By Sasha Woodroffe
In the midst of yet another wave of Covid-19 restrictions, churches were closed for public worship. For some, this has been the greatest trial of them all. For others, it’s almost inconsequential.
Has our enthusiasm for regularly attending Sunday Mass deteriorated after all this time away?
Since the onset of the pandemic, many persons have depended on online Masses as a substitute for the in-person experience while others have lost interest in the Mass altogether.
Those of us who have fallen out of the habit of attending Sunday Mass – will we be able to carve out time for worship once again? And for those who enjoy the online Mass and prefer the homilies of our new favourite priests across the world – will we want to return to our local parishes for Sunday worship?
And does it even matter? After all, does God care if I sit down in church on Sunday morning or if I try to be a good person and treat people well?
Let us remember that Catholics have a Sunday obligation. The Code of Canon Law states that “on Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.”
This obligation is binding under grave sin. In other words, deliberately choosing to miss Sunday Mass without serious reason is gravely sinful. This obligation, of course, only exists when it is possible to get to a Mass. But wow, isn’t that a bit harsh?
Well, the moral obligation to participate in the Sunday Mass existed from the beginning of Christianity. As St John Paul II writes in Dies Domini, in the earliest times this obligation of conscience rose “from the inner need felt so strongly by the Christians of the first centuries. It was only later, faced with the half-heartedness or negligence of some, that the Church had to make explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass.”
The vast majority of us are not motivated to always attend Sunday Mass purely out of perfect love for God and the desire to give Him glory. But the Mass is the highest form of worship we can offer to God. By participating in the Mass, we join in the heavenly liturgy and worship Him alongside the angels and saints.
The Church therefore introduced this obligation so that, even though we might not be motivated to participate in this worship which is most beneficial to our souls, we will still do so out of fear of committing a grave sin.
It is much like a mother instituting a rule in the home that her young child is not allowed to touch the stove. This is not an imposition or burdensome obligation! It is instead a rule instituted out of love for the child and the desire to keep him/her safe.
But one might wonder – is something as simple as the Mass as beneficial as the Church seems to think? It is! Just as the average person sets aside time each day to consume physical food, we too, must set aside time each week to consume our spiritual food. And our spiritual food is the Eucharist – Jesus Himself!
Just consider how necessary physical food is for preventing weakness, malnutrition, and sickness. How much more necessary then it is for us to receive Jesus in the Eucharist! How great is His grace in this Bread of Life which prevents spiritual weakness, vulnerability to temptation and sickness due to sin.
Some may argue that all that is necessary in life is to be a “good” person. But we don’t just want to be good people. We want to be holy. We want to be like Jesus. And the only way to do that is to let Him live in us – by receiving Him in the Eucharist.
Just as we gather around our dining table to share a meal with family and friends, we must gather around the altar of the Lord as a community to worship our Lord. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving, and so we participate in the Mass with other believers to offer thanksgiving to the Lord, to offer Him our very selves. In return, He gives Himself to us in the Eucharist.
Just as God the Father dictated that the Israelites should set aside the Sabbath as a day of worship and rest, so too must we fulfil this commandment by commemorating the Lord’s Day in memorial of Christ’s Resurrection. And let us never again take it for granted!
Sasha Woodroffe is a 24-year-old actuarial analyst living in Guyana. She enjoys working in youth ministry and especially strives to lead young people to a deeper knowledge and appreciation of their Catholic faith.