As we come up to the start of the new school year, perhaps it is a good time to revisit why Sunday Mass is more than merely important. It is necessary. It is the heart of the lived Roman Catholic life. The Church refers to the Mass as the source and summit of our faith. So central to the lived experience and growth of the faith, that it is one of the precepts of the Church. For a Roman Catholic to be considered a Catholic in good standing, Mass attendance is required. There are exceptions made for those who are ill or tending to an ill person. There are those who health prevents them from coming. These account for very few Catholics overall. Some have jobs that make Mass attendance difficult. The Church understands this.
Most don’t come because they do not see a necessity for it. It comes from decades of low understanding of the faith, experimentation done during Mass that went awry, and an overall lowballing of expectations that fell from a call to holiness to a call to being good. The average percentage of Catholics who regularly attend Mass is a definitive minority. Most do not. I would argue that a large part of the reason Catholic influence has nosedived, why vocations have fallen, and why Catholics are not substantially different from non-Catholics in their attitudes towards moral issues starts with the spiritual starvation that comes from skipping Mass. If just the Catholics who are on parish rolls came to Mass on a regular basis, most churches would have to add multiple Mass times.
Many remain on rolls because they want to be buried in the cemetery or want their children to be able to go to the parish school at no or reduced tuition. In the latter case, the good will of the parish is being taken advantage of in a rather reprehensible way. Parish schools exist to do more than provide an education. They are an investment, a large investment, on the parishes’ part to training our youth to be educated, forthright, and holy Catholic leaders. This investment is cut at the knees when Mass is left out of the equation. Weekday Masses do not replace the Sunday Mass. When Sunday Mass is left out of the equation, the time, energy, and monies spent are wasted to the end for which they were given.
The Sunday Mass (Saturday PM counts to this) is about the keeping holy of the Sabbath. Because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Sunday) the commitment to the Sabbath was moved from the Jewish Sabbath of Sunday to the day of the Resurrection. Every Sunday is a celebration of Easter. The Resurrection changes everything. It validates the eternal sacrifice of the Cross we share in every time we come to Mass. It points us to a destination far beyond the temporal plain. At Mass, God punches through our time and space to bring us into His. Hence there are two sides to what is going on.
First, we come to glorify God. Many will say that I glorify God, theoretically, from the comfort of my own home, or a fishing boat, or a deer stand, or a winding trail. Sure. Pronouns matter. Notice I said we and not I. Through baptism, we are brought into the Body of Christ. Our relationship with Christ is intertwined with our relationship with each other. WE worship. WE, the Body of Christ present in this locale, worship as an assembly (ekklesia in Greek…Church is English). WE come together in the common purpose of worship. What is worship? It is not entertainment. Mass is not a movie, TV show, ballgame, or play. It is not something we merely sit in an auditorium to watch as spectators to cheer of jeer the entertainers. Worship is an act issuing FROM us, not to us. The ‘us’ in question is not merely the people who happen to be in the room at the same time, but we are connected to every other member of the Body of Christ throughout the world, in time and eternity.
We call the Mass, the Eucharist. The word ‘Eucharist’ comes from the Greek word for ‘thanksgiving.’ We gather as members of a single Body to give thanks to God. We also give Him adoration. Mass is first and foremost, from our part, what we give to God. In that giving, we are united to the Body of Christ throughout the world. To willingly and slothfully separate ourselves from this assembly of the Body of Christ is to diminish the centrality of Christ in our life.
The second side to this equation is what God does for us in response to our worship. If we come into Mass to concretely tell God of our active love for Him and each other, His response is to make us holy. We should never lose sight that the call of a Catholic is not to mere goodness, but to holiness. Holiness is a much higher and well-spelled out calling than the ambiguity of ‘being good.’ Holiness, which is the calling card of a son or daughter of God, can only be done through the grace of God. It can only be done in union with God. God’s response to our intentional and right worship of Him is to give us the grace of the Body and Blood of His Son that we might grow as individuals and as a people in our faith and witness.
Without this infusion of God’s grace, we spiritually starve ourselves. The reception of the Body and Blood of Christ is necessary, as Christ Himself told us, “Unless you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood, you have no life within you.” (John 6:53) If we do not have the life of Christ within us, then we willingly shut ourselves out of the Kingdom of Heaven. The reception of the Eucharist does require three things: presence, belief, and a state of grace. It makes sense that we need to be physically present. In the case of our shut-ins, we bring Communion to them. Presence, though, is NOT enough. We cannot be merely physically present in a building where Mass is taking place. Second, we must believe that what is being given to us is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Without belief, the reception of Christ’s Body and Blood becomes an act of blasphemy. Finally, our souls must be in a state of grace to receive. This means we cannot be in a state of mortal sin at the time of reception. If we are, we truncate the ability of God’s grace to change and strengthen us and the act of receiving Communion becomes an act of sacrilege. It is why the sacrament of Reconciliation is so important, for in this sacrament the soul is cleansed of that which blocks the grace of the Eucharist from taking hold in our lives.
It is the Body and Blood of Christ that bond us together as the Body of Christ. It is in this union that we receive the benefits, both temporal and eternal, of being a member of the Body of Christ. We cannot expect the benefits without that consistent membership. Whether that benefit comes in the use of parochial and diocesan programs and assistance, education, and ministries or in the eternal life of heaven, our faithful and faith-filled reception of the Eucharist at Mass matters greatly. It is my duty to remind those of my flock of this central belief and hold it up as the base standard of our faith. To allow the giving of the benefits of the Body of Christ while a person willfully absents themselves from the Mass is a gross dereliction of duty on my part. Because I care about the temporal needs of those assigned to my pastoral care and even more so to the eternal fate of my flock, it is my task to point to the greater and more challenging. I point out it is my calling to be faithful, not popular. That I set this standard is towards the ends of the holiness to which each of us is called.