In Mel Brooks’ film History of the World, Part 1 there is a scene familiar to any student of the Old Testament.
Mel Brooks, dressed as Moses, descends Mount Sinai holding three tablets of commandments. He explains that God has given him, “15…” and then accidentally dropping one tablet, “Ah…10 commandments to be obeyed.” While perhaps lacking in theological depth, Mel Brooks seems to be on to something—sometimes we pick and choose which commandments to follow.
In our continuing series for the “Year of Faith” on the Catechism of the Catholic Church we will examine paragraphs 2051-2195, dealing with the first three commandments. This tablet of commandments details our responsibilities towards God. They explain: “You shall love the Lord your God above all things, you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, and you shall keep holy the Sabbath day.”
Much like Mel Brooks’ version of Moses, the importance of these first three commandments is often neglected. The first tablet of commandments specifying how we must relate to God offers the foundation for the moral life. No one will be able to live the second tablet of commandments dealing with the love of neighbor, protecting human life, property and marriage, without first fulfilling one’s obligations to God. The love and worship of God is the foundation for everything else.
The first commandment requires the response of faith. We believe all that God has revealed and given to the Church to teach. We believe these truths not simply because they make sense to us or we have been able to understand every aspect of them but because God has revealed them. The denial of a truth of faith is heresy and a serious sin. It is rejecting what God has taught, either in Scripture or through the Church.
Loving God with our whole heart means not placing trust in false deities. Superstition, or attributing importance to something that isn’t God, can lead to a decrease in one’s total dependence on God alone. Venerating things other than God is a kind of idolatry, as various elements of the so-called “New Age” demonstrate.
A particularly serious sin against the first commandment is that of sacrilege. The Catechism explains, sacrilege “consists in treating unworthily…persons, things or places consecrated to God.” To treat something set apart for God in an unworthy manner demonstrates a lack of love and reverence for God.
The second commandment calls for a respect for God’s name. It is the foundation for why we bow our heads at the name of Jesus during the Mass. It is the reason why we should be very careful never to use the Lord’s name—including the name “God” itself—in any way that does not show due reverence to the Creator of the universe.
The third commandment requires that we give due worship to God. In the Christian dispensation that means that we attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Unless excused for some serious reason, deliberately failing to attend Mass on these days is a grave sin. One should not receive Holy Communion until first being reconciled to God and the Church through the Sacrament of Penance.
The third commandment also forbids unnecessary work on the Sabbath. Sunday should be a time for rest and recreation, increased prayer and spiritual activity and family gatherings. Obviously a common effort among individuals, schools, and communities is needed in this area.
The first three commandments point to the fact that God is our origin and our end. He cannot be reduced to some add-on to an otherwise complete life. God is the foundation of all that is and has made us to be happy only in a life lived in adoration of Him.
Mel Brooks’ film notwithstanding, the first three commandments can never be dropped. They are the path to happiness, to true and genuine freedom, and the flourishing of all society.
As of July 1, Father Connors will serve as associate pastor of Our Lady of Mercy Parish in East Greenwich. This column is part of a yearlong biweekly series on the Year of Faith by Father Connors and Father Joseph Upton.