JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

The Second and Third Commandments.

314. The second commandment is: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain"; the third: "Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath Day". They prescribe the honor that is due to the name of God, and the observance of the day specially set aside for Divine worship. Reason requires reverence for God's name, and occasional worship of God; but that worship should be rendered on one day in seven, rather than on more or fewer days; that it should be on this or that day of the week; that the day should be sanctified in one way or another; all these are matters entirely dependent on God's free choice. And therefore they do not belong to the natural law, and need not be the same in all times and places. At first the Lord appointed the last day of the week to be this day of worship; and He called it the Sabbath, or day of rest, because it was to commemorate the end of the Creation (Gen. II, 3). The rest from labor was therefore its Prominent feature. This rest was so strictly prescribed by the Mosaic law that death was the penalty of its violation (Ex. XXXL, 11). But the Church, from the time of the Apostles, has changed the Sabbath into the Lord's Day, and has enacted different laws for its sanctification. Therefore we shall explain these when we shall treat of the Commandments of the Church (nn. 335, 336).

315. The second commandment forbids: 1. To take in vain the name of God, of his Saints or Angels, or of any thing specially sacred to Him, such as Heaven, the Cross, the Sacraments, etc. To take these names in vain is to use them without reasonable purpose, as if they were mere bywords or cant terms. 2. Blasphemy, or language insulting to God; this, if deliberate, is always a grievous sin, whether the result be directly or indirectly intended. 3. False, unjust, and rash or unnecessary oaths. An oath, or swearing, is taking God as witness to the sincerity of a promise or the truth of an assertion. When reverently pronounced, it is a meritorious act of religion (n. 67); but when rashly pronounced, that is without good reason or proper reverence, it is taking God's name in vain. (b) When falsely pronounced, that is to confirm a lying statement or promise, it is perjury, which is always a grievous insult to the God of truth. It is of course sinful to break a lawful promise confirmed by an oath. (c) When used to strengthen some unjust promise or threat, an oath is sinful, and it has no binding force; for no one can be bound to do wrong. Thus Lutherans, when disabused of their error, are not obliged in conscience to observe the oath, taken at their Confirmation ceremony, to remain all their lives members of their false religion.

The sanctity of the oath is one of the strongest bulwarks of human society, by the solemn bond which it imposes on the officers and members of Church and State. The violation of an oath administered by public authority usually involves serious consequences, and is theretore grievously sinful. When a man swears to keep an important secret, he also contracts a serious obligation. When the secrets are of no importance whatever, as is the case in some social clubs, an oath taken to keep them is a rash, unnecessary oath. On the other hand, the oath taken in real secret societies to keep whatever secrets may afterwards be committed to the members is an unjust oath, and is intrinsically immoral. For secrets are thus concealed which it may be a natural duty to make known, such as plotting against public and private rights, sacred and profane. Certain secret societies are branded openly by the Church as unlawful; such are the Freemasons, the Oddfehlows, the Knights of Pythias, and the Sons of Temperance. No Catholic can join these and still continue to receive the Sacraments of the Church. Some other secret societies, though not explicitly condemned, appear to be animated by the same spirit as these; and no Catholic can become a member of them without rashness, and without probable injury to his spiritual welfare.

4. The breaking of vows. A vow is a deliberate promise made to God with the intention of binding oneself to some act or omission pleasing to God. It is an act of religion, or worship, and it makes the thing vowed a religious matter; it thus gives religious merit to its fulfilment, and attaches the guilt of sacrilege to its violation.

Therefore, on the one hand, "It is much better not to vow than after a vow not to perform the thing promised" (Eccles. V, 4). On the other hand, St. Thomas writes: "The same work done with a vow is better and more meritorious than without a vow, for three reasons: First, because to vow is an act of religion, which is the chief of the moral virtues. But the work of the nobler virtue is the better or more meritorious. . . . And therefore the acts of the other moral virtues, as of abstinence and chastity, are better and more meritorious for being done by vow, because thus they come to belong to Divine worship, as sacrifices offered to God. -- Secondly: Because he who both vows a thing and does it accordingly, subjects himself to God more thoroughly than another who simply does the thing; for he subjects himself to God, not only as to the act, but also as to the power, because henceforth he has it not in his power to act otherwise: as he who should give a man the tree with the fruit, would give more than another who gave the fruit only. Thirdly: because by a vow the will is clamped fast to good; but to do a thing with a will firmly set on good belongs to the perfection of virtue, as obstinacy in sin is an aggravation of the sin" (Aquin. Eth. II, pp. 142, 143).

For good reasons, vows may sometimes be dispensed from or commuted to other acts of virtue, when no one's right is thereby violated. The power thus to dispense from vows or to commute vows belongs to the Church; for she has the power of binding and loosing entrusted to her by her Divine founder (Matt. XVI, 19). Vows of inferiors may often be annulled by their superiors, especially those of children by their parents.

The principal vows are those taken to observe the evangelical counsels, of perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who have bound themselves by these vows in a religious order recognized as such by the Church, are called religious, taking this word in its strict technical sense. But in a wider sense, all are religious who take these vows in any approved congregation. To all these the richest promises are made by Christ, who says: "Every one that has left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for My name sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and shall possess life everlasting" (Matt. XIX, 29).

If any one desire to become a religious, he must strive to make himself worthy of so excellent a vocation by a virtuous life and by fervent prayer. It was to a young man who had kept the commandments that Christ gave this enviable invitation: "If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have a treasure in Heaven: and come, follow Me" (Matt. XIX, 21).

An invitation to embrace the evangelical counsels is called a religious vocation. God does not give it to all: "The grace of the Holy Ghost", says St. Cyprian, "is given according to the order of God's providence, and not according to our will" (De Sing. Cler.); and St. Paul writes: "Every one hath his proper gifts from God" (1 Cor. VII, 7). When any one has received such a vocation, his salvation greatly depends on following it. The young man in the Gospel did not do so. "He went away sad, for he had great possessions" (ib. 22): and Christ took occasion of this fact to teach that "a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (ib. 23). St. Liguori says that one who refuses to follow his vocation will be deprived of those abundant helps necessary to lead a good life, and will with difficulty be able to work out his salvation (The Rel. State, p. 8).

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