The obligation to attend Sunday Mass can be a challenge for Catholics to fulfill week in and week out.
Then again, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear on why such a binding requirement exists.
“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice,” No. 2181 states. “For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation.”
No. 2181 also notes that Catholics who have a serious reason — such as illness — are exempt from the requirement. But otherwise, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin,” the catechism states.
“It is in knowing and in loving the Jesus of the Eucharist that you will have the means to understand life, to find security, to be a people with roots,” Bishop Salvatore R. Matano wrote in his June 2017 pastoral letter declaring a diocesan Year of the Eucharist from 2017 to 2018.
“It is Christ who sustains and supports us in the many trials, struggles, challenges, transitions and happenings of our human existence,” Bishop Matano wrote in the letter, issued in conjunction with the Diocese of Rochester’s 150th anniversary. “Our ancestors in the faith have given us an example of faith that is eternal, a faith that unites heaven and earth, a faith where heaven and earth meet in the Most Holy Eucharist.”
Church teaching notes that Sundays are for rest as well as worship
Along with the obligation to attend Mass, No. 2185 of the catechism states, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body.”
The basis for such observances goes all the way back to Genesis 2:3: “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.” Many subsequent references on the importance of Sabbath observance are made throughout Scripture.
“God’s action is the model for human action,” catechism No. 2172 states, adding, “The sabbath brings everyday work to a halt and provides a respite. It is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money.”
COVID pandemic forced suspension of Sunday-Mass obligation
In early 2020, the Sunday Mass obligation for Catholics in the Rochester Diocese — and much of the rest of the world — was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic and related government bans on public gatherings. The dispensation remained in place even after churches gradually began reopening for worship and wasn’t reinstituted locally until a June 2021 joint statement from Bishop Matano and other bishops in upstate New York.
“Today, with vaccination rates rising, infection numbers across the state are falling and we are seeing the reopening of every sector of society, including businesses, restaurants and sporting events. Now it is also time to return to Sunday Mass,” the bishops wrote.
The statement added that “the presumption of the faithful should be that, unless they are at an enhanced risk, sick, or caring for others who are at risk or sick, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass now resumes.”
Rochester bishop states that ‘it is past time’ to get back to church
Yet Bishop Matano recently expressed concern that a significant percentage of diocesan Catholics have not returned to Sunday Mass since before the pandemic.
“If we are physically able, in good health, participating in other activities and performing routine daily tasks outside the home, then it is past time to get back to participating in person at Holy Mass, fulfilling our Sunday obligation,” Bishop Matano wrote in his March 23 “From the Bishop” column in the Catholic Courier.
Regarding that obligation, Father Michael Costik said, he doesn’t harangue people about their absence from church if they’re genuinely concerned for their health.
“I’m not going to force somebody if they don’t feel comfortable,” said Father Costik, who serves as pastor of St. Benedict Parish in Canandaigua and Bloomfield.
But people who otherwise go out regularly in public — but still haven’t been back to church — need to be honest with themselves about their rationale.
“I think it’s worth a good look in the mirror about that,” he remarked.
Ultimately, Father Costik said he hopes people will return to church not just out of obligation — “that’s a word I never use,” he said — but also because they realize they’re a necessary part of their parish communities.
“I’m more like, ‘Please come because it’s wonderful when you’re here,’” Father Costik said.
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