Is attending mass on sunday a grave obligation?
This question is so often asked. I wish there were no reason to pose it. I do not like to simply answer yes or no. I would prefer that the answer come naturally from a clear understanding of Christian life.
To answer point-blank yes or no is to go back to the religion of children, who want to be told what to do regardless of the motive.
From 1962 to 1965, the Second Vatican Council steered Catholics toward a better comprehension of their faith, exhorting them to act like adults, out of love for the Lord rather than by sheer obedience.
It does not mean that the sense of obligation must totally disappear! At times, the Church's directives are misunderstood and out go all the Commandments.
Yet, many Catholics still want to be treated as children. They are satisfied with learning the rules without trying to know the reasons behind them. So they tend to be like the Pharisees whom Christ reproved. Religion becomes just a matter of laws without any concern for true Christian love.
What the Church aims at through her pastors is Christian maturity in a life of supernatural love. She wants to do away with a mere childish sense of blind obedience.
People who love Jesus and understand what Mass and the Lord's day mean do not have to ask the question we are considering. They partake in the Sunday Eucharist without thinking about the obligation.
Since the beginning of the Church, Sunday has replaced Sabbath as the week's sacred day, because Sunday is the anniversary day of Christ's resurrection, the great miracle that proved His divinity. Since the first century, Christians have gathered on that day to pray and celebrate the Lord. They used to stop their manual labor and forget about their preoccupation in order to rest and pray at ease.
Regularly, "on the first day of the week" (Mt 28: 1; Mk 16: 2), they used to assemble like brothers and sisters to celebrate as a family, as a Church, the Eucharist of the Lord. We read this in the Acts of the Apostles, the letters of Saint Paul, etc. (Ac 20: 7; 1 Co 16: 2; Rv 1: 10). On that occasion, they solemnized the "breaking of the bread". That was the name given to the Eucharistic Liturgy, to Mass (Ac 2: 42). It was not always easy for early Christians to assemble, especially in times of persecution. But, to them the Eucharist seemed so important that they faced torture and even death in order to celebrate it.
In the letter to the Hebrews, we read: "We should not absent ourselves from the assembly, as some do" (Heb 10: 25). "That would be to cut ourselves from the Church", added Saint Ignatius of Antioch in the 2nd century.
The first Christians understood the essential value of Mass, which is a memorial and a reliving of Christ's death and resurrection. Mass remains the Lord's sacrifice and His divine banquet. Mass is and always will remain the official reenactment of Christ's great act of love. It will never cease to be the Lord's supreme action and the great celebration of the Christian family.
That is why we must strive to better appreciate and live our Sunday Mass. Even when we do not feel like attending Mass on Sunday, let us remember that religion is not a matter of feeling, but of faith! Through Mass we honor God and receive graces of salvation. We celebrate it together. We are not going to live our religion each in one's own corner. Let us make ourselves worthy of taking part in the Mass, remembering that there is something sacred and divine about it. It is a mystery that is beyond our comprehension. "It is dazzling light, super abundant light!", as Jean Guitton would say.
If we love the Lord, we will always be faithful to our Sunday Mass. It should never be felt that one hour a week set aside on Sunday for the Lord is too much of a sacrifice. No, it cannot seem too much when we want to praise God together, listen to His Word and fortify our souls with the Eucharist.
Faith rapidly weakens when one neglects Mass.
Grave obligation to attend Mass on Sundays? Yes, of course! Let us fulfill this obligation "faithfully", that is to be full of faith, and above all full of supernatural love!
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