For years when students have walked into my class, they have been greeted with an agenda outlining what we will be covering that day and what they can expect the next time we meet. At the bottom of the screen, in bold red letters, is the exhortation: SUNDAY - GET TO MASS.
The statement is a reminder that Catholics “keep the Sabbath day holy” by joining with each other and the Lord around the altar each Sunday, though we might not know it from the numbers. In 1970, 54.9% of American Catholics attended Mass weekly, according to a CARA study, with 71% going once or more a month. In the last survey done before COVID, that percentage had dropped to 21.1% and 37%, respectively, with the number of weekly Massgoers today estimated at only a staggering 12%.
The Catholic Church is in the middle of a Eucharistic revival, trying to reverse that trend. We are being called to refocus and reinvigorate our faith in what the Second Vatican Council called “the Source and Summit of Christian life.”
While future blogs will address various aspects of the Blessed Sacrament, including the Real Presence of Jesus and the implications of receiving the Eucharist, it is important to answer the question my students often ask when they read the screen:
Why is it important to go to Mass each week?
Author Matt Fradd, on his popular podcast Pints with Aquinas, recounts a discussion with a Protestant clergyman about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When asked if he believed that the Eucharist was, in fact, Jesus in the appearance of bread and wine, the cleric said he did not, but: “[i]f I could believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist…
I would crawl over broken glass to be with Him.”
We go to Mass because, in the Liturgy, we meet with Christ, God-made man, the eternal Logos, in His sacramental Body. He literally becomes one with us--part of our cell structure. Nothing is more intimate and sacred than this: to be one with our God. One would think that would be enough to devote an hour a week to being with Him.
Over the years, I have found myself increasingly moved by the Confiteor (literally, “I confess”), and it is here, at the commencement of the Liturgy, that the importance of this “work of the people” is revealed. It begins, “I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned…in what I have done…and failed to do.” As we publicly admit that we are broken and sinful, we do so together in the church: in the emergency room of what Pope Francis calls the spiritual “Field Hospital.” The Mass heals us, for in the Eucharist, Christ forgives the venial sins of those truly sorry (CCC #1394).
“Therefore I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin,” we pray, “all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord Our God.” This is perhaps the key: an acknowledgment that in the struggle to be the women and men God made us to be--and in the depths of our beings, we want to be--we need help.
We can’t do it alone.
Going to Mass is a statement we make to the Father of our gratitude for all the gifts He has bestowed on us. It is a place where we ask His forgiveness for our failings. And it is the time and place we can be with the Lord in the most intimate way possible. The Mass is where we join with our loved ones--those in our congregations and the faithful everywhere--including those who have preceded us in death. We ask them to pray for us, but perhaps more importantly, we pray for them and their healing as well.
Because love means showing up.
So, while “to confess” means admitting a failing, it also means proclaiming something. When you and I go to Mass, we demonstrate our love with our feet, making the implicit statement that of all the things we could be doing on a Sunday morning--playing golf, watching Premier League soccer, or getting a few extra hours of sleep--we have chosen to make our relationship with God and our sisters and brothers in the Lord our priority. We have chosen to sacrifice out of love for others.
And, of course, to “sacrifice” literally means “to make holy.”.
A.M.D.G. / B.V.M.H.