As important as it is for Catholics to subscribe to all the tenets of the faith without exception, so too is it important that a Catholic not insist on uniformity in matters about which the Church allows diversity of opinion or custom.
Most Catholics (at least the types that read this blog) recognize and affirm the former but may not have thought much about the latter. In this post we will differentiate between and give examples of what the Church mandates (what Catholics must do) and what the Church Allows (What Catholics can do).
Mandates vs. Allows
Two examples of what the Church mandates would be the confession of one’s serious sins to a priest at least once a year:
“According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” (CCC 1457)
And attending Mass on Sunday and holy days of obligation:
“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” (CCC 2181)
Notice that though Saints and even Popes have encouraged daily Mass and frequent confession, it is not mandated by the Church. To act as if real Catholics are those who go to daily Mass and attend monthly confession and that those who don’t are some how sub-Catholic is a non-Catholic position to hold, i.e. if you want to be a faithful Catholic, stop doing it!
Public Revelation Vs. Private Revelation
The reason some Catholics confuse what is mandated as opposed to what is allowed is that they don’t understand the difference between public and private revelation.
Public revelation, which has been faithfully handed down through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, ended with the death of the last apostle. Thus we see in Jude 1:3, “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (my italics). The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that, “no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (CCC 66)
Private revelation would include such things as devotion to the Sacred Heart, revealed by our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and Apparitions of the Blessed Mother such as at Lourdes and Fatima. Though the above three revelations have been deemed worthy of belief by the Church, the Church does not require Catholics to believe in them.
Addressing private revelation, the Catechism explains, “they do not belong…to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history.” (CCC 67)
Summing It Up
I want to make it clear that I am not encouraging a minimalistic attitude toward our faith. What I’m trying to do is prevent Catholics against insisting on uniformity in matters about which the Church diversity of opinion or custom.
I myself have a great devotion to the Rosary, go to monthly confession, appreciate the extraordinary form of the Roman rite (the Latin Mass). But while I may encourage others to do as I do, I may not -if I wish to be a faithful Catholic- act as if the Church commands that of them; she does not.