Do We Sin When We Don’t fast?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells me that the Precepts of the Church have an obligatory character (2041). I can understand that I am obligated to attend Sunday Mass because God commands me to keep the Sabbath day holy, and I sin against God if I fail. But the other precepts are formed by the Church, not God. Can I be said to sin if, for example, I don’t bother to fast and abstain on the prescribed days? P Evans
Put briefly, the Precepts of the Church are fivefold. They oblige us to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, to confess our sins at least once a year, to receive the Eucharist at least during the Easter season, to observe days of fasting and abstinence, and to provide for the material needs of the Church.
The immediate object of the Precepts is to strengthen members of the Church collectively and individually as they strive to show the world about them who Christ is and what he has planned for the world’s salvation.
We are not going to be very effective in living an exemplary Christian life if we obey the Precepts of the Church only to the letter. You must have noticed that these Precepts require us to do only the barest minimum as faithful Catholics. This is not enough.
We must observe not the letter but the spirit of the Precepts, which is to live as a Christian community, adoring God and doing his will, supporting one another in our needs and in performing works of love and care for others.
So, when you attend Mass or go to confession or fast and abstain on the fixed days, you are doing this not just as one Catholic who hopes not to sin. You are doing it in union with the vast numbers of fellow believers, altogether mutually building up the spiritual strength of the Church, which is Christ in the world.
God, of course, gave the Ten Commandments as a moral law for all humanity, not only for the People of Israel under Moses.
If we refuse to obey an explicit order by God, we must be prepared for the consequences. If we refuse to abide by any or all of the Precepts of the Church, there are also consequences. These, however, have to do with our conscience.
There is no coercion or outward penalty if we wilfully disregard the Precepts, but there is an inward call reminding us of our baptismal vows and our duties to Christ and his Church.
If we think we are on our own and not part of the communion of saints, then our conscience should be pricking us uncomfortably.