My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with my mother at the nursing home where she lives. While we were eating in the dining room, there was a television program on the big screen television broadcasting a cooking program called, Special Sunday Suppers. The host of the show started the program by saying that “Sundays were made for sleeping late and then spending the rest of the day preparing your special Sunday supper.” The host’s statement was somewhat understandable given that the name of the program was Special Sunday Suppers, but I could not help but think that he really missed the point in terms of what “Sundays were made for.”
The host then introduced four guests on the program, asking each one to describe his or her typical Sunday routine. Most of them answered along the lines that they slept in, read the newspaper with a cup of coffee, took the dog out for a walk, then got showered and dressed to go shopping and prepare their special Sunday supper. Only one guest mentioned that her Sunday routine included going to church with her family. So one out of five people on this program included going to church as part of their typical Sunday routine.
One out of five, or 20 percent, unfortunately is pretty typical of church attendance in our country. In our diocese, perhaps a third of Catholics go to church on a typical Sunday. That might be slightly better than the national average, but still translates to the distressing fact that two-thirds of our Catholics are not attending Mass on a given Sunday. That is not indicative of a very robust or dedicated faith community. We know these lukewarm Catholics are out there, given the large numbers of people that show up on Christmas and Easter. Yet, many of the two-thirds who do not regularly attend Mass might still consider themselves to be good Catholics.
Once, when I was serving as pastor of a parish with a school, I had a discussion with our parish school board about how to get the parents of the school children to attend Mass. It baffled me that parents would spend money on tuition and then undercut the whole point of Catholic education by not bringing their children to Mass. I asked what policies we might consider to increase Sunday Mass attendance among our school families. One of the members of the school board surprised me with his response. It surprised me because he was an active member of the school board and volunteered a lot of his time helping out around the school. Yet his comment on this issue was that he was a “1960’s kind of guy and didn’t like people telling him what to do!”
I responded that the requirement to go to Mass on Sunday was not my idea, that it was the third of the Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath.” For Jewish people the Sabbath is Saturday, but for Christians it is Sunday, since Sunday is the day that Jesus rose from the dead.
People also tend to scoff at the idea that missing Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin. Just as the snake tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden to eat the forbidden fruit by suggesting that she would not die if she did so despite God’s instruction to the contrary (cf. Genesis 3-1-3), so the devil tempts people to think that missing Mass on Sunday is not a mortal or grave sin despite the church’s clear teaching to the contrary (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2181). They wonder: how can missing Mass on Sunday be a mortal sin?
The answer is contained in the definition of the word “mortal,” which comes from the Latin, mortalis, which means, “deadly.” Mortal sins are deadly to our relationship with God. Missing Mass on Sunday kills our relationship with God because all relationships require spending quality time with the other partner in the relationship. Imagine spouses seeing each other only once a month or parents spending time with their children only twice a month. Those relationships would not last very long. God asks us to spend quality time with him in church at least once a week at Mass. If we fail to do so, we should not be surprised that our relationship with God will wither and die.
Lent is a time for examining our lives to see how we can improve, especially in terms of our relationship with God. Looking at our own shortcomings with a firm resolution to improve is the sure path to becoming a better and happier person as a faithful disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ.
May God give us this grace. Amen.