Staying Right With Rome

I imagine that most who profess Christianity, and a lot who don’t, are aware that God gave Moses Ten Commandments engraved on two tablets of stone by His own finger (Exodus 20). The Commandments of God synthesize the Law under ten general categories, or so believe the rabbis of Orthodox Judaism. The Law was given as a teacher, that we might know what is sin and learn the impossibility of salvation through our own efforts. Conformance to the Law, which is impossible for man, remains the only means of salvation for those not saved by God’s grace through faith.

How many, I wonder, know that the Roman Catholic Church has also issued Commandments? These govern, to a degree, the responsibilities of the Catholic faithful to their church. They are as binding on Catholics as are the Commandments of God on Jews, or so Mama Church claims.

Q. Is it a mortal sin willfully to break the Commandments of the Church?

A. It is a mortal sin willfully to break the Commandments of the Church -- Roderick MacEachen, Complete Catechism of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Book Company (1911), p. 195; has Nihil Obstat, Imprimitur & Cum Permissu

Back in the good old days before the liberalization of the RCC, being a good Catholic was more difficult than it is today. When I was growing up Catholic, there seemed to be more rules than there are now and they were more strictly observed. One of the more onerous rules, at least as far as I was concerned, had to do with the Second Commandment of the Church.

Q. What is the Second Commandment of the Church?

A. The Second Commandment of the Church is: To fast and abstain on the days appointed. -- Ibid.., p. 198

There were quite a few fasting days back then, but our priest was faithful to remind us of those days so that we might keep the fasts according to Church law. Fasting was really not all that difficult back then, as it is not difficult now. One was not expected to give up eating completely, just to eat a little less. That ‘s all.

What made fasting such a pain was that days of fasting were also days when one was required to abstain from eating meat. And that proscription against consuming flesh was not so lenient as were the rules of fasting. Abstaining from flesh meant just that: no meat. All day.

Q. What is meant by days of abstinence?

A. Days of abstinence are those days on which the use of flesh meat is forbidden. -- Ibid.., p. 199

Abstaining from flesh meat did not mean that one could consume nothing of animal origin. Milk, cheese and the like were permitted, as were seafoods.

Q. What meats may be eaten on days of abstinence?

A. On days of abstinence, fish, oysters and the like may be eaten. -- Ibid., p. 199

I cannot recall what provision, if any, was made concerning the flesh of mammals who live in the sea. So many manmade rules. So much confusion.

There were a lot of fasting days when I was a Catholic kid and even more days of abstinence. Seemed like one was required to fast and/or abstain half the days of the year.

Q. What are the days of abstinence?

A. All the Fridays of the year and all the fast days, except those on which meat is allowed by dispensation, are days of abstinence. -- Ibid., p. 199

During the days of World War II, when most of the meat produced in America went to feed our military forces and the civilian population made do with liver, kidneys, heart, sweetbreads and the like, many good Catholics likely considered abstaining to be no hard task. After all, we in the civilian sector were not accustomed to eating real meat all that often anyway.

After the war ended, when life in the civilian sector was returning to something that might be considered more normal, meat was once again readily available. This was nowhere more obvious than during the two church festivals held in the St. Peter and Paul parish every year.

These festivals were big affairs, with booths densely planted throughout the 7 or 8 paved acres of the elementary school playground. Volunteers manned the booths, which sought to entice passers-by to leave some of their money for the benefit of the parish. There were booths where one might gamble on the Big Six wheel, or the ring toss. You could purchase religious medals, prayer cards, rosaries and the like. There were stands selling popcorn, cotton candy, hotdogs, hamburgers and what is still one of my favorite foods, grilled mettwurst.

Oh! The intoxicating aroma of those sizzling sausages remains vivid in my recollections to this day.

The Spring and Fall festivals at St. Pete’s were big affairs and generated a lot of money for the church and the elementary school. They would begin on Friday evening and run through Sunday evening. The festival area was perfumed with the sweet smells of sausagess sizzling over beds of charcoal from start to finish.

And herein lies the rub. Who knew better than Father Gregory and the nuns who ran the elementary school that Fridays were days of abstinence? Who knew better than these that to willfully eat meat on Fridays constituted a breaking of the Second Commandment of the Church and was a mortal sin? Yet the big tent under which mettwursts, hotdogs and hamburgers were cooked was a big money generator.

I imagine that Saturday confessions at festival time were heavily salted with confessions of eating meat on Friday, for who could resist the tantalizing aroma of those sausages as they cooked? The mortal sin of willfully eating meat on a day of abstinence could, of course, be forgiven through the sacrament of Confession, followed by good act of contrition and a few penitential Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers. But what about the supposed sin of the parishioners who facilitated that sin by tempting the faithful to sin? Or the priests and nuns who suffered them to do so? Were they guilty of inducing others to commit grievous sin? I wonder. Did they confess their sins of facilitation, or did they go to their graves unaware that they may have led others into grave sin?

And what about the Catholic faithful, not just at St. Pete’s but throughout the world and over the centuries, who were forgiven all their sins by a priest after a Friday confession and who then succumbed to the temptation to eat even a small bit of meat and then died before being shriven of this great sin against the Church?

According to RCC teaching in effect back then, they were sent straight to Hell, for all eternity. But then the rules changed. With a few strokes of a pen, it no longer was a serious sin to willfully eat meat on Fridays. But what of those who had endured long and excruciatingly painfully “purgation” in the uniquely Catholic place known as Purgatory? Or those still there when the rules changed? Did the Catholic God in some way compensate them for their sufferings for having committed acts no longer considered crimes against the Church? Did all the souls in Hell receive Get Out Of Jail Free cards and pass immediately to Heaven – assuming their only unconfessed mortal sin was that of eating meat on Friday? Are there angelic trial lawyers filing suits for compensation against the Catholic god?

So long as fallible men are making rules to govern man’s relationship with the one true God, those rules will be filled with error and subject to continual change. God, on the other hand, does not change (Malachi 3:6). His Laws are binding and eternal for all those under the Law.

How does one get out from under the Law? It's easy. God's gift of salvation by grace through faith is what is needed. It’s a no-brainer. Read all about it in the Bible. The Gospel of John is a good place to start.

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