the gear that basketball players use—for example, the outfit and the shoes, etc. We can look like a basketball player. But, again, unless we actually get out there and play the game on a regular basis, it is tough to consider ourselves a real player.

Precepts of the Church

Likewise, we can say the same is true about those of us who call ourselves Catholics but never do any of the things that Catholics are expected to do. These are Catholics who want to use the name but fail to make that faith one’s way of life. There are certain things that all Catholics ought to be doing in order to consider oneself an active Catholic both in name and in fact.

These “certain things” have been compiled by the Church into a list known as the “Precepts of the Church.” Again, these precepts must be understood more as a way to make the Catholic faith a way of life more than a set of rules or commands.

The Precepts of the Church are: 1) To keep holy the day of the Lord’s resurrection (that is, Sunday) and all Holy Days of Obligation by worshiping God in the Eucharist (aka—the Mass); 2) To confess one’s sins at least once a year; 3) To lead a sacramental life and to receive Holy Communion at least once a year; 4) To do penance and observe the days of fast and abstinence; 5) To strengthen and support the Church.

Minimum expectation

As we can note, the first of all the precepts involves perhaps the bare minimum expectation of anyone who claims to be Catholic. Attendance at Mass is first and foremost because it is the clearest expression of one’s commitment to living out the Catholic faith. Participation at the Sunday Eucharist as well as on Holy Days of Obligation is an essential requirement for all Catholics. Participation in the Eucharist (Mass) on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation is not the only thing Catholics must be doing but it is certainly the first step. Why is there such an emphasis on the Sunday Eucharist?

The Church considers the liturgy of the Eucharist to be the “source and summit of the Christian faith” meaning everything leads up to it and everything flows from it. This is why it becomes necessary for Catholics to be at the Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days.

Necessary step

We can say that, in many ways, the regular habit of coming to Mass helps to develop the skills necessary to allow the Catholic faith to permeate every other aspect of our lives as Catholics. It becomes the necessary step for the Catholic faith to become a way of life rather than something we do whenever we feel like it.
Furthermore, the Eucharist is the gathering of God’s family. God is like any good parent who wants ALL of His children gathered in His home. Just as our own family gatherings would feel incomplete without key members of the family present, the Sunday Eucharist is also incomplete without ALL of the faithful there. This is another reason why coming to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is so central and fundamental to the life of every Catholic.

Constant absence at the Eucharist would be akin to the earlier analogy that we may play basketball but we just do not go to the games. When players never help to support their teammates, they actually do a disservice because they are not “pulling their weight.” We do not fulfill our responsibilities to the other members of the team who look to us to back them up. Again, they may say they are on the team but they cannot be considered to be team players. We might consider the same to be true for those who claim the name of Catholic without participating in the Eucharist as prescribed. In those cases, they just need to be encouraged to come to the games and join the rest of the team.

Again, gathering at the Eucharist is only the beginning of what it means to be a Catholic in name and in fact. The other precepts of the Church help to fill in the rest.





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