Do me a favor and please read this all the way through, not stopping until you get to the end.
Growing up, there were two basic rules at home (there were more than two but two in particular really stick out in my memory). One was that you were to get a job when you turned 16; the second was that you went to Mass every Sunday and holy day. If you were too sick to go to Sunday Mass, then you were obviously too sick to do anything else. When we would go on vacation, the first thing my dad would do when we got to our hotel was to find out where the nearest Catholic church was and what their Sunday Mass schedule was. You can take a break from work, school, and many other things in life, but you can’t take a break from God. Imagine for one moment if he took a break from us (and you think this world is messed up now?); it would be cataclysmic.
Sunday Mass is an obligation. The Third Commandment handed down by God to Moses is that the Sabbath Day is to be kept holy. In our Christian tradition, the church understands this as participating at Mass on Sundays. Sunday is the Christian Sabbath (the original day being Saturday) because it was on Sunday that our Lord rose from the dead to new and everlasting life. Participation at Sunday Mass is a precept of the church and to willfully miss Sunday Mass, without serious reason or without a dispensation, is a grave sin according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2181).
When an act is determined by the church to be gravely sinful and the act is done freely and knowingly as being gravely sinful, then it is mortally sinful. What does this mean? The church teaches that mortal sin that is not repented of excludes a soul from heaven. Having said this, in the same section of the Catechism, the church teaches that final judgment ultimately belongs to the justice and mercy of God (CCC 1861). For those who willfully miss Sunday Mass or Mass on holy days of obligation, the Cathedral offers daily opportunities to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.
So why am I bringing this up? Last weekend Mass attendance dropped significantly. This happens from time to time, sometimes due to holiday weekends and sometimes due to reasons known only to God. Last weekend I suspect it was due to the cold weather. It’s not fun going out in the cold. For some, they should not venture out in extreme weather due to the necessity of not endangering their personal well-being. For others, it is not so much about necessity but convenience or preference.
At times, we can fall into the trap of misplaced priorities or false judgments about what is good and what is better: vacations, kids’ sporting events, too much “fun” on Saturday night, personal comfort, etc. If we are contemplating missing Sunday Mass (not including being sick or caring for someone who is, or having to work for the sake of being able to live), we have to honestly ask ourselves if there is a duty or serious reason that necessitates our absence; put another way, is what I am doing instead of going to Mass going to deepen my relationship with the Lord or weaken it and possibly break it? Furthermore, if I am responsible for others getting to Mass, like children, how is this judgment going to help or hinder their relationship with God?
Am I casting judgments or aspersions? No; but I am trying to fulfill both my sacred duty as a shepherd of souls as well as fulfilling the prophetic call that we all have by virtue of baptism by calling folks back to right relationship with God. Like the prophets of old, I may be risking having stones thrown at me but I care enough about the salvation of those who come to this Cathedral that I am willing to risk the displeasure of some.
I have focused on the “negative” aspects of missing Mass but the positive reasons should be our greater motivation. First and foremost, we come to Mass for love of God and in gratitude to him for his graces and mercies; even here, the goodness of God cannot be outdone because when we come to Sunday Mass not only do we encounter him but we are able to receive him truly and totally in the Eucharist. If we truly want to be disciples, holy Mass is where that desire should be strengthened and renewed each week: “the Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice (CCC 2181).”
Sunday Mass is far more of an opportunity than an obligation. Faithfully coming to Mass on Sunday will not necessarily make your life easier nor will it make your problems and crosses disappear. It will, however, draw you closer to God and give you graces to push forward through challenges and difficulties, and families that worship together at Sunday Mass will find their bonds strengthened. Absence from Sunday Mass is absence from the divine presence in the Eucharist; removing ourselves from the Eucharist puts us, spiritually, on a dangerous and slippery slope.
So, literally, for love of God, come to Sunday Mass (and on holy days too). God in his goodness has given us 168 hours each week; rendering one hour back to him in praise and thanksgiving is truly not too much to ask. Sometimes it may not be convenient, but so goes life. By faithfully participating at Mass you will find that the Lord will offer you more than you can offer him and you will be all the better for it … we will be all the better for it because together we are the Mystical Body of Christ, called to be his presence in the world.
Father Chris House is rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield and Chancellor for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. This column appeared in Cathedral Weekly Jan. 26.