June 19, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Attending Mass is key to strengthening our relationship with God

At one of our vocation dinners for youth and young adults whose names were put forward in the Called by Name program, a high school senior from New Albany mentioned that out of his eighth-grade class, he was the only guy who attends weekly Sunday Mass.

He remarked that he didn’t understand it. But he said that is probably why his name was suggested as a possible vocation to priesthood. I think so and commended him.

The first precept of the Church reads “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that this precept requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principle liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints.

It says that we are to do so in the first place by participating in the eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which would impede such sanctification of these days (cf. #2042).

The United States Catechism for Adults puts it this way: “You shall attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, should be treated differently from other days of the week. We do that in making the day holy by attending Mass and refraining from unnecessary work. Holy Days of Obligation, when we celebrate feasts of Jesus, the Blessed Mother and the saints, should be marked in the same way” (p. 334).

I suppose one would have to say that the application of this first precept and its observance has been made more complicated because of the secularization of our society and of Sunday itself.

Older folks will recall that years ago there was little by way of commerce, production and hard labor on Sundays.

It is highly unlikely that the secularization of culture is likely to return to former days. And so, for many whose livelihood depends on their employment, not working on Sunday becomes impossible. Times have changed a great deal.

As an example, I recall having to answer a moral question in my oral exam (for a graduate degree) about whether professional sports played on Sunday was moral.

I guess the idea behind the question was whether or not professional sports qualified as servile labor. I got by with the response that while professional sports were a form of employment they did not violate the spirit of Sunday observance.

To bring the matter of sports on Sunday closer to home, it is not acceptable to skip Sunday Eucharist altogether in favor of a soccer game or golf or other sports activities.

The fact that in recent times the computation of Sunday observance begins with vespers on the evening before should be of help in managing our compliance with the precept. There is no question that often it is a sacrifice for us to attend Mass on Saturday evening or on Sunday.

It may be helpful to reflect a bit more on why the Catholic Church makes Sunday observance a matter of grave moral concern.

It comes down to the fact that Sunday marks the day of the Resurrection, and also the first day of creation.

The day of the Resurrection honors and expresses our belief in the fundamental mystery of God’s redemptive action. Without the Resurrection of Christ, God’s divine Son, there would be no salvation.

Our Sunday observance is fundamentally an act of gratitude for our being saved from sin and death. We need to participate in the thanksgiving action of the Church. We may well need to immerse ourselves in a renewed understanding and appreciation of our redemption. It is the most decisive act of all of human history, and it is a personal moment to each of us.

The precept to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation tests our spiritual values and, ultimately, the value we place on our relationship to God.

We are a countercultural people and, perhaps, now more than ever, we need the minimal requirement to help us walk against the stream in a society that more and more does not value God’s place in real life.

To willingly and decisively choose not to attend Sunday Mass is a grave sin because it places our relationship with God and our eventual salvation at risk.

Contrary to the lack of observance on the part of more folks than we like, it is not OK to decide for ourselves that the first precept of the Church doesn’t matter or even apply to us.

Of course, if for some serious reason attendance isn’t possible then that is a different story. †

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