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Priests And Their Flock's Duty To Attend Mass On Sundays And Holy Days Of Obligation


by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan

Priests find themselves confronting a considerable task: to convince their people that to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation is not only a sacred endeavor full of special meaning but also obligatory. Although not infallible, one national survey revealed that approximately 27% of Catholics in the United States of America attend Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. The remaining 73% are divided between two categories: those who go to Mass about once per month and those who virtually don’t attend at all.

Acknowledging the substantial challenge that priests possess, Pope John Paul II published his Apostolic Letter Dies Domini (The Lord’s Day), dated May 31, 1998 (the Solemnity of Pentecost). The Holy Father, recognizing that a significant misunderstanding regarding Mass attendance and the genuine notion of rest on the Lord’s Day prevails in scores of locations around the globe, takes up the concepts of the beauty and value of Sunday and how the Catholic faithful are to commemorate the first day of the Christian week.

There exist perennial complaints arising from some quarters directed against papal and curial pronouncements: “They’re much too long . . . they’re too complex . . . ‘ordinary’ Catholics have neither the time nor the know-how with which to plough through these heavy publications . . . these writings might make sense but they’re not applicable at the parish level.”

Is it possible for the content and logic of Dies Domini to be conveyed by priests to contemporary, “ordinary” Catholics? The following suggestions—by no means exhaustive—are presented as a means by which to put this Apostolic Letter to use in the parish.

1. Priests and the faithful will benefit immeasurably when priests make this document part of their reading. So much of what the Holy Father has written during his twenty-five year pontificate is, contrary to the unfair caricature painted by the at-times hostile secular press, positive and uplifting rather than merely prohibiting. Yes, Pope John Paul unhesitatingly affirms in Dies Domini that “the faithful are obliged to attend Mass (on Sundays and Holydays) unless there is a grave impediment” (#49). But he also glowingly presents the treasure we have in the first day of the week—the Day of the Resurrection—and explores the inherent symbolism of Sunday as “the eighth day”: “that truly singular day,” referring to a text of Saint Basil the Great (d. 379), “which will follow the present time, the day without end which will know neither evening nor morning, the imperishable age which will never grow old; Sunday is the ceaseless foretelling of life without end which renews the hope of Christians and encourages them on their way” (#26).

When priests study Dies Domini, they increase in their own grasp of the intrinsic raison d’etre of the Lord’s Day, thereby enabling them to persuade their people of the same.

2. The Sunday parish bulletin provides an excellent medium by which to offer the salient points of Dies Domini. Some argue that those who do attend Mass each Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation are the last ones who need to hear the Holy Father address the crucial subject of Mass attendance. These Catholics, obviously, are doing now what the Church directs relative to the Third Commandment of the Decalogue. Yet, it is critical for the regular attendees also to know well the basis of the Church’s teaching pertaining to the Lord’s Day, for two primary reasons: a.) to appreciate more deeply for themselves the splendor of the selfless Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary perpetuated in each Holy Mass and the authentic concept of Sunday rest and how both fit into the whole of Catholic belief and practice; b.) to be prepared to speak with those Catholics—whether at home, in school or in the workplace—who don’t always go to Mass and inspire them to begin arranging for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist as a vital part of their Sunday schedule.

3. Compose a parish letter that highlights the helpful reasoning of Dies Domini and mail to all adults in the parish. This missive from the pastor to his people is designed to reach those primarily who don’t go to Mass. These parishioners are probably not familiar with the Holy Father’s writing on this matter (and perhaps on many matters) but may have some comprehension of the Third Commandment and what it requires. Building on this knowledge, the letter may detail briefly the Church’s insistence that Catholics gain innumerable graces when participating worthily at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. A gentle and informative letter that steers clear of pointing the finger at those who currently don’t attend Mass will do much in educating parishioners, particularly those who aren’t active in the sacramental life of the Church.

The Holy Father has done his part in issuing Dies Domini. Now, priests can accomplish much by spreading the substance of this work to their people. This is the Church at her best: the Word of God is first proposed by Christ Himself, and then needs the assistance of the pastors if it is to find a welcome in the hearts of the faithful. May Dies Domini be the impetus for a new, fresh revival in love for the Mass and adherence to Sunday rest among the Catholic disciples of the Master.


Mary's Field  , VA
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan - Official, 390 66616-1125



Holy Mass; Rest; Sunday; Holy Day of Obligation

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