Reflections on the “obligation” of participating in the Mass

Recently our Scottish Bishops have informed us that: “The obligation for Catholics to celebrate Sunday as a Holy Day by gathering together for Mass will be restored from the First Sunday in Lent, Sunday 6th March.”

The word “obligation” does not go down very well in our society today. Perhaps the following considerations can be of help when we consider the Church’s emphasis that there is an “obligation” for Catholics to gather together for Mass on Sundays

What is the Mass? The Mass (the sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharist) is the most important act of worship, of adoration, of thanksgiving and of petition that takes place anywhere in our world! Our faith teaches us that it is the offering of total love and dedication that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, our brother, makes to his heavenly Father on our behalf. Jesus himself has given this to us when he invited us to “Do this in memory of me”. By our uniting our lives to Jesus it becomes our most important act of worship and adoration.

In our society the notion of “obligation” is used to emphasise the importance of something. e.g. driving carefully, the importance of children eating their food so as to be healthy and grow and develop. I am sure you can think of other examples.

Sometimes you hear people saying things like “I do not get anything out of going to Mass!” or “I find going to Mass boring”.

The Mass is not designed to be entertainment. Anyone who expects entertainment will be disappointed despite the variety of hymns that are sometimes sung. Also, the Mass is not designed to appeal primarily to children. The children depend on the adults – especially parents – to appreciate what the Mass is all about.

To “get something” out of participating in the Mass we need to put something into our participation at the Mass. We need to make our own the words of the Mass and the sentiments expressed. Our attendance at Mass has to be a time of prayer – for our own needs and the many needs of today’s world. This is an “obligation” for Christians. Jesus tells us: “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you”. “Pray for those who persecute you” – (Christians are the most persecuted group in today’s world! To appreciate this reality go to the website of Aid to the Church in Need. So serious prayer is needed.).

The Mass is not just the offering of the priest. The priest, to a certain extent, represents us. Notice and give importance to the words that the priest says on our behalf:Make holy, therefore, these gifts, we pray”, “Therefore, as we celebrate the memorial of his Death and resurrection, we offer you, Lord, the Bread of life and the chalice of salvation”, “Humbly we pray that, partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, we may be gathered into one by the Holy Spirit.”, “Have mercy on us all, we pray, that…. we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life, and may praise and glorify you through your son, Jesus Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer II)

At Mass we all are praying for one another’s needs and concerns, for our family’s deceased loved ones – much better than just me praying for myself!

Participating as a community at the Eucharist – a word which means “Thanksgiving” – was essential from earliest time. The following is our earliest description of the Eucharist :

Justin Martyr circ 150-160

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, … Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things,