With a holy day of obligation coming up on Wednesday for the Feast of the Assumption, the topic of why Catholics are obliged to attend Mass may come up. In fact, the whole subject of why attend Mass at all may rear its head. Here is a recent article about one of those surveys that asks “why do you” or “why don’t you” attend Mass or other religious services. The reasons for not attending seem familiar enough:
- No time
- Practice their faith in other ways
- Haven’t found a church they like
- Don’t feel welcome
- Don’t believe
But frankly, I found several of the positive responses given for attending religious services to be self-serving or even narcissistic:
- To make me a better person
- For comfort in times of trouble or sorrow
- Finding the sermons/homilies valuable
- Meeting new people/socializing
There were no responses like, “Because I love God” or “Because it’s God’s will” or “For the proper worship of God”; meaning we should worship God the way He wants as opposed to the way we want.
Perhaps you know someone that rarely attends Mass, but attends at Christmas, Easter and some other events. Perhaps you asked, or at least thought, “Why you don’t come next week and the week after?” If you were so bold as to invite them back, you may have received a polite, “we’ll see” in response, which is often translated as “of course not”.
If you persist, you’ll eventually enter a realm the separates man from beast; the realm of the intellect; the desire to know “why”. A Catholic that “believes” to some extent will eventually ask why, even if only asking the question internally. Attending Mass is nice, but why necessary? God is everywhere, so why can’t I be left alone to worship in my own way? Replying back that it is an obligation or a precept of the Church tends not to satisfy. Mentioning the violation of the first and third commandments may get more attention, but can still be seen as finger-wagging.
Another tactic came about for my wife and me as we became involved with the marriage ministry at our parish. We have the opportunity to meet with engaged couples at our home to review the results of their FOCUS questionnaire. There are practical topics dealing with finances, parenting and careers. The subjects of marriage covenant and religion can be awkward when speaking with interfaith couples or catholic couples in which one or both are nominal in their faith. It’s not uncommon for us to dialog with couples in which one or both rarely attend Mass (if ever), and yet they still see it as important to be married in the Catholic Church (thankfully).
The following three areas of reasoning help to satisfy some “whys”. Since what people know informs what they do, these thoughts just might help you tip the scales in getting someone to Mass.
In Terms of Relationship:
It’s especially easy to draw this analogy when dealing with couples in love. Imagine you were married and you spent about one hour at Christmas and one hour at Easter with your spouse with no other interaction throughout the year. What kind of relationship would that be? Suppose it was one hour per month? That’s better, but still lacking. Even if it were once per week for about one hour, we might consider it a working relationship, albeit a weak one.
God desires a close relationship with us and all close relationships require time, commitment, communication and “presence”. How would you feel if your beloved thought that one hour per week with you is too much trouble and unnecessary?
In Terms of Reality:
The above might be easily refuted by saying, “I pray in my own way all the time. No need to sit in a church building. The man upstairs and I have an understanding.” This is when a person’s imagination must be put in its place with a reality check.
We can think of reality as being made up of two parts; physical realities and spiritual realities. Think of your physical life. To be a physically functioning human being there are times when you must function alone, like getting dressed for the day, or perhaps you sometimes work alone or maybe you live alone. There are also times when you must function with others, like with family, co-workers, community members, etc. We’re social beings; it’s how God made us.
This parallels our spiritual life. To be a spiritually functioning human being there are times when you must function alone, like personal prayer and spiritual study. There are also times when you must function with others, like community worship (Catholics call this Mass). Once again, we’re social beings; it’s how God made us.
Last, but certainly not least…In Terms of the Eucharist:
This goes beyond community worship; it’s the source and summit of the faith. If the body and blood of Christ is given to us a spiritual food, it stands to reason that this is the most intimate thing God can possibly give to a human still living on Earth.
So, the most high God of the universe wants this extreme level of intimacy with us and our response is…
- Too busy
- No time
- No need
- Don’t feel like it
- I have better things to do
Think of how offensive this apathetic attitude must be to God? In this context, it seems more than appropriate to refer to skipping Mass as “grave matter”.
If the truth about relationships, the social & spiritual nature of man and the Eucharist really sink in, one’s perspective about attending Mass can change from a pessimistic, “I have to do this???” to an enthusiastic, “I get to do this!!!” and it may even turn out that once per week is simply not enough!
“If we attend Mass well, surely we are likely to think about our Lord during the rest of the day, wanting to be always in his presence, ready to work as he worked and love as he loved”1
- Josemaria Escriva, Christ is Passing by (New York: Scepter Publishing, 2002), p. 154.