Catholic Truth Society Postal Course #11: The Ten Commandments, part 1, by Father Herbert C Fincham

ten commandmentsEvery one of us, unless unspeakably depraved, feels within our soul a faculty by which we know good and evil, which we call our conscience. God has given us this guide, which we can safely follow, for unless it is wrong through our own fault or carelessness, we can never be guilty of sin in following its dictates. It may be mistaken through no fault of our own, and we may think something sinless which is really forbidden by God, but in this case we would not sin when following our conscience. On the other hand, if our conscience mistakenly declared something sinful, which in fact is not a sin, we would nevertheless commit sin by doing it in disobedience to the voice of conscience.

Our Conscience Needs Guidance

In practice, then, we may safely follow our conscience, but there is a grave obligation on each of us to do all we can to have a rightly instructed conscience by discovering and studying the laws of God, for sin is essentially an offence against the law of God. Neglect of this duty would make our erroneous conscience our own fault, and we would be guilty of sin in so far as it was our own fault. The obligation of learning and following God’s law arises not only because it is God’s will, but also because His laws are best for us and for mankind as a whole. The Commandments of God are not mere arbitrary rules but the Maker’s instructions for the right running of His creation. Just as the man who makes a piece of delicate machinery knows best how to use it and to keep it in good running order, so God the Supreme Maker must know best how to govern the human race, and His Commandments are the rules and directions given to us through Moses for this purpose.

God’s Law Is Love

The supreme and all-embracing law of the God of Love is love, or the virtue of charity, by which we love God above all things and our neighbour as ourselves for God’s sake. Hence the Ten Commandments divide naturally into two sections, the first three relating directly to God and the last seven regulating our love for our neighbour; but all ten are equally the test and proof of our love of God because we must obey them to please and serve God: “If you love Me, keep My Commandments.” (John 14:15) God made us to love Him and that is our first and all-important duty as well as the most obvious and fitting use of our faculty of loving, for God is infinitely worthy of love. On Him we depend for all that is best and most worth living and working for, our eternal happiness in heaven.

The Ten Commandments as given in the Catechism are a summary of those related in Deuteronomy V. 1-21, and make a slightly different division to the Protestant version, which alters the numbers of the individual commandments. Thus we have one Commandment for the Protestant 1 and 2, and we divide the Protestant 10th into two. This is really more logical as coveting one’s neighbour’s wife is a different species of sin to coveting his goods, apart from the poor compliment to the wife of putting her on a par with his ox and his ass!

The First Commandment

In the first Commandment God declares His supreme rights over us as Creator and Saviour. By it we are commanded to worship the one true God by Faith, Hope, Charity and Religion. The first three of these virtues have already been considered in Leaflet 10, and now we must study the obligations imposed on us by the virtue of Religion. This virtue regulates our worship of God and consequently the chief sins against it would be any worship of false gods or wrong worship of the true God. Idolatry in its grosser forms is no longer fashionable in our Western civilization, but there are still many forms of hidden or implicit worship of false gods, or rather substitutes for gods, by the total love and service that is given to things of this ‘world, such as money, power, politics, the state, etc. The sign of such false worship would be the purely worldly standards by which the rightness or wrongness of everything may be judged.

Not only are we forbidden to worship idols, but also no creature, not even the angels or saints, may receive the supreme adoration that is owed to God alone. This does not mean that we may give them no honour of any kind, for the more we honour them, as creatures made glorious by God, the more we honour God their Maker.

The Right And Wrong Use Of Religious Objects

Moreover, we should give to God, Our Lady, the angels and saints their proper worship and honour by using reverently all those things that are approved by the Church as memorials of them and helps for prayer. It is not wrong to reverence images, pictures and relics as long as we remember that they are nothing at all in themselves except the materials of which they are made. Their only efficacy is their religious relationship to God or His saints. It would be sinful to attribute to them an efficacy of their own, such as the superstitious imagine to exist in charms. The first Commandment forbids all superstition that is taken really seriously, for such practices are either making a mockery of God’s foreknowledge by supposing that He will reveal it at the whim of His creatures; or else it is seeking information or help from the devil. The most usual modern form of these evil practices is Spiritualism, which is strictly forbidden by the Church. If any contact is made by Spiritualists with the next world it can only be with the devils or the damned, for it is unthinkable that God would permit the souls of the just, in heaven or purgatory, to reveal the trivialities, absurdities and even obscenities that have been recorded.

The Sin Of Sacrilege

Everything that is related to God and religion acquires a special holiness which makes it a sin against the virtue of religion to misuse it. This sin is called sacrilege and is committed whenever a person deliberately abuses the sacred character of any person, such as a priest or religious, or of anything, such as a church, sacred statue, crucifix, relic or sacrament, by irreverence or outrage.

The Sin Of Simony

In a rather different way it would be an abuse of the religions nature of anything to turn its sacred character into a money-making concern. This sin is called simony. It is obviously not wrong to buy or sell sacred things at their natural value, but it would be wrong to charge extra because of their holiness. When Simon in Samaria offered the apostles money in exchange for the power to confirm, he was sternly rebuked by Peter: “Keep thy money to thyself, to perish with thee, because thou hast thought the gift of God may be purchased with money.” (Acts 8:17-21) Hence the word “simony” comes from “Simon”.

Duty Of Supporting Religion

In a practical way the virtue of religion enjoins on everyone the support of religion according to his means in the temporal expenses that the Church and her pastors are bound to incur. Hence the Church lays this duty upon all her children and it is also implied in the fourth Commandment as the duty of her children towards their spiritual mother. Saint Paul applies the command of God to the chosen people that “they that serve the altar partake of the altar” (Deuteronomy 18:1), to Christ’s ministers: “So the Lord ordained that they who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.” (1st Corinthians 9:13,14) The clergy are debarred by their sacred duties from supporting themselves in other ways so must depend, not on the charity, but on the just support of the laity in exchange for the spiritual necessities and blessings that they minister to them.

In order that this duty may be fulfilled in an orderly manner, certain occasions have become customary for the laity to make their offerings, such as the collection at church services, the stipends given for the special services of baptisms, marriages and funerals; stipends for Mass to be offered for a person’s particular intention; Christmas and Easter offerings., etc. In none of these cases is there any sale of anything spiritual but only a customary offering made on the occasion of a spiritual ministration; as long as the custom is watched by the Church and regulated by her laws so that it does not become an abuse, there can be no question of simony, any more than the lawful reward to a civil servant or police officer for his services is bribery.

The Generosity Of The Faithful

The zeal of the faithful has ever urged them to use their wealth according to their means for the glory of God and the extension of His Kingdom. Like Mary at Bethany, and unlike Judas the traitor, the true lovers of Christ have never thought it a waste to pour out their precious ointments on their beloved Lord, in the form of magnificent churches, vestments, altar vessels, monasteries, convents and such like (John 12:2-8). It would be a sad sign of tepidity and ignorance if the faithful were to consider the monks and nuns who devote themselves to the all-important work of prayer to be drones and useless members of society. Such work, as well as schools, hospitals and all the practical works of the Religious Orders, must be supported by the Catholic people, not merely as an act of charity, but as an act of the virtue of religion.

The Second Commandment

Not only does religion demand from us reverence for things and persons sacred to God, but still more for the name of God. Hence the second commandment is: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” In all our words and thoughts the name of God must be a prayer and not a curse, and we should avoid all flippant and thoughtless talk about God and the things of God.

Oaths And Vows

It would be a grave sin of perjury to ask God to witness by our oath the truth of something we know to, be false. It would be wrong even to make use of oaths at all without a grave reason. In like manner we should only make use of vows to promise God something with great solemnity, when there is special reason for doing so.It is not wrong to take an oath or make a vow for grave reasons, but it is inadvisable to do so unless it is enjoined on us by the Church or Civil authority, or with the advice of our confessor.

The Third Commandment

As well as things and persons there are certain days which religion commands us to consecrate to God. The third Commandment enjoins: “Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.” Though our religion must be the same at all times and is not for Sunday use only, God has commanded that one day a week should be given to Him in a special way, and in the Old TEstament this was the Sabbath or Saturday. The Christians from the earliest times set aside the Sunday, in honour of Our Lord’s resurrection, for their holy day, though no doubt at first the Jewish converts observed the Sabbath as well. It was the Church that made this change and it rests solely on the authority of the Catholic Church, hence those who reject this authority have little justification for applying their narrow Sabbatarian views to Sunday observance.

The Obligation Of Attending Mass

The Catholic Church has always interpreted this Commandment reasonably and not with narrow, long-faced solemnity. She lays upon us the very grave obligation of attending Holy Mass as the one perfect way of rendering God worthy worship and making His day holy. Unless we have a truly grave excuse it would be a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sundays or Holidays of Obligation, which are the big feasts ranking with us as Sundays. The Church also urges her children very strongly to attend other services, such as Benediction, to receive Holy Communion, and to give extra time to prayers, religious reading and instruction.

The Prohibition Of Servile Work

That all may have time for these duties and religious exercises, servile work is forbidden on Sundays and Holidays of Obligation unless it is absolutely necessary. Servile work is the work that was formerly done by slaves (the Church so worded her law so as to give slaves time for religious duties and a holiday) and it is not always easy to decide what exactly is servile work in modern times. In doubt we must seek advice and obey what the Church is accustomed to allow or forbid.

MLA Citation

  • Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. The Catholic Postal Course, 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 24 October 2016. <>