….In the Catechism, the Church reaffirms the importance of the Mass, and our obligation to participate in it. “The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life. Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.” The obligation to attend Mass holds for all the faithful “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.”

My own dad struggled with this issue. I remember it clearly. My brothers and sisters and I were still fairly young when our dad was informed by his employers that he would have to work on Sundays or lose his job. Remember, there were no such things as Vigil Masses on Saturday or Sunday Evening Masses either at the time. Without going into complicated details or extenuating circumstances, working elsewhere was not an immediate option and neither was losing his job. After all, dad had a lot of mouths to feed, including my own! Not going to Mass was not an option either for our dad. He took this obligation very seriously, so he took this dilemma to our pastor, Msgr. Patrick F. O’Dwyer. The good Monsignor could have come out of central casting as a crotchety and intimidating Irish pastor, which he was. Well, that tough priest gave my dad the most sound and gentle advice: “You go to Mass on Mondays. That will be your ‘Sunday’ obligation until we get this all straightened out.”

We all have a duty to worship God: we all have a duty to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. Going to Mass, by the way, is just one element involved in keeping the Sabbath holy. We have lost a sense of the Sabbath, but more on that later. The point is that Sunday Mass attendance is not an arbitrary rule devised by bishops to force people to go to Church. It is actually an invitation from God himself to be with him, to listen to him, to worship him and to receive him. It is a commission to be him and to bring him into the world. All of this arises out of God’s direct command to his people and is a solemn obligation that comes from the Lord himself.

We know that beyond the sense of duty and obligation, it is a tremendous privilege to attend the Holy Mass. I cannot help but think about the example of the Catholics in Japan, a country first evangelized by the great Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier. These underground Christians kept the Catholic faith alive for hundreds of years under intense persecution by the Tokugawa shogunate. That government cut Japan off from the outside world. The people had no access to any missionary priests and, thereby, no access to any Sacraments except Baptism and Matrimony. Centuries later, when Japan was reopened to the outside world once again, these Catholics wept tears of joy at being able to return to the celebration of the Liturgy and the reception of the Eucharist. I think about so many great 20th Century Catholic martyrs who were executed for the simple crime of attending or celebrating Mass, like Bl. Miguel Pro and the other Cristeros martyrs of Mexico. We are tremendously blessed to live in a land that preserves our freedom to worship our God. How can we voluntarily squander this gift or so easily set it aside, simply because we would rather sleep in, or watch the NFL or the NBA, or take the kids to their club sports, or play golf or go shopping? Yet, we do!

From the diocese of Fresno