As was announced several weeks ago, the bishops of Colorado’s three dioceses will rescind the general dispensation from Sunday Mass attendance that has been in effect for more than a year. Beginning on the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 23, the Church in Colorado will return to the long-standing obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays of Obligation.
The dangers of contracting the COVID virus have been substantially diminished, although it is likely that the virus will never be completely eliminated. As we prepare to take up our Sunday obligation once again, let’s turn to the teachings of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).
“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (CCC 2181).
The Church has always recognized the right of a Catholic to excuse himself or herself from the Sunday obligation for a serious reason. Illness and the demands of charity are the serious reasons given in the Catechism. Is reasonable fear of becoming ill a legitimate reason to dispense oneself? Yes. Advanced age and comorbidities that make it much more likely that a person will get sick because of proximity to others remain acceptable reasons to stay home. But let’s be honest about it. Frequenting stores, restaurants and places of entertainment, while not attending Mass, calls for serious examination of conscience.
Participation in Sunday Mass is not only an obligation; it is, above all, a sublime privilege and gift.
“The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” (CCC 1324).
In the Eucharistic celebration, and especially in the worthy reception of Holy Communion, we encounter and receive the Risen Jesus. “Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:52).
“[The Eucharist] is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1325).
Worship is the adoration and honor given to God, which is the first act of the virtue of religion. Even if one is impeded from the reception of Holy Communion, there always remains the obligation to offer worship to God. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the pre-eminent way in which we give praise and worship to God. “You shall worship the Lord you God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8).
“Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all” (CCC 1326).
The Mass pulls aside the curtain that separates us from heaven and unites us with all the angels and saints in heaven who constantly fall down in worship before the Father. It is in this eternal liturgy that the Spirit and the Church enable us to participate whenever we celebrate the mystery of salvation in the sacraments.
St. Athanasius wrote of the Holy Mass more than 1600 years ago: “My beloved brethren, it is no temporal feast that we come to, but to an eternal, heavenly feast. We do not display it in shadows; we approach it in reality.”
It is time to come home to Mass!