The Catholic Ten Commandments are a summary of "the conditions of a life freed from the slavery of sin" (Catechism, 2057).
They must be understood in relation to the "law of love": Love of God and love of neighbor summarize all of Catholic morality. The law of love is also the first principle & source of the moral law. It contains "all the law and the prophets" (Mt 22:40).
The Catholic Ten Commandments are a description of the minimum that love requires.
Christian life itself requires much more than simply following the Ten Commandments. See the full article on Catholic morality for a discussion of this important point.
"What's 'Catholic' about them?"
While the entire Judeo-Christian tradition uses the same Scriptural content for the Ten Commandments, their exact division and numbering varies.
The Catholic tradition uses the division of the Commandments established by St. Augustine. (The Lutheran confessions also use this numbering, while some other confessions & traditions use slightly different numberings.)
Here are the Catholic Ten Commandments:
- I am the LORD your God. You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
- Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
- You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.
"What do they mean?"
Again, the Ten Commandments are a description of the basic freedom from sin that is necessary to live as a Christian.
They are a minimum level of living, below which we must not go.
The Ten Commandments and Catholicism have been bound together since the time of Christ. In fact, Jesus refers to the Ten Commandments and assures their validity in his dialog with the rich young man in Matthew's Gospel (Mt 19:16-21). The Catechism refers to this in item #2052.
It's important to note that each Commandment is simply a summary of a whole category of actions. Don't be legalistic, searching for a way around them because their wording doesn't fit you perfectly!
- For example, "bearing false witness against your neighbor" covers any kind of falsehood: perjury, lying, slander, detraction, rash judgment, etc.
The Catholic Ten Commandments are linked together to form a coherent whole. If you break one of them, you're guilty of breaking all of them (Catechism, #2069).
The Commandments express man's fundamental duties to God and neighbor. As such, they represent grave obligations. To violate them knowingly & willingly in a significant way is to commit mortal sin. (See Catechism, #2702-3)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a detailed description of the Catholic Ten Commandments. Read it!