The Sunday Obligation. For us as Catholic Christians, Sunday stands as the most important day of the week; it outranks every other day. It is more important than a work day or a school day, a free day or a vacation day. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. The Third Commandment leaves no ambiguity whatsoever: “Keep holy the Sabbath Day” (Ex 20:8). The way to keep the Sabbath holy is to attend Mass each and every Sunday.
A Timely Reminder. Many Protestant denominations have a Rally Sunday in early September. For them, it is a time to “rally” their membership, to encourage people to start attending church regularly again after taking the summer off. For Catholics, there is no such thing as a summer or a weekend off, but if there has been some slippage in Mass attendance for you or your family over the summer months, or over the longer term, now is the time to recommit to weekly Mass attendance.
Mass: the High Point of the Week. The Second Vatican Council said that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, No. 11). For Catholics, the Mass is the focal point of the week. Everything else revolves around it. No prayer or other activity ranks above it.
Honor Jesus’ Wishes. On Holy Thursday night when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, after Jesus offered the bread and the wine as his body and blood, he said, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:24,25). Jesus wants us to commemorate the Last Supper, and he wants us to do so regularly – weekly!
Hungers Satisfied. The Mass is the source of our spiritual nourishment. It has two parts: the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When it comes to the Word, Jesus has “the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68), and when it comes to the Eucharist, Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:54). When it comes to physical food, we would never think of going a full day without food. We would suffer terrible hunger pains. And if we fail to eat properly over a long period of time, deficiency diseases will set in. Similarly, if we fail to attend Mass regularly, spiritual malnutrition is the result, and as a person becomes spiritually weaker, vulnerability to sin increases. Weekly Mass attendance sustains the spiritual life.
The Four-fold Presence of Christ. Christ is present with us always, but Christ is with us in special and privileged ways at Mass: in the Word, both the Scripture texts that are proclaimed and the homily reflection that is given; the Eucharist, the bread and wine transformed into the Blessed Sacrament and the Precious Blood; the priest presider, who stands in persona Christi, in the person of Christ; and the gathered assembly, the people of God, the Body of Christ. To be away from Mass is to deprive one’s self of Christ’s special presence, a severe loss indeed!
The Catechetical Moment of the Week. Catechesis is spiritual instruction. The main faith formation event of the week is not Sunday School, an evening religious education class, or a religion class in school. It happens at Mass. The entire Mass is instructive and formative: the hymns, the readings, the homily, the creed, the petitions, and the prayers. The Mass is supposed to transform those who attend into persons who are more strongly committed disciples of Jesus Christ. At the end of Mass when the priest says, “The Mass is ended, go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” the congregation is supposed to disperse, re-instructed, re-energized, and re-committed, taught anew how to carry out their faith in their day-to-day affairs.
Parental Responsibility and Irresponsibility. Parents are the primary educators of their children. Parents are charged to pass on the precious gift of faith, and they pledge to do so when they present their child for Baptism. Parents miss the mark when they drop their child offer for religious education classes on a weeknight, only to miss Mass on the weekend; or when school parents enroll their children in a Catholic school, only to miss Mass on a regular basis. These are disconnects! Catholic school parents both attend Mass themselves and bring their children with them. Likewise, parents who choose public schools both attend Mass and bring their children to faith formation classes. A Catholic school education or a faith formation class is never a substitute for Mass. The Mass is the greatest teaching moment of the week.
Stewardship of Time. There are twenty-four (24) hours in the day, and one hundred and sixty-eight (168) hours in the week. Jesus wants the best of our time, talent, and treasure. To go to Mass and spend one hour to honor God is 1/168th of our week, less than 1 per cent. God is not asking too much. It is good stewardship to attend Mass every Sunday.
A Common Objection: I Don’t Get Anything Out of Mass. There are many who say that they don’t go to Mass because they don’t get anything out of it. The most common objections are: “The preaching is bad;” “the music is bad;” or, “the ritual is dull and boring.” These objections are weak! Eucharist means “thanks.” We come to Mass, not so much for what we receive, but for what we give, “thanksgiving.” Every week is full of God’s blessings. For the average person, as another week goes by, the person has been blessed with life, health, faith, family, and friends, to name a few. One of the most important reasons that we go to Mass every week is to offer God our deep and sincere thanks for all of the blessings that we have received over the pass week.
Another Common Objection: I Can Pray to God on my Own. Another common excuse to miss Mass on Sunday is the statement, “I don’t need to go to church, I can pray to God by myself on my own.” Yes, every person can pray individually, but there are two pillars to a full prayer life: individual prayer and communal prayer. When it comes to private and communal prayer, it is not either-or, it is both-and. Jesus observed the Sabbath both in the synagogue in Nazareth (Lk 4:16) and at the Temple in Jerusalem, and if Jesus prayed communally, we must do the same. Furthermore, Jesus spent his ministry forming community: he gathered a group of disciples, and before he was crucified he prayed, “May they all be one” (Jn 17:21). After Jesus ascended to heaven, “All who believed were together” (Acts 2:44). The solitary way is not the Jesus way. The Body of Christ is a community of believers, so strongly bonded that Mass attendance is never negotiable. The Mass is a marvelous gift from God to us. Let us be such good stewards of God’s time that we never miss the opportunity to give God our thanks and praise.
Decision Time. Now is the time for you to re-assess your intention to attend Mass every week. The Mass is an immeasurable good. Please renew your commitment to attend Mass each and every Sunday without fail. It is the pathway to holiness and eternal life.
About Father Michael Van Sloun
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wayzata, Minn. As a former school principal, high school instructor and athletic coach, he has always been a teacher. He now teaches the faith as a homilist, Bible study leader, retreat director, pilgrimage guide and author of numerous articles.
© 2010, Rev. Michael A. Van Sloun
Used with permission.