In the Catholic Church, the Precepts of the Church, sometimes called the Commandments of the Church, are certain laws considered binding on the faithful. As usually understood, they are moral and ecclesiastical, broad in character and limited in number. In modern times there are five. These specifically Catholic commandments flow from and lead to the Ten Commandments which are common to all the Abrahamic religions (except Islam).

Modern period

Catechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church promulgates the following:[1]

  1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.
  2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
  3. You shall humbly receive your Creator in Holy Communion at least during the Easter season.
  4. You shall keep holy the holy days of obligation.
  5. You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.

In addition, the faithful are obliged to provide for the material needs of the church according to their abilities to do so.

Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

See also: Holy day of obligation and Fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church enumerates the same five:[2]

  1. to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation and to refrain from work and activities which could impede the sanctification of those days;
  2. to confess one's sins, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once each year;
  3. to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season;
  4. to abstain from eating meat and to observe the days of fasting established by the Church.
  5. to help to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.

The fourth Church Commandment is commonly remembered as abstinence from meat (but not fish) on Fridays (except solemnities), and abstinence-plus restriction to one meal only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The details are quite various, including some countries to allow for a different way of penance on at least ordinary Fridays. The whole of Lent is of penitential character,[3] though no specified practice is required.

Previously there were six commandments. The sixth being, "Not to marry persons within the forbidden degrees of kindred or otherwise prohibited by the Church; nor to solemnize marriage at the forbidden times."[4]


The first reason for the Church commandments is Christ's ability to liberate through his prescriptions for humanity.[5] Secondly, Church authority, which has a right to be obeyed as delegated by Jesus,[a] which common tradition subsumes under the Fourth Commandment. The first Church Commandment is obviously an explanation of the minimum requirements for hallowing the Lord's Day, with the specification that it is Mass, and not anything else, that needs to be heard, that the Lord's Day has been shifted from Saturday to Sunday, and that some other feasts are assigned by Church authority in remembrance of Our Lord, of His blessed Mother and of the Saints. The third Church Commandment is a specification to Our Lord's directive to eat His Flesh,[6] reducible to the Third Commandment as well since it is an act of devotion. The second Church Commandment prescribes a preparation for fulfilling the third Church Commandment and was promulgated at the Fourth Council of the Lateran.[b] What concerns the fourth Church Commandment, the Church believes that penance[7] is of divine law, and the notion is general that fasting, as a penitential practice, is quite useful,[8] citing such Scripture as "Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting".[9] Thus again, the commanding act of the Church rather consists in the precisation. The necessity of providing for the needs of the Church results from the faithful belonging to one Mystical Body and is regulated in canons 1260 and 1262.[c]


See also: Legal history of the Catholic Church

As early as the time of Constantine I, especial insistence was put upon the obligation to hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, to receive the sacraments and to abstain from contracting marriage at certain seasons. In the seventh-century Penitentiary of Theodore of Canterbury we find penalties imposed on those who contemn the Sunday.

According to a work written by Regino, the abbot of Prüm (d. 915), entitled Libri duo de synodalibus causis et disciplinis, the bishop should ask in his visitation:

"if anyone has not kept the fast of Lent, or of the ember-days, or of the rogations, or that which may have been appointed by the bishop for the staying of any plague; if there be any one who has not gone to Holy Communion three time in the year, that is at Easter, Pentecost and Christmas; if there be any one who has withheld tithes from God and His saints; if there be anyone so perverse and so alienated from God as not to come to Church at least on Sundays; if there be anyone who has not gone to confession once in the year, that is at the beginning of Lent, and has not done penance for his sins."

The precepts here implied came to be regarded as special Commandments of the Church. Thus in a book of tracts of the thirteenth century attributed to Pope Celestine V (though the authenticity of this work has been denied) a separate tractate is given to the precepts of the Church and is divided into four chapters, the first of which treats of fasting, the second of confession and paschal Communion, the third of interdicts on marriage, and the fourth of tithes.

In the fourteenth century Ernest von Parduvitz, Archbishop of Prague, instructed his priests to explain in popular sermons the principal points of the catechism, the Our Father, the Creed, the Commandments of God and of the Church (Hafner, loc. cit., 115). A century later (1470) the catechism of Dietrick Coelde, the first, it is said, to be written in German, explicitly set forth that there were five Commandments of the Church.

In his Summa Theologica (part I, tit. xvii, p. 12) Antoninus of Florence (1439) enumerates ten precepts of the Church universally binding on the faithful. These are:

In the sixteenth century Martin Aspilcueta (1586), gives a list of four principal precepts of obligation:

At this time there began to appear many popular works in defence of the authority of the Church and setting forth her precepts. Such among others were the Summa Doctrinæ Christianæ (1555) of Peter Canisius, and the Doctrina Christiana of Bellarmine (1589).

See also


  1. ^ "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Matt 16:19b RSV; "He that heareth you, heareth me." Lk 10:16
  2. ^ Technically, one is not bound to confess who has not sinned mortally. Can 989. Previously, theologians have opined that their duty to confess “their sins” is indeed restricted to mortal sins, but if they have none, they are bound to declare just that in the confessional.
  3. ^ According to Can. 1263, a compulsory church tax may be imposed to natural persons only in extraordinary circumstances, except in countries where this is particular custom.


  1. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church. II. The Precepts of the Church. in PART III: Life in Christ; Chapter Three – God's Salvation: Law and Grace; Article 3: The Church, Mother and Teacher.
  2. ^ Vatican.Va: Compendium of the Catechism Q. 432
  3. ^ Paul VI, Paenitemini II 1
  4. ^ Deharbe, Joseph (1912). "Chap. III. The Six Commandments of the Church" . A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Religion. Translated by Rev. John Fander. Schwartz, Kirwin & Fauss.
  5. ^ John Paul II (14 September 1998). Encyclical Letter: Fides et Ratio [Faith and Reason]. Rome: Vatican. Jn 14:15; 10:10. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  6. ^ John 5:53
  7. ^ Paenitemini I 1
  8. ^ St. Thomas, II/II 147 I and III
  9. ^ Joel 2:12, Douay-Rheims Bible

Further reading