Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
For some time now I have been meaning to address the grave matter of Sunday Mass attendance; and finally it seems I have an opportunity to do so in a bulletin letter. In one way or another, for many years actually, I have heard the following sentiment expressed: “If I miss Sunday Mass, I’m not hurting anybody, so how can it be mortal sin?”
In the old days it might have sufficed simply to quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I do here to show that the Church does indeed teach that missing Mass (with no good reason… Don’t miss the line in CCC 2181 below that acknowledges that there can be serious reasons that excuse us from this serious obligation!) is grave matter:
-par. 2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason 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.
-par. 2176 The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship “as a sign of his universal beneficence to all.”
-par. 2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.”
Or one might quote a saint:
-You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests. (St. John Chrysostom)
The above quotes show us that the Church indeed teaches that missing Sunday Mass is grave matter; and if we look closely at the wording, these paragraphs even help us understand why it is grave matter (and, therefore, mortal sin, if done deliberately and with full understanding).
CCC 2181 says that the Sunday Mass is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. That is huge! That is like saying about the sport of football that to win one must play the game! How ridiculous it would be for a football team hoping to win a championship at the end of the season to decide that there are some games in the season they will skip (going to Cedar Point instead)! How wrong for somebody to be a Catholic Christian and skip the main Christian event – the foundational and confirming event – that Jesus established in time and space until His Second Coming: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!
Why is the Mass the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice? Because it is the only place on earth where the adoration/thanksgiving/atonement/petition due in justice to God begins adequately to be satisfied. Why does it take the Mass to accomplish the worship, thanksgiving and atonement due to God? Because in the Mass alone God steps in to satisfy what is due of worship, thanksgiving, atonement and petition; because in the Mass is the One Perfect Sacrifice of Calvary. It is Jesus Christ, both Priest and Victim, both God and Man, who offers to the Father what is required. You and I join our best attempts – indeed our very lives – to the perfect satisfaction of Jesus in the Mass. But on our own, we cannot offer to God what is due. God alone can ultimately provide for us what He alone is worthy to receive from us; and He does this in the Mass. And, empowered by the grace of the Mass, we try to offer Him the entire worship of our lives outside of the Mass, and joined to It.
Another way to explain that the Mass is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice is to acknowledge that the Mass is the one sacrifice of Calvary made present over and over again to provide every grace needed by humanity. To skip the Mass, knowing what it is, is to denigrate and deny yourself of this one true source of life. Heaven floods onto earth by means of the Mass. The Mass is the source of the Christian life!
CCC 2176 above builds on what I just wrote. Not only is the Mass the only way of satisfying justice towards God; not only is the Mass the one source of grace for accomplishing anything good in life; CCC 2176 states there is actually a moral commandment built into the nature of the human heart that is satisfied by the Mass alone. In other words, to skip the Mass is actually to miss something that your own human nature requires. You and I were created to worship and glorify God. To paraphrase the famous Christian writer of this last century, C.S. Lewis, “The lower we bow in worship to God, the straighter we stand.”
Yes, the Mass is that crucial to offering God the worship that justice requires, and the worship that our nature requires as His creatures. With this understanding of the Mass, we can offer some analogies to make the point that missing the Mass on Sunday for no serious excuse is a grave sin of omission:
-Think of it in terms of raising your children. If you know that meats, vegetables and grains are necessary for a child’s wholesome physical growth, yet you always skip all this because you prefer tasty sweets, it is pretty serious wrongdoing. What about the child’s spiritual well-being, which has to be nourished by the Mass?
-If you have a life-threatening disease, and the medicine to make you whole is readily available in your own town at a specific time of a specific day each week, yet you avoid the medicine, because you have a fun hobby you like to engage at that time, it is a grave confusion of your priorities. What about our spiritual sin-sickness, which can only be straightened out by the Mass?
-If you are going to meet a king in a particular culture, where all the people understand that a particular protocol maintains right respect and honor, and you are informed of the protocol and have all the means at your disposal to fulfill it, yet out of pride you decide to ignore this very reasonable protocol, and you scandalize all the people and the king, significant damage has been done. What about meeting the Heavenly King in the very way that He established to be most appropriate?
The whole point is that sins of omission can be quite grave, if what is being omitted is that precious and necessary. The Mass is that precious and necessary. The Son of God took on flesh in the Incarnation, and He died on Calvary to give you the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If the Mass is that important to Him, how can it not be that important to us? And how can it not be a grave offense casually to ignore the Mass? How can a person say that “nobody is being hurt” by intentionally skipping the Mass?! Of course somebody is being hurt.
No, we do not merely want to quote the commandments of the Church. We want to do our best to understand them. Moreso, we want to follow them out of love for our Lord. We want to attend Sunday Mass, because it is the best way to express our love for Him, who first loved us with His Very Life on the Cross. If Love is not motivating you to attend the Mass, beg the Lord to warm your heart with His Love, so that you grow to desire the Mass, since There you meet Him so profoundly. If you and I do not want to attend Mass, there is some blockage in the flow of Love. Let us work to remove it, so Love can flow freely from Heart to heart, and back again. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you alive to the Mass. The Holy Spirit is the Love of God poured out into our hearts.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,