Taken from THE CATECHISM EXPLAINED
Written by Fr. Francis Spirago; Edited by Fr. Richard Clarke, SJ
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, New York, 1927
SECTION B: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT OF GOD
3. FOOLISH OR PERVERTED WORSHIP.
1. Superstition, fortune-telling, spiritualism, and magic, are foolish and irrational forms of worship.
1. Superstition consists in ascribing to created things powers which they do not possess, either by nature or in virtue of the prayers of the Church.
Superstition is of pagan origin. Among the Romans the will of the gods was divined by the Haruspices from the entrails of animals. The Greeks consulted the oracle of Delphi: a priestess was seated upon a tripod above a fissure in the earth whence a stupefying vapor arose, and to her incoherent utterances when in a state of unconsciousness through this exhalation, a mystic meaning was attached. Many popular and local customs that linger among us in the present day are relics of heathen times. These superstitions are generally found among people who do not care for religion; superstition and unbelief go hand in hand. Children born on a Sunday are said to be fortune's favorites; Friday is considered an unlucky day for the commencement of an enterprise, or for starting on a journey; to sit down thirteen to table is regarded as a fatal omen. Some people wear charms, such as four-leaved clovers, about them to ensure good fortune. What folly this is! These we call natural superstitions, because they refer to natural objects. On the other hand, those people are not to be called superstitious who make use of, or carry on their person things that the Church has consecrated or blessed, and which consequently are endued with supernatural efficacy. To wear a cross which has been blessed, or a rosary, or a relic, to take holy water, hoping thereby to be preserved by God from evil, is not superstitious. But if a greater efficacy than they possess is ascribed to these things, for instance, if it is thought that the fact of lighting a blessed candle during a storm will avert the thunderbolt, that the mere wearing of, or recital of certain prayers will preserve from drowning or death by fire, then we have an instance of superstition. This kind of superstition is called religious, because it has reference to sacred objects.
2. Fortune-telling or soothsaying is the attempt to discover hidden or future events by means of things that are not in themselves calculated to reveal them.
The heathens of old made use of astrology for this purpose; from the course or conjunction of the planets they forecast the destiny of individuals. Even nowadays many people regard the appearance of a comet as presaging war or famine. The Roman augurs predicted what was about to happen by watching the flight of birds, listening to the cries they uttered, or observing the manner in which the sacred fowls devoured their food. What a strange delusion! In the present day, however, Christians sometimes use cards as a means of divination; if the public papers are to be believed, there are in Paris eight hundred women who tell fortunes by cards; and they are invited to the homes of the great to exercise their art. There are also many who believe in the portents of dreams, or in palmistry, or who think to foretell the future by the combinations of numbers and figures, and the like contemptible devices. They attach superstitious meaning to the howling of a dog at night, which is said to predict the death of its owner; the hour at which a watch happens to stop, etc. Those who play lottery connect certain numbers with certain events, either real or the phantoms of dreams. On the occasion of an earthquake in Rome in 1895, a million of francs was put into the lottery on the number eleven, this being the date of the earthquake, other tickets for large sums being taken for the hour and minute at which it occurred. All these numbers were drawn blanks. And that in this nineteenth century, the age of enlightenment! On the other hand, the forecasts of meteorologists, or the prediction of what weather may be expected from the observation of natural phenomena, is of course perfectly legitimate.
3. Spiritualism is the invocation of spirits in view of learning what is hidden from human ken.
Spiritualists offer themselves to act as instruments or mediums to the spirits, their design being that some unknown spirit (that is a devil) should communicate with mankind by means of their hand or voice, or by some other manifestation, such as rapping. St. Thomas Aquinas says it is sinful to seek instruction from the devil, since the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, are placed within our reach. "Let there not be found anyone that consulteth spirits, for the Lord abhorreth all these things" (Deut. xviii. 11). Spiritualists are often excused on the plea that they are Christians, and call upon the name of God; but for that very reason they are to be condemned, because they profane God's holy name, and while professing to be Christians, they act as do the heathen.
4. Magic or sorcery is the invocation of spirits in order to produce miraculous effects.
It is an undeniable fact that among the heathen there were individuals who worked wonders by the devil's aid. There were magicians in Egypt in the time of Moses, who by their enchantments imitated his miracles (Exod. vii. 11). In the days of the Apostles a magician named Simon lived in Samaria and deluded many by his sorceries (Acts viii. 10). We are also told that Antichrist will perform many lying wonders with the assistance of the evil one (2 Thess. ii. 9). The name of magician is not to be given to jugglers, who by skill and sleight of hand perform astonishing feats.
2. This perverted form of worship is a grievous sin.
God says: "The soul that shall go aside after magicians and soothsayers I will destroy out of the midst of its people" (Lev. xx. 6). David says: "Thou hast hated them that regard vanities to no purpose" (Ps. xxx. 7). He who trusts to vain things or to evil. spirits, ascribes more power to them than to God; he tacitly denies the Divine attributes of sanctity, omnipotence. wisdom, etc. "How canst thou hope for grace from God," asks St. John Chrysostom, "if thou dost abandon Him and have recourse to the evil enemy?" This sin brings down severe chastisements from God. Ochozias, one of the kings of Israel, sent to inquire of Beelzebub, the god of Accaron, whether he should recover of his sickness. The prophet Elias met the messengers, and said to them: "Go and return to the king that sent you, and say to him: Thus saith the Lord, Is it because there was no God in Israel that thou sendeth to Beelzebub? Therefore thou shalt not come down from thy bed but thou shalt surely die" (4 Kings i.). Ochozias expired shortly after. Superstitious people have no peace; they are timid and apprehensive; every trifle alarms them; they are dismayed and afraid to act when they perceive what they consider as portents. Other sins follow in the train of this perversion of the reverence due to God; such as abuse of holy things, for instance, relics and images; or injustice and want of charity towards one's neighbor. Superstitious people are easily misled by their omens into rash judgments and hasty condemnations of others; or they refuse to do them a service lest it should bring ill-luck, etc.
Sins Against the First Commandment.
The First Commandment of God is transgressed:
1. By neglecting prayer.
The heathen had their household gods; they were to be seen in the halls of palaces as well as above the threshold of the lowliest dwellings. Yet Catholics, who worship the true God, too often deny Him the daily homage due to Him. The followers of Mohammed never omit, when the muezzin calls to prayer, to kneel down and perform their orisons; even in public places, while Christians, who hold the true faith, do not scruple to dispense with prayer almost entirely. Unhappy is the household where family prayer is an unknown thing!
2. By opposing religion, either by speaking against the faith, or by the publication or dissemination of books and periodicals hostile to the faith, or by joining associations of an anti-Christian character.
3. By worshipping idols or being engrossed in material interests.
4. By superstitions.
5. By telling fortunes or having one's fortune told.
6. By invoking spirits, either for the purpose of searching out what is hidden, or of doing what cannot be done in the ordinary course of nature.