Why is Missing Mass a Serious Sin?

One of the forgotten teachings of the Catholic Church is that we are required to attend Mass every Sunday, and that to fail to do so is to commit a grave sin. This is taught very clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 2181). But why does the Church teach us this? Is this just ploy to get us to come to Church and to drop something in the collection plate? Well, that may be of help to the Church, but it is not the reason the obligation to attend Mass is taught. The reasons for this mandate are contained clearly in Sacred Scripture.

 

We begin in an obvious place, the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:8 says it clearly enough, Remember the Sabbath Day to Keep it Holy. Every now and then, some one will say to me, “God doesn’t care if I go to Church.” I usually respond, “Well that’s strange; I wonder why God put it in the Ten Commandments?” It seems that God does care. Please understand, God does not merely ask for or wish for our presence, He commands it. Now the Church’s teaching that it is mortal sin to miss Mass comes a little more into focus.

 

But some claim that although Scripture mandates a day of rest, there is no requirement to attend Church. This is really not the case. The Book of Leviticus spells out the requirement to keep holy the Sabbath in the following language: Six days shall work be done; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest and sacred assembly; you shall do no work; it is a Sabbath to the LORD. (Lev 23:3). Thus, notice how this text spells out that the Sabbath is not only for rest but for “sacred assembly.” This phrase, “sacred assembly,” is what is meant by the word “Church.” The word “Church” means “assembly.”

 

Further, it is clear enough that Jesus understood the 3rd Commandment to include sacred assembly. In His own observance of Sabbath, He attended the “synagogue” (another word for “assembly” or “gathering”). Scripture says Jesus attended the synagogue on the Sabbath habitually (cf Lk 4:16).


Yet another scriptural teaching on our requirement to attend Mass is contained in the admonition from Hebrews that we are must not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another (Heb 10:25).

 

For some to say that they don’t need to assemble, to meet together with fellow Christians in Church on Sunday (our Sabbath), is surely unbiblical. The Old Testament commanded it; Jesus attended, so who are we to fail in this regard? We must not neglect to meet together. We must not neglect to receive Holy Communion and be instructed in the Word of God.

 

Another biblical reason that Sunday Church worship is required of the Christian is in Jesus’ mandate that we receive Holy Communion. Jesus warns us not to miss receiving Holy Communion with these words: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. (John 6:53) Without the Holy Eucharist, which is the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are starving ourselves spiritually. If you and I were to stop eating our worldly food we would soon grow weak and eventually die; it would be a form of suicide. This is no less true of our spiritual food. If we stop receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion, we grow weak and eventually die, spiritually; we “have no life in us”! Skipping Sunday Mass sets up a deadly pattern of spiritual starvation; it is a deadly thing—a mortal sin!

 

For all these biblically-based reasons the Church properly teaches, 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. (CCC # 2181)

A Report from the Frontline

As you know the Archdiocese of Washington is extending invitations to people who are part of our family of faith but have not been participating in our life of prayer and worship. Archbishop Wuerl has asked us to take his invitation and to give it to someone and invite the person to join us for Mass. This makes some of us quite nervous. It is not that we don’t want to do it. Many of us, in fact, pray regularly for family members or friends to find their way back to church. Often, our hesitation is wondering how the person we want to invite will respond. Today, I’d like to share two stories about “what happened next…” and ask you to share your stories.

 

Firstly, From Fr. Mike, a priest at St. Camillus parish. Fr. Mike is excited abut this initiative because a number of years ago, something similar changed his life. In his words:

Twenty years ago, I was just such a young man, who had drifted away from the church  for a number of years, until a friend invited me to come to Mass. Not realizing how much I missed the experience, I initially said “no.” This friend was persistent because he too had been away from the church for a while and knew it what a huge difference returning, reconnecting had made in his own life. Because of his persistent invitation and his sharing his experience I ultimately said “yes” and went to Mass with him. Absent that invitation 20 years ago, my life might have taken a very different course. To this day, I am incredibly grateful for the gift of this invitation. As we prepare to celebrate the greatest sacrifice, the mystery of Christi’s Passion and the gift of new life on Easter Sunday, let us reach out and bring God home to those who have drifted away from the Church.

Secondly, an eyewitness account from Maggie Gutiérrez, Coordinator of Evangelization and Hispanic Christian Initiation:

I have been explaining our Lenten initiative to my friends, my family, my coworkers and leaders on the parish evangelization team. Last week, I met with the planning team for the RCIA Retreat for Spanish speakers at which we are expecting 500 people. I was meeting the retreat planning team for dinner to go over some details. We went to a Mexican restaurant in Silver Spring and while we were driving I found myself again retelling the story of how Archbishop Wuerl sent hundreds of invitations to the parishes and that he is asking us to give them out to people who we want to invite back. After we ate our delicious dinner, and we were discussing the planning of the retreat, we noticed  that our young waiter kept coming back to the table and chit chatting in a friendly manner. 

At some point he asked if we were Catholic, which he probably figured out because Father Jose Arriaga was wearing his clerics and collar. So we talked to our waiter friend, Anastasio (Father told him it means resurrection in Greek)  and he told us that he always tries to go to Mass even when he has to work on Sunday, though that is not always easy. We told him that Saturday night Mass is also an option. He left us again to continue our meeting. I told Father:  “Hey Father, I have with me a few Spanish invitations, why don’t you give Anastasio one and ask him to give it to a friend?!” 

Father answered, “Anastasio could probably do that right here and now, just look around, all the waiters,  they are all young  adults.” So when Anastasio came  back, Father José, who is a Scripture scholar, a former university professor, very calmly, very clearly, very much the teacher, explains the   program to Anastasio, and asked Anastasio if he would be interested in helping us by giving an invitation to a friend. Anastasio smiled and immediately said, “give me two, Father.” 

The four of us rejoiced in this young man’s interest in being an evangelizer. We had one of those humble moments when we collectively realized how blessed we are to have an opportunity to be part of God’s ministry of reconciliation this Lent and every day of our lives!

I fear you might be thinking that it’s easy to invite when you are a priest or an RCIA retreat team and that maybe true, so please post a story of your own. Thanks!

 

 

40 Reasons for Coming Home: Reason # 11

Reason # 11: Companionship for the journey. There is a line from the Book of Hebrews that says, And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb 10:24-25). We are not meant to make this journey alone. We need both company and protection. 

In the days of Jesus, it was almost unthinkable for a person to make a lengthy journey alone. Once a person left the relative safety of the town, the journey got dangerous. There were robbers lying in wait along the roads just looking for vulnerable targets. For this reason, people almost always made journeys in groups. This is a good image for the spiritual journey we must all make. Alone we are easy targets. We are vulnerable and without help when spiritual demons attack. The Bible says, Woe to the solitary man! For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:11) Belonging to Church in a meaningful way has a powerful and protective influence.

In my twenty years as a priest I have taught the people of God the Word of God. But I have learned far more from them than they ever learned from me. I have learned from the people I serve what it means to have faith and to persevere. I have experienced correction when necessary, and encouragement in my struggle. It is impossible to fully overstate how much my membership in the Church has blessed me; I could not begin to count the ways. I know my parishioners have prayed for me and that their prayers and example has put a hedge of protection around me. I pray for them too, and who knows what power my prayers have had for them? In the Church, we learn not only from good example, but also from the difficulties that inevitably arise in any community. We learn to be more patient and forgiving. We learn from the mistakes others make as well as from their gifts.

Don’t journey alone; it’s dangerous. Find a parish, get involved, and live in real communion with others who can lift you up if you fall, encourage you when you are faint of heart, instruct you when you wonder, and complete in you what is lacking. Alone I am lacking, but together and with the Lord we have all the gifts we need to get to the Promised Land of Heaven: companionship for the journey! 

 

40 Reasons For Coming Home: Reason # 10

Reason # 10: The Liturgical Year. One of the beautiful aspects of Catholicism is the way our very calendars become a call to holiness. The Catholic year is divided up into seasons, which correspond to the life of Jesus and our journey toward Him.

In Advent we long for Christ and look for Him to come again. We anticipate it much as did the ancient Israelites, who waited for the coming Messiah. The readings and prayers of this season feature Gospels in which Christ describes His coming in glory and our need to be ready. The secular world is done with Christmas on December 26 and everything goes on sale. But we are just beginning! We meditate on Christ’s birth, His circumcision on the eighth day, His Holy Family, His Epiphany, the flight into Egypt, and the murder of the innocent children by Herod. And while we meditate on the Word becoming flesh, we also consider how we must allow the Word to become flesh in us as well. We do this by reading the First Letter of John in daily Masses.

For a brief period we then enter into something called “Ordinary Time,” during which priests wear green vestments. During this first section of Ordinary time, we ponder how Jesus began his public ministry, called his first disciples, and began to teach the multitudes.

Soon enough the season of Lent is upon us.  We step out of Ordinary Time and ponder more directly the events that led to Jesus’ death. We do this because it was during the spring, from what we know, that Jesus suffered, died, and rose. During Lent we read Gospels of conflict and glory in which Christ runs up against his enemies as he makes his way to Jerusalem for the last time. We also use this time to meditate on our own sins and why we need the Lord Jesus to go to the cross for us. This all leads to the greatest  week of the Church’s year: Holy Week. It opens with the Palm Sunday Procession. On Thursday of that week, we enter the Upper Room with the Apostles as Jesus celebrates his Last Supper and institutes the Eucharist. At the end of Mass, we walk with Jesus and the disciples across the Kidron Valley into the Garden of Gethsemane by processing with the Blessed Sacrament to an Altar of Repose. At midnight, the time when Jesus was arrested, we remove the Blessed Sacrament to the safe and lock the Church. On Good Friday, we often gather at noon and at 3:00 pm for the Stations of the Cross, walking with Christ on his way to Calvary. At night we gather to pray together, much as the disciples must have done that fateful night. On Saturday evening, we light the Easter Fire, and after numerous readings from the Old Testament, we sing the Gloria and the Church comes ablaze with light. Hallelujah, He is Risen!

For the fifty days of Easter, we celebrate by reading stories of the risen Christ and celebrating the new life he has given us. We then see the Lord ascend to heaven on Ascension Thursday. Ten days later, just as the Lord promised, the Holy Spirit comes upon us at Pentecost. The Church is alive with the life of the Spirit.

Finally we step back into Ordinary Time and experience an extended period during which the Lord teaches us about discipleship through his Scriptures.

What a gift it is to walk with Christ through the whole cycle of His life. The whole year is laid our for us in a marvelous way. Here’s a great reason to come back to the Church and walk this journey with Jesus!

40 Reasons for Coming Home: Reason # 9

Reason # 9: Scriptural Teaching. Catholics sometimes get accused of not knowing Scripture. But Catholics do in fact know Scripture very well! We are not the type to quote chapter and verse, but if you attend Mass every  Sunday you KNOW Scripture! Every Sunday at Mass we read from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Epistles, and the Gospels. Four readings every Sunday! Over a three-year cycle we cover all four Gospels in totality, most of the New Testament Epistles, most of the psalms, and significant portions of the Old Testament.

Those who who attend Mass each Sunday know in great detail passages and parable like these: the woman at the well, the parable of the lost sheep, the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus walking on the water, feeding the five thousand, healing the blind man, and the parable of the Prodigal Son. We read these year after year and they are in our very substance.  The Church teaches us the Bible through the Liturgy, Sunday after Sunday. If you come to daily Mass there’s even more. There are some Catholics who pray the Liturgy of the Hours and this adds even more Scripture.

If you’ve been away for a while, come home to the Catholic Church. Come to the home of the Bible—the Catholic Church. Come to Mass, where the Scriptures have been faithfully proclaimed each Sunday for over 2000 years. Before you know it, the Scriptures will become part of your very being.

The Scriptures assigned to each Mass can be found  HERE.

Diversity on Display – The Extraordinary Form of the Latin Mass

From a reader comes this Question:

Some churches in the Archdiocese, including the Cathedral, offer a Latin Mass. Some have a “traditional” Latin Mass. Someone told me they’re different, but couldn’t say how. Can you explain it?

Finding Christ in the Movies

I have mentioned Fr. Robert Barron, A Chicago Priest, to you in a previous post. Among the things that he does very well is to comment on current movies with a particular goal to describe how Christ or some aspect of Jesus’ teachings are found there. In the clip just below Fr. Barron comments on the latest Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino and describes how the main character goes from being a violent man to manifesting the saving love of Jesus Christ. SPOILER ALERT: Fr. Barron describes all aspects of the movie, including how it ends.

One of my favorite movie commentaries by Fr. Barron is his commentary on the movie The Matrix. I had a hard time understanding that movie until Fr. Barron decoded it for me and described how The Matrix is really a very rich study of Christ.