3. THE THIRD AND FOURTH COMMANDMENTS OF THE CHURCH
1. In the third and fourth commandments the Church enjoins upon us the duty of approaching the Sacrament of Penance and receiving holy communion at Easter.
Holy communion ought to be received often, because it is the food of the soul. That soul will be starved which for a long time does not receive this nourishment. Our Lord says: “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you” (John vi. 54). The early Christians used originally to receive holy communion every day; later on only on the three great feasts, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. And when in the Middle Ages the fervor of many grew cold, the Council of Lateran (1215), ordained that all Christians who were capable of distinguishing good from evil were obliged to confess their sins at least once a year, and at Easter, at the least, devoutly to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. The Council of Trent expresses the wish that the confession also should be made at Easter, for it says: “Throughout the whole Church the salutary custom prevails of making confession of sin during the holy and most suitable season of Lent; a custom which the Church approves and accepts as pious and most certainly to be retained” (14 C. 5). Holy communion should be preceded by confession, lest any man should approach holy communion in a state of mortal sin; the Easter communion is no exception to this rule. The obligation of the Easter precept is not fulfilled by a sacrilegious communion, nor by an invalid confession. Although the Church only requires every Christian to confess his sins once a year, yet it need hardly be said that if any man has the misfortune to fall into mortal sin, he should go to confession without delay.
2. The time for fulfilling the Easter precept was formerly only two weeks, from Palm Sunday to Low Sunday; it is now extended in almost all dioceses, being from the first Sunday of Lent to Low Sunday, sometimes even to Trinity Sunday.
3. It is fitting that we should receive holy communion at Easter, because it was just before Easter Day, on Holy Thursday, that Our Lord instituted the Adorable Sacrament of the Altar.
At Easter Christ also rose from the dead. If we make a really good confession, we, in a spiritual sense, rise from the dead. For the soul which is in mortal sin is spiritually dead; through the Sacrament of Penance it receives the Holy Spirit again, and spiritual life is again restored to it. At the grave of the risen Redeemer the angel said to the women: “Why seek you the living with the dead? He is not here, He is risen.” Would that our guardian angel could say the same of us, when the devil, after Easter, thinks to find us still sleeping in the sepulchre of sin. “You seek the living with the dead, the converted with the sinners; he is not here.” “As Christ is risen from the dead, so we may also walk in newness of life” (Rom. vi. 4).
4. The Church allows Catholics to make their Easter confession elsewhere than in their parish church.
The Church is aware that some find it easier to disclose the wounds of their soul to a stranger, and she permits this in order to prevent such persons from approaching the sacraments unworthily. Formerly every one was bound to go to his parish priest as a mark of respect.
5. Christian burial can be denied to a Catholic who has not been in the habit of receiving the sacraments at Easter, and who dies unrepentant.
This is done in the case of one whose neglect of his duty is publicly known, and who has been admonished in vain by his pastor. Before refusing Christian burial, the priest is bound to refer the matter to the bishop; and if time does not allow of this, he takes the most lenient course.
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