By Fr Ako Walker CSsR
COVID-19 has unfortunately brought with it the suspension of the duty/obligation of physical Mass attendance in many dioceses around the world.
As I reflected on this issue, I wondered whether the faithful understand their motivation for having attended Masses in the past and whenever the suspension is lifted whether they would at all desire to return.
And so, as you read this I ask: ‘Why do you attend Mass?’. Many of us became Catholic because our parents are/were but at what point did we consciously make a decision that this is the faith in which we desire to remain?
Whatever the responses to the above questions, all our actions in God should be rooted in love rather than obligation. Love should attract us to the liturgy rather than a sense of duty alone.
The expression ‘Sunday obligation’ doesn’t sit well with me. Some may argue that I am engaging in semantics, but I honestly believe attending Mass should not be done mechanically.
At the heart of it, I do understand what the expression means however at times it is easy to place emphasis on the wrong thing. When truly analysed, we can never fulfil any obligation to God because if we see attending Mass as some repayment to God for favours granted, then we would never be able to settle that debt.
To me, attending Mass is a love-response to God loving us first. God’s love draws us into a relationship with Him and thus generates further love as we are called to love one another. This love makes a commitment on us and our response is not forced but one that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Word of God tells us that Jesus’ relationship with the Father was rooted in love. There are three instances in Sacred Scripture in which God Himself highlights this love relationship: Jesus’ Baptism (Lk 3:21–22), the Transfiguration (Mk 9:2–8) and Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Jn 12:28).
Jesus knew that the Father loved Him, and all Jesus’ actions reflected His confidence and security in this love. In the same way, God desires that our relationship with Him be an answer to this love.
God wants us to stand resolute in His love for us, for we know that God loves us completely and delights in us: “The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, Who will sing joyfully because of you (Zeph 3:17).
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38).
Given the way of the world, relationships have become a commodity and interactions between people are seen as transactional viz: I do this for you and therefore you are obliged to reciprocate and even in some instances up the proverbial ante.
A Christian response to God, however, is receiving what God has freely given to us and giving ourselves in service to others. There is no thing that we can give to God in and of itself in exchange for God’s love and saving grace in our lives.
So, when we receive God’s love, we cannot necessarily repay God by some proverbial performative piety or some obligation. Participation in the liturgy is a grace-filled movement because we are attracted to God out of love.
We have no need to be fearful because of obligation because “There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out all fear for fear has to do with punishment” (1 Jn 4:18).
God honours love rather than duty. We do not have to prove that we love God by attending Mass. This is not to discount that attending Mass is not proof that we love God. It is love that comes first-love is the impetus.
When we participate in the Eucharist, we are saying ‘yes’ because God first said ‘yes’ to us, because God risked His love on us knowing that at times, we would reject it.
When we keep the sabbath holy, we acknowledge that we suffer amnesia, forgetting who our Father is, fall into sin and therefore are in need of God’s love to remind us of our identity.
Mass then should be an encounter with Love and the beloved: “This is my beloved son; this is my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased”.
Fr Ako Walker CSsR is a Redemptorist priest originally from Trinidad and Tobago working in the Bronx, New York. He was ordained in February 2019 at the Church of the Assumption, Maraval.