In the United States, Mass attendance has been falling steadily over the last several decades, from 75 percent to 42 percent http://www.gallup.com/poll/117382/Church-Going-Among-Catholics-Slides-Tie-Protestants.aspx with no real end in sight. Over those years, those Catholics who identify themselves as Catholic have seen that identity as possible without the actual practice of the faith has risen significantly. A cavalier attitude has developed about Mass attendance that sees Church as easily divorced from spirituality. Into this spiritual void has jumped universalism, a false teaching that everyone goes to heaven (if there be one) except those who are bad (who don't think like me). It's no real big deal if a person doesn't go to Mass or live any of the precepts of the Church as long as one is good seems to be the predominant feeling out there. The Mass is boring many feel. The music sucks or the priest is too ________ , so I don't go. I can find God in my favorite recreational activity. The list goes on. So what's the big deal? Why does it matter and why should I go?
What is Mass?
I guess we should start by saying what is Mass. I believe that most people are of reasonable disposition and are open to truth. Mass is an act of worship of God. It is the where we directly participate in the saving action of Christ on the Cross. It is a direct participation in the sin/peace offering that Jesus allowed Himself to be. He offered Himself as sacrifice so that the relationship between God and us could be eternally re-established. We lost that relationship through sin; but God could never bring Himself to write us off as beyond His help. He wanted to be one with us again and used Himself to seal that bond. The sin/peace offering, though, was a sacrificial meal. Until the person for whom the sacrifice was offered ate a part of the sacrifice the sacrifice would have no benefit. In John 6:53-54 Jesus says, " Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you. He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day." At the Last Supper, Jesus enables this to take place by taking two common elements of the Passover meal, bread and wine, and declaring them to be the Body and Blood He was about to offer on the Cross. The Last Supper is that first Mass. All other Masses over two thousand years have been a direct participation in this one sacrificial offering.
Do we get the gravity of the situation? Could you imagine one of the apostles saying, "Yeah, I could go to this, but I would rather_______". Wow, imagine saying that to Jesus' face! Your sacrifice isn't worth my time. I can have life, even eternal life, without you. I don't need the sacrifice of the Cross. I am a good person. Sounds easy to say now, how do we think that will play in front of God face to face?
Mass, you see, is an admission we need God's grace and help in our lives. We go in, not to be entertained, but to give thanksgiving (the word Eucharist comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving) for what God has done for us and wants to do for us. It is not a hoop to jump through, but supposed to be a conscious act of worship. It is our awareness that we do want the relationship with God for eternity by showing that desire in the present that should drive us to Mass. God's reward for this desire and openness to His will is to give us the Flesh and Blood of His Son so that we may indeed have His life within us.
Going to Mass is not merely a matter of sitting in a pew for an hour, it is about engagement in worship. We do this because the work of the Gospel must be done. It can not be done passively. If you have been baptized, the mission of the Church is already something that has been promised and for which we will be held liable.
Why go? Because we are called to be holy!
The majority of Catholics believe we are called to be good or nice. What does that mean? I don't know! It is a rather flexible definition for which the bar seems to be plummeting on a regular basis. Being good always seems to embrace my favorite sins or bad habits, doesn't it? The call of a Catholic isn't toward such mediocrity. No, the call of Catholics is to holiness: to be a city set on a hill, a light, salt (see Matthew 5:13-16). We are to be Christ's witnesses to the transforming power of His grace. How can we do this if we do not get the grace we need? Holiness takes fuel. God gives that fuel through the sacraments. Without that fuel, sin will take over and numb us to that necessity. As grace builds on grace, so sin builds on sin. The devil will want all traces of God's life stripped from you. He will keep you as far away from the sacraments as possible, or losing that, convince you to receive them to no good end. In other words, to receive them in a state of mortal sin so they have no effect. It is no wonder that missing Mass is usually preceded by an abandonment of the confessional. We need the grace of both because of the call to holiness that is given us.
Conquering the Yabuts
Who or what are the yabuts? They are the excuses we come up with (yeah, but....) My brother clerics, read these carefully as usually we are the ones that provide the fuel for more than a few of the yabuts.
Yabut 1: Mass is boring! If we come to be entertained, we have already come with the wrong disposition. If we wish to entertained then the focus has shifted from God to me. Disposition matters. Am I there to worship or be worshipped? I know that we can find the music to our disliking. I know many who preach cannot do so well or effectively. I know it can feel dead in there. The way to combat this is to go in with the right disposition. I am here to worship God. I am here to give thanks. It is a shame I have to undergo mediocrity at mass to do so? Yes, it is! To my brothers; does what we do point to God in a way that brings awe? Is the music pointing to worship of God or do we sing about ourselves? Is there any sense of transcendence to what we are doing? Can the people see that we believe in the way we comport ourselves and in the way we handle the Sacred Species? It is hard for people to get that this isn't about being entertained if we act as if we are putting on a show to entertain them. We, too, must come in with a disposition that what we are there to do is worship God and in return receive the grace we need to go get about the business of the Kingdom. If we don't believe that what we handle is the Body and Blood of Christ, how can we expect those who come to Mass to do so?
Yabut 2: I can find God elsewhere! I am going to start with a fairly blunt statement: my Catholic faith should be easily distinguishable from a pagan's faith. Jesus didn't point at a forest, a fishing boat, a recliner, a football game, or a bed and say "Here is where you can find me." He did, however, take unleavened bread and wine and say "This is my Body, this is my Blood." He is saying, "Here I am! I make myself physically present to you in this Mass! I make myself physically present to you in the Eucharistic Species! Jesus doesn't want to be with you in some mere theoretical manner, but in a very real and true sense. There is no other venue in which we will find God so concretely! Now, imagine, telling God that I didn't find His concrete presence in my life all that important...but I fully expect to get into your home for all eternity. I don't think that is going to play over so well, do you?
Yabut 3: Mass is full of hypocrites! Yes, it is. Join the club. To some degree we engage in hypocrisy on a regular basis. We know the right and do the wrong. We fail. It is called sin. Pope Francis has likened the Church to a field hospital where the grace of God is given repeatedly to us as a medicine to cure us and bandage our wounds. For this reason, the Church has the medicinal sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation to make us well enough to receive the solid food of the Eucharist. I know that trying to find confession times in most parishes is difficult (file under things that are not helping, Father) which screams it must not be important. As already stated, though, the Mass is sin/peace offering. It is offered for sinners so that they might draw closer to God and in doing so be given the grace necessary to be the authentic witnesses we are baptized to be. It does presume a desire for relationship with God and an openness to growth in said relationship. This is why confession is so important. When we are in a state of mortal sin, that openness is severed. In a state of mortal sin we go from mere hypocrites to those hell bound. Mass is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.
What Difference does it Make?
A rather large difference, truth be told. What happens when the light of Christ is extinguished in an individual? There is less light! If I spiritually starve myself to death, it is to the detriment of all around me. Furthermore, if I am starving myself to death it is a good bet I am teaching others to do the same. I shut myself out of heaven and invite others to do the same. Remember, Jesus Himself says, "Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you." Without that life we CANNOT enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus set up the criteria. Furthermore, imagine, if you will, what would happen if the 1.25 billion Catholics not only received the Body and Blood of Christ in a state open to its effects (aka 'state of grace') just how positively transforming that could be in this violence ridden world. Imagine the true good that would result. Without our connection to the Eucharist on a regular basis, this cannot be accomplished. Why every week? Because our need for God is that strong. When God commanded that we keep holy the Sabbath, it was for our good. We need Him, we need His grace. Pride obscures this fact, humility points to this fact.
Jesus gave His Body and Blood so that through it the world could be transformed and reunited with its Creator. What a horrible thing to say to Him that we know better than Him and find His sacrifice as beneath us! Jesus reminds us "There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, nothing hidden that will not be made known. Everything you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight; what you have whispered in locked rooms will be proclaimed from the rooftops." (Luke 12:2-3) Our internal dispositions will be laid bare before the judgment seat of God. I, for one, know I need God's grace to get through the maze that is this life. Let us be honest and overcome the yabuts and go seek Jesus where He makes Himself most concretely known. If we are to expect the Kingdom of Heaven, it will not come from ignoring Jesus on earth.