Missing Sunday Mass


God gives us 168 hours a week; in only 1 of those hours does He expect us to attend Mass. So, it is illogical to miss Mass if for no other reason than we might offend Him by not attending. Of course, this particular brand of 'keeping our spiritual noses clean' is the lowest form of worship; God is looking for a little more from His children. Mass is a privilege and a serious duty of the individual Catholic. The obligation is so serious, in fact, that for an adult to miss Mass deliberately without good reason (eg. sickness, difficulty in getting to Church etc) is a mortal sin. Who would want to sever their relationship with God? People who wilfully miss Mass risk doing just that. A ritualised ceremony that lasts about an hour once a week is a small price to pay. God is love. His expectations of us are not unreasonable.


In John 14:15 Jesus says that if you love Him then you'll keep His Commandments. The Church He founded on Earth is the Catholic Church. Jesus is the Head of the Church which is His Body. The vicar of Christ on Earth is the Pope, and for the two thousand years of the Church's history all the popes have called on the faithful to keep holy the Lord's day by going to Mass. The Church is simply being faithful to Jesus' command that His priests: 'do this in memory of me' (Lk 22:19). Responding to this command of Christ keeps the Third Commandment in the best way possible because the Mass is the greatest prayer. There is no better way to adore God on a Sunday (or Saturday Vigil) than by going to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Anyone who concocts any other way of keeping Sunday holy is disregarding the fact that at every Catholic Mass the one sacrifice of Calvary that Jesus made for our sins is re-presented, and that the risen glorified Christ is received in Holy Communion. We ignore this, the greatest gift of Jesus, every time we deliberately miss Mass. What could be more reckless than disregarding the one God who holds us all in existence?


The Catholic Church derives from Christ Himself the authority to oblige Catholics to attend weekly Mass. In Matthew 16: 19 Jesus gave to Peter, the first pope (and through papal succession, to all other popes), the power to make binding in Heaven whatsoever he the pope would make binding on Earth. Jesus Himself said that those who do not listen to the Church should be avoided (Matt 18: 17). So, from Christ's own command, the Church has to be obeyed. The Catholic Church has always taught the central importance of the Mass and from earliest Apostolic times, in faithfulness to Jesus, it has had public worship. In Hebrews 10: 25 we read: 'Do not neglect to meet together, as has become the habit of some.' Today is no different.


It may seem trivial to arbitrarily pick Sunday. Why not Tuesday? Or Friday? But the question has nothing to do with human convention; it's all about what pleases God, and the day (namely Sunday) that Jesus rose from the dead. For instance, it pleased God to test our first parents by prohibiting them from partaking of the fruit of a particular tree in the Garden of Eden. This may have appeared a seemingly trivial matter but what we have to do is to try to see it from God's point of view. If you love Him, you'll do anything He asks. For example, if you really love God then you'll keep His Commandments. Adam and Eve appeared not to love God even in such an apparently trivial matter; they paid the price, and so now do we. For those who deliberately miss Mass, history is simply repeating itself. The Catechism of the Catholic Church doubles as the practical rulebook of Jesus and the sure roadmap to Heaven for His followers; it is based on the Bible & Church Tradition; it says in paragraph 2181 that 'those who deliberately fail in this obligation [to attend Sunday Mass] commit a grave sin.' And so, if Mass-missers premeditatingly and unrepentantly continue in the error of their ways, they risk facing an even worse fate than that of their first parents.


Jesus doesn't ask the impossible from people prevented from going to Mass for reasons out of their control; such people are without guilt. Only God can judge the heart of a person, but, objectively at least, wilfully missing Mass is a mortal sin. Just as a healthy body can die from just one mortal blow (eg falling from a height), so also the soul of a person in the state of grace could still end up suffering the eternal death of Hell from committing just one mortal sin [see Veritatis Splendor, n. 70]. God only condemns to Hell those who commit grave sin (also called 'serious' or 'mortal' [Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine, p. 546]) if they do so in full knowledge, deliberate and free consent of the will, and die impenitent (not sorry). See Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1857 to 1861. Speaking of the revised Code of Canon Law (25 Jan, 1983) Pope John Paul II said: "We, therefore, exhort all our beloved children to observe, with sincere mind and ready will, the precepts laid down …"; canons 1246, 1247 and 1248 are the official Canon Law 'precepts' that clearly show Sunday Mass attendance to be obligatory. However, attention should be paid to the divine richness and unfathomable grandeur of Mass. We should go to Mass because we love God and want to be near Him at His sacrifice, not because we fear punishment, as real as that is. St Alphonsus said that all the prayers and good works of the Angels and Saints bear no comparison with the infinite sacrifice of the Mass.


The God of the universe humbles Himself and comes to us in the Eucharist. The Eucharist was prefigured in the Old Testament with the sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham. It seems strange that the God of love should test Abraham in such a manner but there is plenty evidence from Scripture that children were being offered as human sacrifices to false gods (eg to Baal in Jeremiah 19:5). To prove they loved their false gods, the people sacrificed their children to them. But just at the point when Abraham is about to kill his son God tells him not to sacrifice Isaac. In essence, God is saying: "Don't sacrifice your son to prove your love for me; I will sacrifice my Son to prove my love for you." And that is exactly what happens at every Mass; God Himself provides the Sacrifice (Genesis 22:8): the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world is Jesus Christ Who comes to us at Mass (John 1:29). Every time we go to Mass God proves His love for each one of us by giving up His Son. At every Mass Jesus Christ looks at you and He says: "I greatly desire to be here with you" (Luke 22: 15). So, Jesus longs for us to be with Him in the Eucharist. You fall in love with someone by spending time with your beloved; so, to fall in love with Jesus we should spend time with Him. At every Mass Jesus says lovingly: "Remember Me" (Luke 22: 19). At Mass we're not just going through the motions of a hollow ritual, we are saying to Jesus: "I remember You. That's why I'm here; to remember You." At every Mass Jesus says: "My Blood is poured out for you" (Luke 22: 20). Jesus only died once, but His once and for all sacrifice is perpetuated at Mass until He comes again (1 Cor 11: 23-26). It cost Jesus His life to give us the Mass, so, if we are truly going to enter into any Mass it must cost us our lives too. We shouldn't be going to Mass just to "get something out of it"; we should be going to Mass to die (spiritually) and to rise again (spiritually) so that Jesus can give us a new life in Him (Galatians 2: 19-20). We must bring all of our life to Mass; not just part of it. Therefore, we come to love Jesus and remain with Him by going to Mass and recognising Him at the "breaking of the bread" (Luke 24: 31). In Acts 2: 42 we see how the earliest Christians devoted themselves to the Apostle's teaching of breaking the bread. The Apostles (whom all Christians should imitate) devoted themselves to the breaking of the breadwhich is the Mass (CCC 1345). We should always love to thank the One Who loves us the most, in the way He wants us to. Mass is God's way.

The Mass Explained,Fr Larry's talk from the Mary Foundation, 2001; Harper's Bible Dictionary, 1971,p 646)

* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.