We should first call to mind the importance of the Mass. Each Sunday, and Holy days of obligation, we gather together as a Church with hearts filled with joy to worship Almighty God. We remember and profess our faith in the mystery of our salvation. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. The saving actions of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday’s Easter Vigil coalesce in the Holy Sacrifice of one Mass.
Moreover, at Mass, each faithful Catholic is fed with abundant graces: First, we are nourished by the Word of God– God’s eternal truth that has been revealed to us and recorded under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We then respond by professing our Holy Catholic Faith as presented in the Creed, saying not simply I believe” as a singular person, but we believe” as part of the Church. Second, if we are in a state of grace, then we have the opportunity to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. We firmly believe that our Lord is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, and that we receive His body, blood, soul, and divinity in Holy Communion. Not only does the Holy Eucharist unite us intimately with the Lord, but also unites us in communion with our brothers and sisters throughout the universal Church.
The Holy Eucharist is such a precious gift! With this in mind, no one should simply think of attending Mass as fulfilling an obligation. To attend Mass is a privilege, and any faithful Catholic should want to attend Mass. Our perspective should not be, I have got to do this”; rather, we should think, I get to do this.”
The Mass offers such precious gifts, provides the nourishment of great graces, and unites us as a Church, there for we do indeed have a sacred obligation to attend Mass. The Third Commandment states, “Keep Holy the Sabbath.” For Christians, we have always kept holy Sunday, the day of the resurrection as our day of rest. Just as creation unfolded on the first day of the week with God commanding, “Let there be light,” our Lord, the Light who came to shatter the darkness of sin and death, rose from the dead on that first day marking the new creation.
The Code of Canon Law (#1246) proscribes, “Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.” Moreover, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass…” (#1247). Therefore, the Catechism teaches, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit grave sin” (#2181), and grave sin is indeed mortal sin. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, repeated this precept in his apostolic letter Dies Domini (Observing and Celebrating the Day of the Lord, #47, 1998).
Of course, serious circumstances arise which excuse a person from attending Mass. Such as if a person is sick, has to deal with an emergency, or cannot find a Mass to attend without real burden. A pastor may also dispense a person from the obligation of attending Mass for serious reason. For instance, no one, including our Lord, expects a person to attend Mass who is so sick he cannot physically attend Mass; there is no virtue in further hurting one’s own health plus infecting everyone else in the Church. In the case of extreme weather conditions, a person must prudently judge whether he can safely travel to attend Mass without seriously risking his own life and the lives of others. When such serious circumstances arise, which prevent a person from attending Mass, they should definitely take time to pray, read the prayers and readings of the Mass, or watch the Mass on television, at least participate in spirit. Keep in mind when such serious circumstances arise, a person does not commit mortal sin for missing Mass.
A person must really reflect on how valuable the Mass and the Holy Eucharist are. Every day, faithful Catholics in the People’s Republic of China risk educational and economic opportunities and even their very lives to attend Mass. In mission territories, people travel many miles to attend Mass. They take the risk and they make the sacrifice because they truly believe in the Mass and our Lord’s presence in the Holy Eucharist.
When a person negligently skips Mass, to go shopping, sleep a few extra hours, attend a social event, or not interrupt vacation, the person is allowing something to take the place of God. Something becomes more valuable than the Holy Eucharist. Yes, such behavior really is indicative of turning one’s back on the Lord and committing a mortal sin. God must come first in our lives. On Sunday, our primary duty is to worship God at Mass as a Church and to be nourished with His grace.
Fr. Saunders pastor of Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria.