Imperative on attending Sunday Mass explained
Why should I go to Mass every Sunday? Why can’t I just pray to God in my house? Why do I have to go to a church?
St. Pio of Pietrelcina summed up the importance of participating in Mass with the following statement: “It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” In days long past, the parish priest might answer an inquisitive parishioner about the importance of attending Sunday Mass by simply saying it was commanded by God. “Keeping holy the Sabbath day” is one of the Ten Commandments. Today’s world, however, will not suffice with such a simplistic answer, and for good reason, as so many things compete for our attention and claim to be the true priority in our life. Many faithful Catholics who attend Mass each Sunday at their parish church still wonder about why they should go. This question touches on several deep theological themes that, if understood, can help to strengthen our resolve to engage the Mass in a more prayerful way.
Is God’s command to keep holy the Sabbath day primarily fulfilled by our participation with our faith community in the Sunday Eucharist?
Yes. This celebration is not merely a private event. We join with others to faithfully and prayerfully render our worship to God, attesting both to God’s fidelity to his church and to our fidelity to him (“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” No. 2182). St. John Chrysostom put it this way: “You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of priests” (No. 2179). Here, we see the testimony of this great saint giving witness to the importance of the community at worship, revealing their identity as the Body of Christ.
Why should Catholics go to Mass at all when Christ offered the one, perfect sacrifice on the cross?
The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which brought about our redemption, was the greatest act of both human and divine love that he accomplished for us. This sacrificial offering of the Lamb of God took away our sins and reconciled all of humanity with our heavenly Father. Thus, no further sacrifice was necessary. However, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross did not exempt our own personal duty to offer to God the highest form of outward worship – sacrifice – which is attested to by the Scriptures.
Are there some scriptural references that would be helpful for Catholics to understand?
Throughout the Old Testament, we see God demanding sacrifices of the Israelites, not because he was in need of something but because sacrifice signifies our dependence upon God and our reliance upon his providence. It shows us that everything we have is God’s, and we are mere stewards of his great gifts. In this way, we render correct worship to God, recognizing his power, his love and his mercy. Therefore, even with the perfect sacrifice of the cross, the unimaginable love and wisdom of God would not allow our worship to lose a sense of sacrifice. He provided this means by renewing the sacrifice of the cross in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The cross merited the graces that we need from God, and the Mass applies these graces to us, since the church teaches that the Mass is the same sacrifice as on Calvary, differing only in manner. We have the same priest and victim as the sacrifice of the cross at Mass – Jesus Christ.
What is the church’s understanding of the priest in relation to Jesus?
At the altar, Jesus Christ offers himself through the ministry of the priest, all in an unbloody manner, applying the merits gained at Calvary to those at Mass. It is for this reason that the church developed her theology of the priest standing “in the person of Christ,” which is why he can say truly, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” It is Christ himself who declares it. That’s why the church calls the Mass the most important prayer she prays. Now, we can understand why St. Pio says what he does about the Mass, for in this one miraculous event, the greatest act of God’s love is offered back to himself in order to apply an outpouring of graces to us, his beloved children.