Last week we consider the first precept of the Church: “to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation and to refrain from work and activities which could impede the sanctification of those days.”
We saw that this precept exists, not as a reiteration of the Third Commandment, “To Keep Holy the Lord’s Day,” but as the specific way in which Christians are to fulfill this commandment.
However, the Catechism adds the following point regarding a Christian’s obligation to participate in Mass on Sundays: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. […] Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”
So, the church has not only indicated that Mass is the way by which we fulfill the Third Commandment, but has also made it a grave obligation, such that (in the words of the Catechism) those not “excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor,” could be committing a mortal sin.
Why does the Church place such a serious obligation on us as Christians? In one sense, the answer is simple, though, perhaps, strange to our American sensibilities. To understand this grave obligation, we have to remember three things.
First, we are creatures, which simply means we are created; our existence is contingent upon our Creator. We would not be, had he not made us. We would cease to be, if he did not sustain us. Every thought, breath, and action we make is absolutely dependent upon his continuous will that we should exist at any given moment.
Second, the first and most important duty of a creature is to render gratitude, honor and love to the Creator. This is the essential point of the first of the Ten Commandments and is made explicit in what Christ identifies as the greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” If this is both our first duty and the ‘greatest commandment,’ it makes sense that it would carry with it a grave obligation.
Third, God relates to us and saves us, not first as individuals, but as a people. We see this throughout the scriptures. He saves people from the flood insofar as they belong to Noah’s family. He blesses those who belong to Abrahams lineage. He forms his people from the descendants of Jacob whose name he changes to Israel. The Israelites were saved as a nation from Pharaoh. He established prophets, judges, kings, and priests, not for their own sake, but for the sake of his chosen people. Our Savior Jesus established his new people, his body, the Church. He relates to her as a bridegroom to his bride. We belong to him, insofar as we belong to her. Christ loves us as individuals, because we are members of her whom he loves. As we hear in scripture: “Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25-27).
Therefore, we fulfill our grave obligation as creatures to render gratitude, honor and love to our Creator, not first as individuals, but as members of his body, the Church. We fulfill this duty by joining together as Christians throughout the word, in every language and place, country and culture; we join together as one body, one people, worshipping him and giving thanks, every Sunday in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!