Baltimore Catechism on the Works of Mercy
Practical direction on the Works of Mercy, excerpted from the Baltimore Catechism, No. 19.
813. Which are the chief spiritual works of mercy?
The chief spiritual works of mercy are seven: To admonish the sinner, to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living and the dead.
814. When are we bound to admonish the sinner?
We are bound to admonish the sinner when the following conditions are fulfilled:
1. When his fault is a mortal sin;
2. When we have authority or influence over him, and
3. When there is reason to believe that our warning will not make him worse instead of better.
815. Who are meant by the “ignorant” we are to instruct, and the “doubtful” we are to counsel?
By the ignorant we are to instruct and the doubtful we are to counsel, are meant those particularly who are ignorant of the truths of religion and those who are in doubt about matters of faith. We must aid such persons as far as we can to know and believe the truths necessary for salvation.
816. Why are we advised to bear wrong patiently and to forgive all injuries?
We are advised to bear wrongs patiently and to forgive all injuries, because, being Christians, we should imitate the example of Our Divine Lord, who endured wrongs patiently and who not only pardoned but prayed for those who injured Him.
817. If, then, it be a Christian virtue to forgive all injuries, why do Christians establish courts and prisons to punish wrongdoers?
Christians establish courts and prisons to punish wrongdoers, because the preservation of lawful authority, good order in society, the protection of others, and sometimes even the good of the guilty one himself, require that crimes be justly punished. As God Himself punishes crime and as lawful authority comes from Him, such authority has the right to punish, though individuals should forgive the injuries done to themselves personally.
818. Why is it a work of mercy to pray for the living and the dead?
It is a work of mercy to aid those who are unable to aid themselves. The living are exposed to temptations, and while in mortal sin they are deprived of the merit of their good works and need our prayers. The dead can in no way help themselves and depend on us for assistance.
819. Which are the chief corporal works of mercy?
The chief corporal works of mercy are seven: To feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to ransom the captive, to harbor the harborless, to visit the sick, and to bury the dead.
820. How may we briefly state the corporal works of mercy?
We may briefly state the corporal works of mercy by saying that we are obliged to help the poor in all their forms of want.