Why We Go to Church and Attend Holy Mass
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Over years of ministry, I have often been asked questions such as "Why do we have to go to Mass". For me, it is easy to answer. Because we meet Jesus there. I truly believe that if we actually believed that, we would no longer ask the question.
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Photo credit: Shalone Cason
I am what is sometimes called a "revert" to the Catholic Church. I never officially left, but my practice of the faith grew cold, in fact non-existent, when my family stopped practicing the faith when I was a child. In my youthful search for the meaning of life, I was drawn back to living faith in Jesus Christ and drawn home to the fullness of Christianity, the Catholic Christian faith.
It was a circuitous journey that involved a teenage encounter with the Risen Lord, a serious hunger for prayer and bible study, my attending numerous and different church services, and then, my finding the early Church fathers. I questioned my way all the way back home to the faith of my childhood, the Catholic faith.
However, it was rediscovering worship in the beauty of the Holy Mass - and the mystery that it makes present - which became the light for so much of my journey home. That light continues to illuminate my path because Beauty is so very attractive for a reason. God is the source of all beauty and we were made for God.
After all these years, the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Mass, is still the rich and fertile ground of my life of faith. I have had the true honor, as a Deacon, for twenty-seven years, of serving at the Altar - where heaven touches earth and earth touches heaven. The Holy Mass roots me in the heart of the Church.
There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity, and mission of the Church; Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. The phrase in Latin literally means the law of prayer (the way we worship), and the law of belief (what we believe). It is sometimes written as, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, and Lex Vivendi (the way we live), further deepening the implications of this truth.
How we worship reflects and informs what we believe and determines how we will live our daily lives.
Worship is the beating heart of the Christian vocation. The highest form of Worship is the Divine Liturgy or, as we say in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the Holy Mass.
The Catholic Church has long understood that part of her role as mother and teacher is to watch over worship, for the sake of the faithful and in obedience to the God whom she serves. How we worship not only reveals and guards what we believe but guides us in how we live our Christian faith and fulfill our Christian mission in the world.
Liturgical Worship is not an add-on for a Catholic Christian. It is the foundation of Catholic identity; expressing our highest purpose. Worship reveals what we truly believe and how we view ourselves in relationship to God, one another, and the world into which we are sent to carry forward the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
How the Church worships is a prophetic witness to the truth of what she professes. Good worship becomes a dynamic means of drawing the entire human community into the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. It attracts - through beauty to Beauty. Worship informs and transforms both the person and the faith community which participates in it. There is a reciprocity between worship and life.
The late Pope Benedict XVI was one of the great liturgists of our age. His seminal book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, written when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, is required reading in most seminaries and should be read by every Catholic. In the last year of his service, before this humble, holy man voluntarily stepped aside and dedicated the rest of his days to a monastic vocation, he gave a beautiful series of instructions on the Liturgy.
On October 3, 2012, he reminded the pilgrims in St. Peter's Square: "It is not the individual - priest or layman - or the group that celebrates the liturgy, but it is primarily God's action through the Church, which has its own history, its rich tradition and creativity. This universality and fundamental openness, which is characteristic of the entire liturgy is one of the reasons why it cannot be created or amended by the individual community or by experts, but must be faithful to the forms of the universal Church.
"Dear friends, the Church is made visible in many ways: in its charitable work, in mission projects, in the personal apostolate that every Christian must realize in his or her own environment. But the place where it is fully experienced as a Church is in the liturgy: it is the act in which we believe that God enters into our reality and we can meet Him, we can touch Him. It is the act in which we come into contact with God, He comes to us, and we are enlightened by Him.
"So when in the reflections on the liturgy we concentrate all our attention on how to make it attractive, interesting and beautiful, we risk forgetting the essential: the liturgy is celebrated for God and not for ourselves, it is His work, He is the subject, and we must open ourselves to Him and be guided by Him and His Body which is the Church."
In Catholic theology, we often refer to the Church as "mother and teacher". One of the things a mother and teacher does is to encourage her children to choose what is true and good and beautiful so that they may be happy, healthy and experience human flourishing in this life and then enter heaven where it is all fulfilled. Thus, we have in Catholic teaching what are called the "Precepts of the Church."
The writer of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews writes to the early Christians: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Letter to the Hebrews 10:23-25).
Not going to Church is not a new problem. So, the Church sets forth Precepts that we are obligated to follow. I set forth below the Summary of the Precepts found in the Glossary to the Catholic Catechism, followed by the Paragraphs in the Catechism explaining them.
PRECEPTS OF THE CHURCH: Positive laws (sometimes called commandments) made by Church authorities to guarantee for the faithful the indispensable minimum in prayer and moral effort, for the sake of their growth in love of God and neighbor (Catechism Paragraph #2041).
THE PRECEPTS OF THE CHURCH
2041 The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor:
2042 The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.
The second precept ("You shall confess your sins at least once a year") ensures preparation for the Eucharist by the reception of the sacrament of reconciliation, which continues Baptism's work of conversion and forgiveness.
The third precept ("You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season") guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord's Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.
2043 The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.
The fifth precept ("You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church") means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.
The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own abilities.