Saturday, August 14, 2010

The "Obligation" to Go to Mass

It is said that there is an "obligation" to attend and participate in the Sacred Liturgy on Sundays and specified Holy Days of Obligation. In a post at her blog, Runs With Angels, Some Catechesis: Now, Pay Attention!, Jan announces and makes the challenge,

"Bender will begin the series with the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is celebrated August 15th. And I’ll wager that he’ll explain to us why observing these holy days is not really a 'hassle' at all, but a privilege!"

Well, she's right. It's not really a "hassle." Or, at least, it should not be. If it is, it's not God's fault.

It's not a hassle, and really need not be seen as an "obligation," because it should rightly be seen an an opportunity. An opportunity to be with God and love Him, as explained in that prior post:

Willful failure to go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is more than a violation of the Church’s “rules,” it is contrary to love for God.

If we love God, and if we want to be with Him in heaven, then we should want to be with Him for a little bit while we are still sojourning down here on earth. If we purposely do not go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, we are saying that we do not want to be with God, we do not want to spend a measly one-hour in His presence, and that would be a sin. A serious, mortal sin.* It would be contrary to the First Commandment (we would be putting our own earthly gods, including ourselves, before Him) and, in the case of Sunday Mass, it would be contrary to the Third Commandment (by failing to keep holy the Lord’s Day). And if we refuse to go to Mass, not because we do not love God, but because we cannot stand the other people at Mass (what they sing, how they act, how boring they are), then that is contrary to the commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us, and it would be a rupture of the communion of the Church. In any case, it would be a rejection of the Blessed Sacrament and Jesus’ request that we participate in the Eucharist in memory of Him.

It is true that we don't need to go to Mass to pray to God. We can pray to God at home. We can form a spiritual communion with Jesus at home. But one thing that we cannot do at home is to establish full communion with Him, communion in the entirety of our being. Prayer away from Mass accomplishes only a partial communion with Him, a spiritual communion. But we are more than spiritual beings, we have bodies as well. Only do body and spirit together make up the entire person.

And we can obtain full communion with Jesus, spirit and body, only at Mass in the Eucharist, the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Only at Mass can we be one with Him fully, and in a profoundly intimate way, our soul one with His, our body one with His. Holy Communion is the only true communion, everything else falls short.

Mass on Sundays and Holy Days and every other day of the year (technically Mass is not celebrated on Good Friday or Holy Saturday) are not "obligations," they are unique opportunities for Communion with the Lord.

Moreover, ours is not an individual faith, but a communal faith. Our relationship with Christ is not a limited one-on-one relationship. Rather, we are one with Him, and He is one with everyone else, such that we are meant to be one in communion with all the other faithful in heaven, on earth, and in purgatory. When we pray at Mass, we celebrate one liturgy, we pray as one, with the entirety of the Church, both across geography and across time.

When we do our own thing, staying at home because we think that we do not "need" Mass to have a relationship with God, we rupture that communion with the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

If the liturgy is poorly done, or if the music is bad, or the homily is boring, or the other people are dressed inappropriately, or the priest/deacon/ministers are too liberal or too conservative or too this or too that, or you stayed out too late the night before, or you've done some things that you shouldn't have done and thus are in a state of sin, or you don't understand some of the teachings of the Church, or you think you know better and oppose the Church, or whatever million other excuses you can come up with, even when you are fully justified in your dissatisfaction, none of that is God's fault. None of that is on Jesus. Maybe it is on other people, maybe it is on us. Maybe it is on YOU. Maybe it is on me.

But it's not God's fault. Don't take it out on Him. He is the remedy to all these problems. He is the priceless pearl. The Eucharist is "the source and summit" of our faith. The Blessed Sacrament is Emmanuel, God with us. No matter how lousy everything else is, do not let that keep you from Him. Even if it is not proper for you to receive Holy Communion because you've done something you shouldn't but like it and intend to keep on doing it, so that you're not ready to go to Confession yet, don't go up for Communion, but do still go to Mass! Jesus Christ is there! If you must, go to a different parish, but do not go to a different "god." Do not stay away altogether.

If you have been away for awhile, for whatever reason you left and/or have stayed away, do not be afraid to admit that you are starving. Come home. The father will slaughter the fatted calf and all of heaven will rejoice and celebrate.

Mass is not an "obligation," if by obligation one means a burden or bother or hassle. Rather, it is an opportunity. It is the ability to receive the "medicine of immortality," i.e. the Eucharist. It is hope, the hope by which we are already saved.

(Cross-posted at Runs With Angels)


Addendum: By the way, if the liturgy is poorly done, or the music is bad, or the homily is boring, or the other people are dressed inappropriately, or the priest/deacon/ministers are too liberal or too conservative or too this or too that, etc., and you do attend Mass (as it is good that you do so), but you spend most of the time angry or disgusted or resentful or grumbling, etc. about these things, then it is pretty close to not coming to Mass at all. "Coming" to Mass means coming with a proper disposition, especially if receiving Holy Communion, which means a warm and loving heart -- if not enthusiastically loving one another (which includes loving other people you don't like (it's easy to love people you like, but Jesus calls us to love everyone)), then at least leaving that anger, disgust, resentment, etc. at home, or at least in the car.


Teresa said...

Excellent post! Spot on! Celebrating Jesus at Mass should not be considered an "obligation".

Nora said...

Well, you try going to a Catholic Mass in San're better off at an Episcopalian church.

After this past Sunday, where the priest felt it appropriate to open his homily on the Assumption with a really gross joke about men cheating on their wives -- like it's a good thing! -- forget about it.

Jan said...

Two things, Nora - first, nothing, nothing should keep us from hearing the word of God and receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist.

Believe me, I understand perfectly what you are saying because I have nearly walked out of Mass several times. But by the grace of God I've gotten beyond that - and hard as I try to live up to Bender's expectation that we would leave our anger, disgust and resentment at home, sometimes it's hard. But, I grit my teeth if I have to, and just do it.

Next, were I in your parish and my priest used an off-color joke, I would be ALL OVER Abp. Niederauer with complaints. The only reason priests get away with half the stupid things some of them do is because their congregations let them.

Do I advocate running to the bishop for every little thing? No. But there are lines that need to be drawn and you've described one of them. Abp. Niederauer was my bishop. He has been known to respond to complaints.

Bender said...

hard as I try to live up to Bender's expectation that we would leave our anger, disgust and resentment at home, sometimes it's hard

If everything was easy on our own, there would be no need or use for grace.

Bender said...

Traveling last week, I went to Sunday Mass at this one small town parish where there were a couple of moments that almost had me grumbling like Marge Simpson. Am I sorry I went? No.

If one absolutely must, in order to maintain one's peace and sanity, go to a different parish if there is one nearby. Personally, I do not go to my "official" territorial parish, but the next closest. I tried going to the closest for Mass, but their rock band was something I found that I could not get past no matter how much I tried (they are LOUD for one thing). But if there is no alternative, don't simply not go. You may indeed need to "offer it up," but you can't not go -- that's not merely cutting your nose off to spite your face, it is cutting your entire head off.

While we're at it, perhaps a few prayers for folks like Miss Rice and others would be appropriate.

Jan said...

I find, more often than not, that if I just consciously suspend my irritations, they will go away.

My point was simply that you have to look beyond yourself and focus on the prize, which in this case is the Eucharist.

And I know that we wouldn't need grace if everything was easy.