Each and every Sunday over a billion Catholics worldwide are obliged to attend Sunday mass at a parish near them. Why? For starters it is a precept of the Catholic Church, one of the most basic things the Church requires of Catholics. Code of Canon Law # 1247 states:
“On Sundays and other holydays of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of the mind and body.”
Basis in the Ten Commandments
In keeping with Jesus’ instruction to keep the Commandments (Cf. Mt. 22:37, Mk. 12:28-30) and with the authority given to the Church to make decisions that it deems appropriate (Cf. Mt. 16:19, 18:18) the Church has the power to make such rules.
Regarding the Commandments, the Lord told his people to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” In the Jewish tradition this day is Saturday. Jesus sums up the Ten Commandments with two great Commandments in Matthew 22:37 and Mark 12:28-30. In order to demonstrate the point more clearly the text from Matthew’s gospel will be used.
“When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to them, ‘You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.'”
These 2 commandments that Jesus gave us are 1) based entirely on love (Cf. Rom. 13:9-10) and 2) sum up the Ten Commandments. They are not additions, but they are a summary. The Ten Commandments are found in Exodus 20:2-17. Here it is broken down Commandment by Commandment:
- I, the Lord, am your God. You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.
- Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not kill.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
- You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The Third Commandment
The first three Commandments are summed up with and deal with love of the Lord for these three Commandments deal with the Lord alone. The remaining seven concentrate on offenses to God and man. The focus here is mainly on the first Greatest Commandment and the third of the Ten Commandments. The third Commandment falls under the category of loving the Lord, our God, with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. Getting to the point, Jesus basically tells us still to keep the holy the Sabbath day. Let’s take a look more in depth at the third Commandment.
“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the Lord made the heavens, and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
The words in the Commandment are very explicit as to what the Jews were supposed to do. The Sabbath day was strictly for devotion to the Lord and nothing else should disrupt this observance. In fact the Bible says that not even their beasts may work on that day! This is why this Commandment falls under the category of loving the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. We, just as the Jews, as Jesus said, are to set aside a day for the Lord and devote it to him and worship him. Since all of the Jews had observed on the same day, Saturday, it would make logical sense for the Christians to also gather as a community in a place and worship together in keeping with tradition.
How the Holy Day Became Sunday
The very earliest Christians were converts from Judaism and continued following some Jewish practices. They kept the Sabbath on Saturday and often worshipped in the synagogues. Then they would celebrate their own liturgy on Saturday night (in the ancient world, sundown was the start of a new day, so this would be the start of Sunday) or on Sunday itself. Later, the Christians began primarily celebrating Sunday. Sunday was known as “The Lord’s Day” because it was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, the early Church leaders had changed this observance from Saturday to Sunday in accordance with their power to make such decisions (Cf. Mt. 16:19, 18:18). Holy days of Obligation also fall under this rule of authority.
Benefits of Going to Mass
Whenever God commands us to do something, it is out of love and for our best interest. If this is true (and it is), that means that Mass is good for us.
The Mass brings us in contact with Jesus in four ways (listed here in no particular order):
We Encounter Jesus Through Each Other
Fellowship with other Christians is important in our life of faith. Our relationship with God is not isolating; rather, it brings us into communion with our fellow human beings. In fact, Jesus even promised, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20).
We Encounter Jesus in the Scriptures
The Scriptures are proclaimed at every Mass. This is a great way for Catholics to become familiar with the Bible, in addition to praying with Scripture on their own. In countries where many people are illiterate, the Mass may be the only way that these people can encounter Scripture. Because the Bible is inspired by God, we know that God speaks to us through them. Ideally, the homily will help us understand things in the readings that might be difficult to understand.
We Encounter Jesus in the Eucharist
The Eucharist is Jesus Christ: his body, blood, soul, and divinity. On this side of heaven, there is no greater union with Christ than being united to him when we receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist gives us many graces that help us avoid sin and live lives in union with Christ. When we go to Mass, we have the opportunity to receive the Eucharist and experience a union with Christ that is unparalleled.
We Encounter Jesus in the Priest
A priest acts in persona Christi. This means that he acts in the person of Christ. When a priest performs a sacrament, it is Jesus performing the sacrament through the agency of the priest. That means that even if a priest is sinful, when he consecrates the Eucharist, we truly receive the Eucharist. Sometimes people describe it as Jesus “borrowing” the priest’s voice when the priest consecrates the Eucharist. Therefore, we encounter Jesus in the priest, regardless of whether the priest is holy or wicked, and regardless of whether the priest is good at engaging people in participating in the Mass.