The Ten Commandments, also called the Decalogue, which means “Ten Words,” are a summary of the Divine Law and the basis of all morality. Although they are in the Old Testament, Jesus still requires us to follow them. To the young man who asks, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life,” the Lord tells Him to follow the commandments before adding that he should sell what he has and give to the poor (Mt. 19). The Church’s Tradition has consistently taught that the Commandments are obligatory for Christians, and this was reaffirmed in the Council of Trent (1547), and the Second Vatican Council (1964).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Since they express man’s fundamental duties towards God and towards his neighbor, the Ten Commandments reveal, in their primordial content, grave obligations. They are fundamentally immutable, and they oblige always and everywhere. No one can dispense from them. The Ten Commandments are engraved by God in the human heart” (CCC 2072).
The Commandments regulate our relationship with God, in the first three Commandments, and with our neighbor, in the last seven Commandments. They express our obligations, in justice, to God and to our neighbor. Justice means giving people what they are owed. Think of the criminal justice system; someone who commits a crime is owed a punishment, and someone who’s innocent is deserves their freedom. Justice isn’t just about crimes, though. Someone who gives you a gift deserves to be thanked for it. Parents deserve to be honored by their children for giving them life and raising them. God deserves to be revered for creating us, holding us in existence, and redeeming us.
The Ten Commandments are unchangeable; they apply to all people in every time and circumstance. They are basic rules of morality. The Natural Law is based on our nature as human beings. We’re living beings, so we ought to promote life. We’re also rational beings, so we ought to act rationally and seek the truth. The Catechism explains in this way, “They bring to light the essential duties, and therefore, indirectly, the fundamental rights inherent in the nature of the human person. The Decalogue contains a privileged expression of the natural law” (CCC 2070). The Fifth Commandment says that we ought not to kill, meaning murder, because humans have a right to life.
Finally, the Catechism says that they are engraved by God in the human heart. God gave Moses the Ten Commandments after the Exodus from Egypt, when He engraved them on the stone tablets. The Prophet Jeremiah says, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God and they shall be my people” (Jer 21:33). How will it be written in our hearts? Listen to the Prophet Ezekiel, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts. I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees” (Ez 36:25-27). On our own we are prone to sin, but God makes us able to follow His Commandments by giving us His own Holy Spirit, cleansing us from sin, and writing the Law on our hearts.
Look out for bulletin articles on each of the Ten Commandments.
ANNOUNCEMENT: I’m starting a new series of pastor’s bulletin articles. In addition to the regular articles and “Fr. Bryan Recommends,” I’m adding a series of questions and answers. Once a month I’ll write an article answering a question from a parishioner on the Church, the Mass and sacraments, the Bible, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints, spiritual theology, or anything related to Christianity. Either write your question down and put it in the collection basket, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.