“Why do we have to go to Sunday Mass?”
Friday, October 9, 2020
Saint John Henry Newman, Priest
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“Why do we have to go to Sunday Mass?” That’s a good question and one which I have been attempting to answer this week through a new series of seven talks which you can follow on the Diocese of Lansing website and through our social media channels such as YouTube. I hope you and your family find them useful.
Attending Holy Mass on a Sunday is a solemn and binding obligation upon all Catholics. This grave obligation may be suspended or dispensed at times due to pandemics or for other significant reasons. Such is the case presently within the Diocese of Lansing until, at least, the First Week of Advent, November 29.
Still, it is worth our time to reflect on why participation in the Sunday Mass is so important that the Church would make it an obligation at all? The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (106) from the Second Vatican Council speaks to the importance of the proper observance of Sundays:
“By a tradition handed down from the apostles, which took its origin from the very day of Christ’s resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day, which day is appropriately called the Lord’s Day or Sunday. For on this day Christ’s faithful are bound to come together in one place. They should listen to the word of God and take part in the Eucharist, thus calling to mind the passion, resurrection, and glory of the Lord Jesus, and giving thanks to God ...”
It is fascinating that the real obligation of Sunday is that we worship God. It is not primarily about receiving the Eucharist, though that indeed is a great blessing for which we prepare ourselves by belonging to the community, by sharing the faith of the Church, and by being reconciled to God and the Church and freed of our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This priority of the Sunday obligation is because we really do have a duty to worship God. And Jesus has given us the most perfect way to accomplish this – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the renewal of his own sacrifice of his body and blood to the Father for our salvation. Now, some may say that they can worship God alone. Pope Saint John Paul II addressed this in his 1998 letter Dies Domini (31):
“It is not enough that the disciples of Christ pray individually and commemorate the death and resurrection of Christ inwardly, in the secrecy of their hearts. Those who have received the grace of baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the mystical body, having become part of the people of God. It is important therefore that they come together to express fully the very identity of the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly called together by the Risen Lord who offered his life ‘to reunite the scattered children of God,’ (John 11:52)"
It is good for us to recall the duty we owe to our Creator, the one who redeemed us and is even now sanctifying us for our final journey home to heaven. While I have presently dispensed the faithful from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass, we all still remain bound to keep holy the Lord’s Day. So, if you remain home, celebrate and honor the Lord’s Day, keeping it as a day of prayer and rest. I do not write this to lay a burden on anyone. Rather, I pray that this may serve as a reminder of God’s call to each of us to live as members of the body of Christ.
Of course, there are many reasons why we may exempt ourselves from the Mass in these trying times, particularly for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19. The Church and our Lord understand and accept these reasons. But for those of us who are ready and able to return to Sunday Mass, welcome back and welcome home. Let us pray for one another, especially for those who will be away from us a while longer that God’s blessings may be poured out upon them.
Assuring you of my prayers, I am sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop of Lansing
P.S. Beginning today, I invite you to pray a novena for the Diocese of Lansing’s Director of the Office of New Evangelization, Craig Pohl, who is due to undergo open heart surgery in coming weeks, as well as for his wife, Allison, and their six children. Click here to find out more.