Ten Commandments or 613?

Q. Why is it that Christians feel that the coming of Jesus freed them from the 613 prescripts that Jews count in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and that they can adhere only to the Ten Commandments? Why those 10 and not the other 613? (Albany, New York)

A. The Christian belief is that Jesus came to fulfill the law and that the essential moral principles of the Mosaic code are contained in the Ten Commandments as revealed in Chapter 20 of the Book of Exodus.

Paul's Letter to the Colossians (2:16-17) notes that Christians are not bound by the precepts of the Hebrew law that were merely ceremonial -- about "clean" and "unclean" things, about sacrifices and others temple practices. "Let no one, then," says Paul, "pass judgment on you in matters of food and drink or with regard to the festival or new moon or Sabbath. These are shadows of things to come; the reality belongs to Christ."

The precepts of the Torah, as enumerated by the Torah scholar Maimonides in the 12th century, were very specific. More than a dozen of the 613 had to do with idolatry ("not to make an idol for yourself," "not to make an idol for others," "not to turn a city to idolatry," "not to bow down before a smooth stone"); more than two dozen listed those you were prohibited from having sex with (your mother, your sister, your father, an animal).

Such prohibitions are covered, the Christian believes, in a generic way by the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, the rabbi Hillel, the Jewish sage who lived during the first century before Christ, was once challenged to recite the entire Hebrew code of law while standing on one foot; he said this, "Do not do to anyone else what you would not want done to yourself." With that, he put the other foot down and said, "All else is commentary."

Q. Is there any prohibition against having Masses said for deceased Protestants or Jews, or should they only be requested for Catholics? (Suffolk, Virginia)

A. There is no canonical rule against having a Mass said for a deceased non-Catholic. As a matter of fact, the opposite is true; the church's Code of Canon Law says, "A priest is free to apply the Mass for anyone, living or dead" (Canon 901).

This means that the Eucharist can be offered for anyone -- dead or alive, Catholic or non-Catholic. And that brings up another question: If you attend the wake of a non-Catholic, is it OK to bring a Mass card? The answer is "Yes."

One might think the opposite; most Protestants, for example, do not believe in the existence of purgatory; they feel that their deceased loved ones, if they lived a worthy life, are already experiencing eternal beatitude.

Since the Mass is an intercessory prayer (it re-presents the salvific acts of Christ in his death and resurrection and seeks to apply those merits to the deceased), one might suspect that Protestants would see this as unnecessary and could be offended if given a Mass card. But I have never found that to be so; instead I have found them consistently grateful.

Which brings up still a third question: Can you have a Catholic funeral Mass for a non-Catholic? Here again the answer is "Yes," under certain circumstances. Canon 1183.3 provides that a Catholic Church funeral may be offered for baptized non-Catholics "unless their intention is evidently to the contrary and provided that their own minister is not available."

- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service