By Jay Tescher
Bishop Robert Barron says, "Mass is the privileged place of encounter with Jesus Christ."
“We think Christianity is a relationship with Christ—and where does that happen? It happens at Mass,” he said. “Think about when you encounter friends—when you have someone over for dinner. Typically you sit down and you visit—you talk. Then you have the meal. Look at the basic structure of the Mass. First we listen to the
word and we speak back to Jesus. Then we sit down at the great banquet.”
The Catholic Church teaches that you have an obligation to go to Mass every Sunday. Mass is a celebration of the Eucharist, or transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Many people do not understand why the Church requires mass every Sunday. The answer is found within the Ten Commandments passed on to Moses several millennia ago.
The Sunday Obligation
The Ten Commandments, which were believed to be the laws and moral code handed down by God, tells believers in the Third Commandment to “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” For the Jews, the Sabbath was Saturday; Christians, however, transferred the Sabbath to Sunday, which was the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Church says that you have an obligation to fulfill the Third Commandment by refraining from unnecessary work on Sunday and by participating in Mass, your chief form of worship as Christians.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor." The obligation is binding every Sunday. It is a holy day of obligation, a day for you to grow in your faith, and you are required to attend to the extent that you are able to do so.
Private Worship Is Not Enough
From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have understood that being a Christian is not a private matter. You are called to be Christians together. While you should engage in the private worship of God throughout the week, your primary form of worship is public and communal, which is why Sunday Mass is so important.
Father Michael Van Sloun says
Weekly Worship Follows Jesus’ Example. Jesus was in the habit of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath day (Lk 4:16b). His mother Mary was “full of grace” (Lk 1:28) and his stepfather Joseph was “a righteous man” (Mt 1:19) and they both carefully “fulfilled all of the prescriptions of the law” (Lk 2:39) which means that they went to the synagogue every Sabbath. Not only did they observe this law themselves, they took their son with them, and when Jesus was old enough he went on his own. If Jesus went to the synagogue to observe the Sabbath every week, we should go to Mass every week.
Sunday is a Day of Thanksgiving. Eucharist means thanks. It is right and just to give thanks to the Lord our God, and the Mass is the best prayer to offer thanks. God graciously blesses us with everything that we have: life and health, food and shelter, family and friends, intellect and talents, opportunity and resources – and faith. These gifts are so awesome that we ought to be overflowing with gratitude and eager to give our thanks and praise. The ideal is to give thanks every day. Weekly thanksgiving is a bare minimum. If we give thanks only intermittently or rarely we fail to adequately honor the Giver of the gifts.
Community Prayer is Essential. From the beginning of the Church the community “devoted themselves … to the breaking of the bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Christians pray together by nature, and the Mass is the premier form of communal prayer. Some make the unfortunate claim: “I can pray by myself and I do not need to go to church.” Usually the more negligent a person becomes with their Mass attendance, the more negligent the person becomes with their private prayer. There are two pillars to a well-rounded prayer life, communal and private, and to do one or the other exclusively is to be imbalanced. The more a person prays privately, the more the person should want to worship with the community, and the more a person worships with the community, the more a person should want to pray privately.
Weekly Eucharist is Solid Spiritual Food. Most people are health-food conscious. It is important to eat properly every day to avoid hunger pains, weakness, malnutrition, and disease. It is the same with our spiritual life. We need to be spiritual-food conscious if we wish to avoid emptiness, spiritual weakness, vulnerability to temptation, and sickness due to sin. The Mass begins with the Liturgy of the Word. God told the prophet Ezekiel, “Eat what is before you; eat this scroll” (Ez 3:1). God wanted him to devour his word, and God wants us to do the same. Peter accurately observed, “Master, you have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). The second half of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Jesus declared, “My flesh is real food, and my blood true drink” (Jn 6:55). Spiritual malnutrition begins when we go without Word and Sacrament for longer than a week.
You can’t understand what happened on Good Friday apart from what happened two days later on Easter Sunday. The Resurrection, too, is made present every time the Eucharist is celebrated. When we go to Mass, we are mysteriously present at the foot of the cross, watching the Savior give his life for us. And we’re also standing outside the open tomb with the women who greeted the risen Jesus. “This is for you. I give my life to you,” Jesus is saying at every Mass. “Receive my power.”
To sum up, the Mass is Christ’s sacrifice made present again. It’s not recalled, as if it had been absent or was merely a past event. It’s re-presented. And so when we go to Mass, we are connected to the life-giving power of these saving events that have the power to make all things new. And we are offering to the Father the only sacrifice that could possibly please him: the perfect offering of his perfect Son. But it is our offering as well, since the Son has generously made us members of his body.
As Catholics we are very fortunate to have ample opportunities in this area to fulfil our Sunday obligation to attend Mass. Mass is offered starting Saturday evening through Sunday evening throughout the Diocese of Crookston and Fargo. The past five weeks I personally have attended five Sunday Eucharistic Celebrations in four different parishes. So, starting this week let’s make a commitment to emulate Jesus, Mary and Joseph every Sunday and honor the commandment, from our Father in heaven, to keep holy the Sabbath day.
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