Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

17 May 2013

"Unpacking the Precepts": Easter Duty

I wish to thank blogger Lisa M. Hendey of for her kind promotion of my recent post on the precept on Mass attendance.  It was, in turn, picked up by Elizabeth Scalia, blogger known as "The Anchoress" and editor of the Catholic portal at, for which I am equally grateful.  One of my readers has urged me not to "forget the little people."  Fear not: I will forever be one of the little people, both in the blogosphere and on planet earth (I am barely under 5'4", and, to quote one of my favorites, Woody Allen: "The only thing standing between me and greatness is me.")

Our registration form for new parishioners has a space for them to answer whether they have made their "Easter Duty."  Most registrants have to ask our secretary what that means.  (No longer can we presume knowledge of this and many other Church teachings and practices.)  Some of them, in fact, have made their Easter Duty and then some; others have not.  To quell any confusion about the matter:
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; can. 920)
In my father's last several years, he and I had some rather interesting conversations about religion.  This one most often comes to mind: Dad, a product of the schola antiqua (old school), asked me why so many people were in line for Holy Communion while so few queued for Confession.  "Every week we had to go."  I hear that often from the older set.  Priests tell of the days when three of them would be hearing Confessions for an hour and a half on a Saturday afternoon--when many parishes had two or three assistants!

One wonders whether little attention was paid to the distinction between mortal and venial sin (reviewed in the last post), to the effect that every misstep risked a descent to the Hell of Damnation, or at least a near-eternity in Purgatory.  Of course, I cannot say that for sure, since I wasn't around yet.  Nor can I affirm that people were more conscientious (even if to a fault) back then.  Judging by the attested numbers, relatively few people considered themselves fit to partake in the Eucharist; and those who did, approached with extreme caution.
The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom features a dialogue between the priest and the faithful in which the priest, facing the people, lifts up the Holy Gifts (the Eucharist) and proclaims, "Holy Things to the holy!"  To which the people respond, "One is Holy, One is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father.  Amen."  Throughout the entire Liturgy the priest and people implore God to make them worthy.  The Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite, which has been shaved with Occam's Razor, saves the declaration of unworthiness for the Moment of Truth ("Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter..."), although our participation in the rite presumes (without being presumptuous) our unworthiness, as well as God's power to purify us and His intention and desire to do so.
Does it mean that the pendulum has swung because nowadays seemingly everyone approaches the Altar?  We cannot, of course, presume that everyone who approaches weekly, approaches weakly; but perhaps some do fail to "examine themselves before eating the bread and drinking the cup," failing to "discern the body of Christ," with the infelicitous result of "eating and drinking judgment upon themselves" (1 Cor 11:28-29).  In other words, we do ourselves great harm by receiving Communion when we fail to acknowledge Christ's Real Presence or when we are deliberately retaining serious sin.  It's the spiritual equivalent of drinking battery acid; but if it burns, it may move us to repentance.
The Truth.

Also the Truth.
If there is any accuracy to the statistics concerning belief in the Real Presence (cf. this study of the former and this more comprehensive CARA study), the relevance of the "Easter Duty" swiftly wanes.  Let's not be concerned solely about whether people receive Communion once a year; rather, about whether people attend Mass more than once or twice a year!  Repeated action reinforces belief: put more technically, "Orthopraxis breeds Orthodoxy."

For the present, the precept remains in force.  Presuming one attends Mass on the Lord's Day and Holy Days of Obligation; presuming one celebrates the Sacrament of Penance at least whenever necessary and possible (i.e., whenever one is conscious of grave sin and whenever a duly-authorized priest is at hand); one ought to receive the Eucharist at least during the Easter Season.  These may be ponderous presumptions, but they nonetheless pertain to practical Catholics.  As for merely theoretical Catholics, how shall they be convinced to make the leap toward an impassioned practice nourished by sound doctrine?

Lest this post devolve any further into a diatribe or a hand-wringing endeavor, we do well to remember the centrality of Easter, the Day of Resurrection.  It is the feast of feasts.  It renews our Christian identity as persons incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body, sealed by His promised Holy Spirit.  In light of this blessed reality we love God and obey His commandments; the Church becomes more than an incidental component of our lives or even a wonderful place to keep in touch with people of like minds and interests.

Jesus of Nazareth is no one less than God the Son who became flesh, who suffered and died and rose from the dead in the flesh, for our redemption.  He instituted the Church as the secure conduit of His  grace.  The Holy and Divine Liturgy is the source and summit of who we are and how we conduct ourselves as members of Christ's Body.  Therefore, while we live, we approach at least as often as commanded, in order that His command become our wish.

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