This Sunday, I’ll Be Going to Church. Will You Join Me?

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, 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.” [CCC 2181]

Oscar Wergeland, “Service in a German Village Church,” ca. 1880
Oscar Wergeland, “Service in a German Village Church,” ca. 1880 (photo: Public Domain)

I got into a discussion recently with some good Catholic friends about going to church on Sunday. To my surprise, several of them had recently failed to fulfill their Sunday obligation to attend Mass.

I’m pretty sure this is not a unique phenomenon among believers, even among those who consider themselves faithful Catholics.

Sometimes, people will explain away their having missed the Sunday liturgy — they had a headache, or they were out late the night before, or they have company coming, or [eye roll] they can pray just as well on the golf course.

Sometimes, it comes down to something the parish is doing wrong: The homilies are boring, or the church is ugly, or the music is not to your liking, or no one ever talks to you, or the air conditioning isn’t working properly.

Let’s talk about this.

See, I think we (Catholics, that is) need to rethink our reason for attending Mass. Some Protestants I know go church-hopping because they want (choose one: better fellowship, or a popular speaker, or a great youth program, or…)

But for a Catholic, these are nice but are essentially window dressing. I mean, Jesus is there, and he comes to us!

There are two other reasons we must be there:

First, God commands us to keep holy the Lord’s Day. To be more specific: Jesus founded his Church, and he authorized his Church to represent him here on earth. And the Catholic Church tells us that this — attendance at Sunday Mass — is the way we must keep the day holy. If you agree that Jesus founded the Catholic Church and delegated Peter and his successors to run it, then you must recognize the legitimate authority of the Church to make rules that are intended for our good.

That means you acknowledge that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ himself, and was appointed as his representative on earth, until he comes in glory. There’s gotta be someone in charge, and when the Catholic Church says, “This is how we understand the Third Commandment” and imposes a requirement, you must acknowledge her authority.

Whether you benefit personally on that particular day, whether you like the liturgy and the music (and believe me, I don’t always!), whether the homily is good, you are there to worship because the Catholic Church tells you you must be there.

If you screw up and miss, will God forgive you in Confession? Yes. But still, again, if you’re Catholic … attendance at Mass every Sunday is mandated, under penalty of mortal sin. You are required to worship God, and you are required to do it in that particular way — by attending Sunday Mass. Get out of bed and get over there!

Second, it’s the best deal in town for us. Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That’s true — where else can you go to hear the words of Christ, and to join with him so intimately, to let him come into you and transform you, leading you to greater holiness?

I remember once hearing a radio broadcast featuring Rosalind Moss, the former Catholic Answers apologist who founded a new religious order, the Daughters of Mary, Mothers of Israel’s Hope. (She's now known as Mother Miriam.) Anyway, Rosalind was recounting an imaginary conversation with a young woman who had left the Catholic Church for a Protestant denomination — preferring the music and the women’s groups and the social activities for the kids. I don’t remember all the details, but essentially, Jesus asked her, “But which of these things would you choose over me?”

And that’s the heart of it: At Mass, Christ is truly present — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. He gives himself to us in the reading of the Word, and in the Eucharist. That happens even when the homily is boring, when the cantor is off-key, when the church is only half-filled. “Whenever two are three are gathered in my name,” Jesus reminds us, “there I am in the midst of them.” In the Mass, that is even more true, because we have the unimaginable opportunity to unite wholly and fully with him in the Eucharist.