Speaking Out: Sunday Mass more than an obligation

By  Mary French, Youth Speak News
  • January 8, 2020

Once upon a Sunday in Ordinary Time, I happened upon a church in Toronto. It was a pleasant — and all too rare — inconvenience to find the pews so packed that people had to stand outside the front doors just to hear the words of the Mass. At the time, it was a scene so unfamiliar to me that it made me reflect more deeply on how precious the Mass truly is.

In the past month we’ve had two holy days of obligation: Christmas (Dec. 25) and Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1). Just as my experience in Toronto, my home parish was packed with people, many dressed in their finest, meeting their religious obligations. 

Sadly, now that the festivities of Christmas and New Year’s are over, at least in my experience, we will see the pews on Sunday seem more empty and the fancy attire less common. I can assure you the problem is not due to lack of Catholics. There are more than a billion Catholics in the world. Where are we?

It’s a question that is reflective of a deeper, prevalent issue in our world. We are all thirsting for self-fulfilment. This is a good thing, but is unfortunately accompanied by a massive tug-of-war between true fulfilment and self-centredness. Whenever we only focus on ourselves, we disconnect from God. This is why, especially today, focus on the Mass is so important.

Holy days of obligation are more than confirmations of our membership in the Church or boxes we tick off in order to be a good Catholic. The documents of Vatican Council II tell us that by “recalling the mysteries of the redemption, (the Church) opens up to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers and merits, so that these are in some way made present for all time.” The requirements of holy days are intended to honour their great significance.

There are 10 feast days recognized in the Church as holy days of obligation, eight of which in Canada are celebrated on Sundays. On these days, all Catholics are expected to go to Mass, to refrain from working too much and to be particularly attentive for moments where we can perform works of mercy. It is perhaps easier to treat feast days with this special attention, but what we cannot forget is that every single Sunday is also a holy day of obligation. 

The Eucharist humbles us, saving us from our selfishness. But it also feeds us by reminding us of who we are. As Catholics, we believe that God is love. As people made in the image of God, our identity is consequently also grounded in the image of love. Sunday obligation is so important because it is expressive of our identity as Catholics.

With this in mind, I wonder if I respect Sundays as I should. Yes, I go to Mass and avoid taking shifts at my part-time job. But is it enough to meet this basic level? It’s funny how easy it is to meet a few requirements without actually considering why they are there. 

In my Sundays of browsing through Pinterest and YouTube for hours, I was missing the teaching of Pope Leo XIII’s 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum: “Rest from labour is not to be understood as mere giving way to idleness (or) an occasion for spending money and for vicious indulgence … but it should be rest from labour, hallowed by religion.” Our rest on Sundays is to help us find fulfilment with God, not apart from Him.

I’m not suggesting that each person spends their whole Sunday locked in their house praying and reflecting — that would be unrealistic and perhaps even imprudent. Rather, Sundays are a time to live life to the fullest. If we order our Sunday activities around thanksgiving to God, we may be able to appreciate more fully the reason that Sundays are holy days of obligation.

Observing this Sunday obligation should not be something we do robotically, simply because it is a Church law. It feeds our very way of life.

(French, 21, is a third-year liberal arts student at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

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