A recent poll released by Georgetown University reported that Catholics born after 1980 shared most of the values of those born before 1960… similar devotion to the saints and observance of the liturgical seasons were cited as specific examples. Curiously, though, the poll revealed those same younger Catholics reported they didn’t believe they had to attend Holy Mass on Sunday.
Look folks, I love that you’re taking the Church’s moral standards seriously and that you’re pious about the Catholic faith when it comes to the devotions, disciplines, and culture, but here’s the deal: You have to attend Holy Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation on pain of mortal sin.
That’s right, I went there.
It is a mortal sin, a “sin unto death” (1 Jn 5:16), to miss Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days without a good reason. Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us about our obligation: …the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin (#2181). Because of this you are obligated to go to Confession and receive absolution before you receive Holy Communion at the next Mass you attend.
Sunday Mass is not an option or merely something “good to do,” it is a Commandment from God. He commands us to observe the Sabbath day in (among other places) Deuteronomy: For remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you from there with his strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Dt 5:15).
For us 21st Century Catholics, our “Egypt” is the slavery to Original Sin we existed in prior to our baptism. Through the mercy of Our Savior we have been brought out of the darkness of death and into the light of God, and we owe Our Lord our lives. Just as He asked the Apostles in the Garden, Jesus Christ asks us to keep watch with Me for one hour (Mt 26:40). The tithe of an hour on Sunday — out of 168 hours in a week — is a small offering to One Who has restored us to life.
People avoid Holy Mass for various reasons. Do these apply to you or to someone you know?
Out of Habit
We are creatures of routine. Even when we resolve to do something, if it is not a regular part of life, it can be hard to get in the groove of it. If you resolve to go back to Mass, clear your schedule of other obligations for as long as it will take you to get ready and travel and attend. Tell someone else you will be there so the commitment propels you. Use the same reminder system that you use for other important appointments. Have clothes laid out ahead of time. The flesh is weak and full of excuses, so anticipate what they will be and fight them off ahead of time. After several weeks, Mass will become “what you do” on Sunday — it will become a habit and seem as normal as not going now seems.
Sometimes people avoid Mass due to being wounded by persons in the Church, or perhaps they have been disheartened by personal tragedy. In such cases, they will need assistance from their fellow Catholics and (most importantly) from the Holy Spirit. St. Paul wrote about this need in the eighth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans: In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings (Rm 8:26). An open heart and a prayer to the Holy Spirit for the grace to desire prayer is sufficient for God to begin filling up the God-shaped hole in the heart.
But don’t be afraid to ask for help from fellow Catholics. Tell a regular Mass-attending friend that you need someone to go to Mass with or to sit with. Tell a priest, deacon, or mature Catholic friend about your feelings. Your feelings are real. Emotional wounds, painful memories, or disappointments and grief from sad life events — these are real things. You are not required to “put on a happy face” to go to Mass. Take your feelings with you and lay them before our tender Lord; He understands and wants to heal your heart. And He can.
If you know someone who needs the grace to pray and come to Holy Mass, the rosary is a powerful prayer on his or her behalf. But personal encouragement and practical help may be needed. Don’t simply remind somebody to come to Mass. Invite the person to come with you. Bring the person a bulletin and note the Mass times. Offer a ride and maybe lunch afterwards.
Sometimes a fallen-away Catholic would be more comfortable attending a Knights of Columbus meeting, a parish Bible study, or the parish picnic before taking the step of attending Mass.
The Holy Mass is the center of Christian life because at the Holy Mass we see, hear, and touch Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament. He is there just as physically as when He walked the Earth with His apostles. In the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of Christian worship, we enter into the nuptial meal of God and Man. It is that sort of intimacy our hearts yearn for every day, and that sort of intimacy we can fulfill in our worship during Holy Mass.
When we attend Holy Mass we can echo St Peter’s words at Mt Tabor when Christ was transfigured: Lord, it is good that we are here. And it is especially good when we have helped someone else to be there, too.