June 23, 2021
We are obligated to participate in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. It might seem odd to be obligated to attend a celebration, so what is this all about? It may help to first think about where the obligation comes from. We are blessed with life, salvation, faith, gifts, and resources, and all these many blessings come from God. Out of gratitude, we come to the Eucharist - the word means thanksgiving - and with grateful hearts, we celebrate Christ’s presence among us. Our obligation, then, comes from deep within ourselves as we make Christ and the Eucharist the center of our lives. In Christ, we are offered life to the full. In the Eucharist, we are formed and nourished by Christ to live as his people. That is a reason to celebrate!
Think about the things you do out of love for another. Parents get up in the middle of the night to feed or console their children. Adults care for their aging parents. Siblings and good friends stop everything to support their loved one through a difficult moment. We might say that we are obligated to do these things, not because someone tells us we must, but because we cannot imagine doing anything else. The obligation is our loving response which shows the importance of the person in our lives and our gratitude for him or her. This is a helpful way to think about our obligation to participate in Sunday Mass. We come to the Eucharistic feast, not only because the Church tells us we must but as a response to the astounding love of God which is shown and shared through Jesus Christ.
Let’s be honest. There are moments when we may be inclined to stay home, lingering in leisure or distracted by the swirl of weekend activities rather than participating in Sunday Eucharist. We may rationalize our desire for creature comforts as we ignore our conscience’s call to get ourselves to Mass. This is why the Church has established the Sunday obligation to attend Mass. Like parents who establish house rules to form a child into a responsible adult, the Church establishes rules that lead us to spiritual maturity, which is expressed in willing participation in the Eucharist. The Sunday obligation may feel like an imposition from the outside, rather than what it is—a call for us to do what is best for us.
“We need to remember that it is Sunday itself that is meant to be kept holy, lest it end up as a day ‘empty of God.”
– Pope Benedict XVI
Participate and Celebrate
We often say we are “going” to Mass. When we truly celebrate the Eucharist, we do more than simply come to Mass. We are not to be passive spectators, but active participants. We listen, speak, sing, stand, sit, kneel, and eat. Through our participation, we are changed. Pope Francis recently said, “The prayer of the Christian makes the sacramental presence of Jesus his or her own. What is external to us becomes part of us. The Mass is always celebrated, and not only by the priest who presides over it, but by all Christians who experience it. And the center is Christ! All of us, in the diversity of gifts and ministries, join in His action, because He, Christ, is the Protagonist of the liturgy.” (February 2, 2021) Through our active participation in the Eucharist, particularly in receiving Christ’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion, we become more like Christ and are strengthened to live as Christ’s people in the world.
Things to think about:
- What obligations do I have in my life? What things do I undertake purely out of love?
- What helps me to be mindful of my blessings and to grow in gratitude?
- How is my relationship with Christ and the celebration of Sunday Mass central in my life?
- How do I know that I am obligated to participate in Sunday Mass and holy day Mass? How is this obligation different from other obligations I have?
This article is part of Together, an Archdiocese of Cincinnati initiative to catechize the faithful on the importance of Mass, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the value of Sunday, our obligation to worship, and the advantage of being together physically rather than virtually.