When I returned to Church, after my hiatus during high school and the first part of college, it was to the Catholic Center at ETSU in Johnson City. I have shared before about how that return and that community were critical in my own growth in faith and even discernment to the priesthood and an important component of this was once again re-engaging in the rhythm of regular Sunday worship.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the Sunday obligation:
2181 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 pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.
2182 Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
CCC #2181 teaches us about the importance of the Sunday liturgy and CCC #2182 teaches us the “why” of this importance. We need the Sunday liturgy. Yes, to give praise to God first and foremost in gratitude for all that God has given us but also that we, ourselves, might be strengthened in our own journey of faith. The Sunday Mass grounds us again in our hope as Christians and it is within our presence and participation at Mass that we are both strengthened and that we help to strengthen each other.
Even during my hiatus from Church, I had the idea of priesthood in my mind but if I had not reconnected to Church at the Catholic Center and started once again participating regularly in the Sunday celebration then that is all it would have remained – an interesting “idea”. The Sunday Mass and the community that gathered enabled me to begin making what was just an idea into a reality. I am convinced of this but it does not end there! There is more!
The faithful … strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We are less when we do not participate in the Sunday Mass and the community is also less but (the opposite is just as true) we are more when we participate in the Sunday Mass and the community is also more! Every absence has an effect and every presence strengthens. Do we recognize that not only are we less but the community is also less when we are not present? So often when we think about going to Church we think in terms of our own giving praise and worship to God and about what we receive out of it (these are both good and true) but we tend to overlook what our presence means to others or, if our presence is lacking, how that might negatively affect another person. Maybe God wants me at Church today not because of what I can get out of it but because I am the person who can say the kind word that a person who is struggling needs to hear, I am the person who can offer the smile that is needed, I am the friend who can offer a backslap and say, “How has the week been?” Maybe I am the person whose prayer and devotion will inspire another person who is in a moment of doubt. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit we do indeed strengthen one another at Mass. The Mass and the church community is more when we are there and it is less when we are absent.
If you have not been as faithful as you should be about attending the Sunday Mass lately ask yourself this question, “Is my life really better for not attending Mass?” Be honest. If you run across someone whom you have not seen at church in a while, then take a step in faith and ask them how they have been and let them know that they are missed. If you are coming to Mass but not seeming to get much out of it then re-engage and try to find ways to enter into the fullness of the Eucharistic celebration. The teaching of the Church is quite clear, every member of the Church is called to active and full participation in the liturgy. Part of what this teaching implies is that it is not just the job of the clergy or the music ministers or the lectors to make sure you get something out of the Mass … it is, first and foremost, your job. How do you prepare for the Sunday celebration? Do you pray throughout the week? Do you take time to look ahead and read the Sunday readings in preparation for the celebration? What is the attitude you enter into Church and Mass with? Is it trusting and humble or distracted and self-focused? We each have a role to play, each one of us is called to full and active participation and this means each person has the responsibility to prepare himself or herself the best way possible for the Sunday celebration.
From the very beginning the Church has recognized the extreme value of gathering together for the Sunday celebration. We need the Sunday Eucharist. We are strengthened by it and, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we help to strengthen one another.