Author Archive for Tom Schenk


The essential function of presenting knowledge of the Word of God, the message of Jesus Christ, is attained through orally instructing, explaining, and admonishing the people by means of preaching.

Preaching is the oral communication or instruction on the meaning of the Scriptures and other aspects of the Faith.

The office of preaching has always been considered a preeminent ministry in the Church.  According to present legislation of the Church, the Pope and bishops are allowed to preach anywhere.

Priests and deacons possess the faculty to also preach, but not the inherent right to preach anywhere without the presumed permission of the pastor or rector of another place.

The homily is the most important form of preaching.  It is the address given after the Gospel during the celebration of Mass.

Current custom is to limit the homily to ten to fifteen minutes.  However, the solemnity of the occasion may require one of greater length.

A homily is recommended at all Masses and is required at Masses celebrated on Sundays and holy days of obligation.  It is forbidden for anyone but a bishop, priest or deacon to give the homily. (8:16)

Precepts of the Church continued

The precepts of the Church are duties that the Catholic Church requires of all the faithful and are found listed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2041-2043).  Last week the first three were detailed.

The fourth precept of the Church is “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.”  Fasting and abstinence, along with prayer and almsgiving, are powerful tools in developing our spiritual life.  Today, the Church requires Catholics to fast only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain from meat on the Fridays during Lent.  On all other Fridays of the year, we may perform some other penance in place of abstinence.

The fifth precept of the Church is “You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.”  The Catechism notes that this “means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”  In other words, we don’t necessarily have to tithe (give ten percent of our income), if we can’t afford it; but we should also be willing to give more if we can.  Our support of the Church can also be through donations of our time, and the point of both is not simply to maintain the Church but to spread the Gospel and bring others into the Church, the Body of Christ.

And for those who thought traditionally the precepts of the Church numbered seven instead of five, here are the other two precepts: To obey the laws of the Church concerning Matrimony; and to participate in the Church’s mission of Evangelization of Souls.  Both are still required of Catholics, but they are no longer included in the Catechism’s official listing of the precepts of the Church. (8:15)

Precepts of the Church

The precepts of the Church are duties that the Catholic Church requires of all the faithful.  Also called the commandments of the Church, they are binding under the pain of mortal sin, but the point is not to punish.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, the binding nature “is meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth of love of God and neighbor.”

The list of five precepts is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  Some may remember that there were seven precepts of the Church; the other two may be found at the end of next week’s column.

The first precept of the Church is “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.”

The second precept of the Church is “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.”  Strictly speaking, we only need to take part in the Sacrament of Confession if we have committed a mortal sin, but the Church urges us to make frequent use of the sacrament and, at a minimum, to receive it once each year in preparation for fulfilling our Easter Duty.

The third precept of the Church is “You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.”  Today, most Catholics receive the Eucharist at every Mass they attend, but it wasn’t always so.

Since the Sacrament of Holy Communion binds us to Christ and to our fellow Christians, the Church requires us to receive it at least once each year, sometime between Palm Sunday and Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday). (8:14)

Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments, or the Commandments of God, also called the Decalogue, are the moral commands or laws given by God to Moses (Ex. 20:1–21) on Mount Sinai.

It is certain that the Decalogue (which the Greek root deca, meaning ten, is combined with logos, which means Word) was made up of ten distinct commandments (Deut. 5:2–33), no matter how they may be grouped.

These commands are interpreted by Christ in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5.  The first three are concerned with the love and true worship of God, and the other seven are directed to the love and justice due our neighbor.

The wording varies in either the original or translation, but the substance of the law remains.  The order traditional in the Church is that found in several common translations.

While the entire Judeo-Christian tradition uses the same Scriptural content for the Ten Commandments, their exact division and numbering varies.  The Catholic tradition uses the division of the Commandments established by St. Augustine.  (The Lutheran confessions also use this numbering, while some other confessions & traditions use slightly different numberings.)

Here are the Ten Commandments:

  1. I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange gods before me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not kill.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.  (8:13)

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

This ancient Latin axiom is quoted often.  The phrase means, “The law of praying is the law of believing,” or put another way, it means the law of prayer (“the way we worship”), and the law of belief (“what we believe”).

This Latin phrase addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the Church.

The statement is sometimes extended and written as, “lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi”, further deepening the implications of this truth—how we worship reflects what we believe and determines how we will live.

The law of prayer or worship is the law of life.  Or, even more popularly rendered, as we worship, so will we live . . . and as we worship, so will we become!  (8:12)

Ex Opere Operato

Ex opere operato is a Latin expression meaning “by the work worked,” or “from the work of the work itself.”

It refers to the fact that the sacraments confer grace when the sign is validly affected—not as the result of activity on the part of the minister or recipient but by the power and promise of God.

Now, to receive the fruits of the sacraments, the recipient should be properly disposed with the intention of receiving the sacrament.  This means reception of grace via the sacraments is not automatic.

But the ex opere operato nature of the sacraments reminds us that, while a proper disposition is necessary to receive grace in the sacraments, it isn’t the cause of that grace.  The correct use of the sign instituted by Christ produces the grace irrespective of the merits of either minister or recipient. (8:11)


The Sacraments of the Catholic Church are, “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.  The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament.  They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.”

While the Church itself is the universal sacrament of salvation, the sacraments of the Catholic Church in the strict sense are seven sacraments that touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life.

It is good to know that the sacraments produce grace.  Since grace is a gift of God, the sacrament must come from and depend upon God.  Sanctifying grace is given by reason of the rite itself, and grace is not given if the sacrament is not received with the necessary moral disposition.

It is also necessary that both matter and form are present with each sacrament; the matter is the material used (e.g. water for Baptism), and the form is the accompanying words and actions by the minister of the sacrament.

The minister is someone authorized to give the sacrament with the intention of doing what the Church intends.

The seven sacraments are: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. (8:10)

Rogation Days

Rogation Days, like their distant cousins the Ember Days, are days set aside to observe a change in the seasons.  Rogation Days are tied to the spring planting.

There are four Rogation Days: the Major Rogation, which falls on April 25, and three Minor Rogations, which are celebrated on the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday immediately before Ascension Thursday.

Rogation” is simply an English form of the Latin verb rogare, which means “to ask.”  The primary purpose of the Rogation Days is to ask God to bless the fields and the parish (the geographic area) that they fall in.

The Rogation Days were marked by the recitation of the Litany of the Saints, which would normally begin in or at a church.  After Saint Mary was invoked, the congregation would proceed to walk the boundaries of the parish, while reciting the rest of the litany (and repeating it as necessary or supplementing it with some of the penitential or gradual Psalms).  Thus, the entire parish would be blessed, and the boundaries of the parish would be marked.  The procession would end with a Rogation Mass, in which all in the parish were expected to take part.

Like the Ember Days, Rogation Days were removed from the liturgical calendar when it was revised in 1969.  Parishes can still celebrate them, though, very few in the United States do; but in portions of Europe, the Major Rogation is still celebrated with a procession.

As the Western world has become more industrialized, Rogation Days and Ember Days, focused as they are on agriculture and the changes of the seasons, have seemed less “relevant.”  Still, they are good ways to keep us in touch with nature and to remind us that the Church’s liturgical calendar is tied to the changing seasons.

If your parish does not celebrate the Rogation Days, there’s nothing to stop you from celebrating them yourself.  You can mark the days by reciting the Litany of the Saints.  And, while many modern parishes, especially in the United States, have boundaries that are too extensive to walk, you could learn where those boundaries are and walk a portion of them, getting to know your surroundings, and maybe your neighbors, in the process.  Finish it all off by attending daily Mass and praying for good weather and a fruitful harvest.  (8:9)

Ember Days

Before the revision of the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in 1969, the Church celebrated Ember Days four times each year.  They were tied to the changing of the seasons, but also to the liturgical cycles of the Church.

The spring Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday of Lent; the summer Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after Pentecost; the fall Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the third Sunday in September (not, as is often said, after the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross); and the winter Ember Days were the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of Saint Lucy (December 13).

The origin of the word “ember” in “Ember Days” is not obvious, not even to those who know Latin.  According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Ember” is a corruption (or we might say, a contraction) of the Latin phrase Quatuor Tempora, which simply means “four times,” since the Ember Days are celebrated four times per year.

The Ember Days are celebrated with fasting (no food between meals) and half-abstinence, meaning that meat is allowed at one meal per day.  (If you observe the traditional Friday abstinence from meat, then you would observe complete abstinence on an Ember Friday.)

With the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969, the Vatican left the celebration of Ember Days up to the discretion of each national conference of bishops.  They’re still commonly celebrated in Europe, particularly in rural areas.

In the United States, the bishops’ conference has decided not to celebrate them, but individual Catholics can, and many traditional Catholics still do, because it’s a nice way to focus our minds on the changing of the liturgical seasons and the seasons of the year.  The Ember Days that fall during Lent and Advent are especially useful to remind children of the reasons for those seasons. (8:8)

Ordinary Time

Besides the times of the year that have their own distinctive character, there remains in the yearly cycle thirty-three or thirty-four weeks in which no particular aspect of the mystery of Christ is celebrated, but rather the mystery of Christ itself is honored in its fullness—the Church contemplates the entire mystery of salvation—especially on Sundays.  This period is known as Ordinary Time.

But “Ordinary” does not mean boring or ho-hum, but the word “ordinary” comes from the word “ordinal” which means counted (i.e. First Week of Ordinary Time, Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, etc.).

Ordinary Time then, is a period that is counted that doesn’t fall in Lent, Easter, Advent, etc.  Ordinary Time begins at the conclusion of the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which is also the end of the Christmas Season.

Ordinary Time has two defined periods: the first period begins after the Baptism of the Lord and continues through the day before Ash Wednesday; and the second begins after Pentecost and continues to Evening Prayer on the Saturday before the First Sunday of Advent. (8:7)