Monday, October 31, 2011

Holy Days of Opportunity

One of the precepts of the Church under canon law is to attend and participate in the Sacred Liturgy on Sundays and specified Holy Days of Obligation. The word "obligation" is unfortunate; it makes it sound as if Mass is a cumbersome duty or hassle or burden. But it is not really a hassle, it is not merely one of the "rules" that we must obey. Or, at least, it should not be. If it is, it’s not God’s fault.

It’s not a burden, and really need not be seen as an “obligation,” because it should rightly be seen an an opportunity. It should not be thought of as having to go to Mass, but as getting to go to Mass. An opportunity to be with God and love Him.

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 what we call "a sin." A serious sin that is necessarily mortal* since to not want to spend time with God is to not want to spend time with Life itself.

To purposely fail to go to Mass on these days 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.

Now, 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. (That is also why, as Catholics, even when we are alone, we often pray these standardized prayers, rather than always being extemporaneous. As good as individualized prayer is, the standardized prayers are the prayers of the Church, so when we pray them, we pray not alone, but with all the faithful.)

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. So 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. If you must, go to a different parish, but do not go to a different “god.” Do not stay away altogether.

(By the way, if you do physically 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 how lousy all these things are, 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 leaving that anger, disgust, resentment, etc. at home, or at least in the car.)

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, then don’t go up for Communion, but do still go to Mass! Jesus Christ is there!

If you have been away for a while, 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.

*There are some exceptions to this – if the Sunday obligation cannot be met due to illness, caring for someone sick, no Mass to attend, etc., then one is not under penalty of mortal sin because it is not intentional. (CCC 1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”)

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