I mentioned in the Pastor's Letter of this past weekend that I wanted to emphasize welcoming parishioners (and visitors) back to Sunday Masses this weekend as the Bishops of Ohio have restored the "Sunday Mass obligation" rather than emphasizing the obligation. So, here are some reflections on the obligation and the roots of this teaching and practice.
Why does the Church teach that attending Sunday Mass is an obligation?
First of all, it’s what Jesus did! He participated in all of the annual Jewish temple gatherings as well as weekly synagogue prayer (see Luke 4:16). When Jesus established the Mass at the Last Supper, he effectively brought together the three main forms of Jewish worship into one ceremony – their home-based worship (like the Passover celebration), the sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem, and the weekly gatherings at the neighborhood synagogue.
Secondly, weekly Sunday Mass is the primary way we live the 3rd Commandment (“Keep Holy the Sabbath” – Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12). In those passages about this commandment, Moses teaches that observing the Sabbath as a truly holy day – God’s day – sets us free from slavery to things and people that aren’t God. Isn’t that ironic that we have a greater freedom in our souls when we make a commitment to attend Mass every Sunday (Saturday Vigil Mass “counts” too, based on the Jewish way of understanding time – that the next day begins at sundown)?
Finally, in addition to daily prayers at the Temple (see Acts 3:1), the Church in its earliest days gathered at least weekly (see Acts 2:42 – “The breaking of the bread” was one of the earliest terms for the Mass). Hebrews 10:25 is part of an exhortation to participate in worship together. The emphasis is on the encouragement we need from each other – that we receive ultimately from God through each other – in the face of dangers to our souls that are around us. In the early history of the Church, the Roman government only persecuted the assembly of the Church, knowing that if its members were isolated, they would not be a threat. We need each other and are stronger together (“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” – Matthew 18:20)!
Yes, if a person has an illness, the obligation is lifted. And there can be other circumstances that make attendance impossible. Please note that we will continue to have sanitizing wipes and even masks available if anyone should attend Mass and have health concerns. Ultimately, we all benefit from the participation of each of us!