The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: Charity in Practice

The Catholic Church teaches us that love isn’t just a feeling or a thought, but it’s something that must be lived out in practical ways. One of the ways we can actively live out our faith is through the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. These are concrete actions through which we can extend God’s compassion and kindness to those in physical need.

What are the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy?

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy are seven acts of kindness and charity that are aimed at relieving the physical suffering of others. They are:

  1. Feed the hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Visit the imprisoned
  7. Bury the dead

These actions are grounded in the teachings of Jesus, who declared, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, NABRE). This passage underlines the idea that in serving others, we are, in fact, serving Christ himself.

Scriptural Foundations

The Gospel of Matthew chapter 25 verses 31-46 is often cited as the scriptural basis for the Corporal Works of Mercy. In this passage, Jesus identifies Himself with those who are suffering, emphasizing the importance of tending to their needs.

In the Old Testament, the book of Isaiah also speaks of these acts. In chapter 58, verses 6–7, Isaiah exhorts us to share our bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless into our homes, and to clothe the naked. Although the Old Testament may not list the works as neatly as the New Testament does, the spirit of mercy is still evident throughout its pages.

The Importance of Corporal Works According to the Catechism

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) emphasizes the importance of these works of mercy. Paragraph 2447 says, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.” In essence, these actions are not just optional good deeds; they are fundamental to our Catholic faith. The Catechism makes it clear that the works of mercy meet “bodily necessities,” indicating their practical and down-to-earth nature.

Theological Insights: Love in Action

The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy aren’t just good deeds; they have a deeper spiritual significance. St. James in his epistle says, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14, NABRE). Here, St. James echoes the sentiment that faith, without works, is dead. The corporal works of mercy are the practical application of our Christian love and faith. They are part of the universal teaching of the Church and are not just theological opinions.

Feed the Hungry and Give Drink to the Thirsty

Providing food and drink to those who need it isn’t just a way to meet immediate physical needs; it’s a way to honor the dignity of a human being. The Church teaches that every human has intrinsic value and dignity because they are made in the image and likeness of God. When we provide for someone’s basic needs, we are acknowledging their inherent worth.

Clothe the Naked and Shelter the Homeless

Clothing and shelter are basic human necessities. By offering these to someone in need, we affirm the dignity of the individual and the sanctity of human life. Remember that Jesus himself was born in a manger because there was no room for him in the inn. In providing shelter to the homeless, we recall that God Himself was once without a home on earth.

Visit the Sick and Visit the Imprisoned

The act of visiting those who are sick or imprisoned can be a profoundly spiritual work. It not only alleviates the loneliness and despair that can accompany these conditions, but it also serves as a powerful reminder of God’s love and presence. The Catechism, in paragraph 2447, recognizes the alleviation of suffering and loneliness as an essential part of the corporal works of mercy.

Bury the Dead

The last of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy may seem less immediate than the others, but it too is rooted in the respect for human dignity. Providing a proper burial is a final act of respect and love for the human person. It also serves as a witness to the hope of the resurrection, a core belief of the Catholic faith.

Charity in Modern Times: How We Can Act

In our modern world, there are numerous ways to engage in the corporal works of mercy. Food banks, hospitals, and homeless shelters are just a few examples. One doesn’t have to look far to find opportunities for charitable works.


The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy are not just a checklist of good deeds but a guide to living a life rooted in love and compassion. By engaging in these acts, we are not only aiding our fellow human beings but serving Christ Himself. These actions are a concrete way to live out the Catholic faith and provide a witness to the world that is profoundly needed today.

So the next time you are pondering how to live out your faith, remember the words of St. John of the Cross: “At the end of our life, we shall all be judged by charity.” Engaging in the corporal works of mercy is not just an option; it’s a calling for every Catholic.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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