From Torch of the Faith
Going to Church Every Sunday
During one of the early morning Masses at Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis spoke about people who have the ”face of a saint, but inside suffer from an osteoporosis of corruption… people who seem perfect on the outside, going to Church every Sunday and making big charitable donations.”
Whilst this does highlight a potential danger for all Catholics, it is easy enough to see how these words might be taken by sincere Catholics as yet another of his negative depictions of their best efforts. Again, it is not hard to see how these words could be used as grist for the mill of the Church’s enemies.
After all, it is not as if we live in an age when the Sabbath is so honoured in the wider culture that its upkeep could become merely conventional on any large scale.
In much of the Western hemisphere, the churches continue to empty out, just as the art galleries, department stores and supermarkets continue to fill up on the Sabbath.
The Bare Minimum
In these secularized times, it is true that faithful Catholics might be tempted to pridefully look down their noses at those who do not honour the Sabbath. We must always remember our own dependence on grace; for by the grace of God go we.
Perhaps Pope Francis’ words might provide him, and all of us too, with an opportunity to reflect on the fact that the person who goes to Holy Mass on a Sunday is not so much being perfect, as merely doing the bare minimum that is required by the Third Commandment of God’s Holy Law.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: ”The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on the days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”
Going to Sunday Mass is a bit like breathing: you go because you want to go, but also because you have to go to stay alive spiritually. And that aspect of having to go keeps one’s love for God in the realm of the objective, more than just in the emotions or the feelings.
In his book This is the Faith, the great Canon Francis J. Ripley wrote of honouring the Sabbath: ”We are to keep the Sunday holy by hearing Mass and resting from servile works… One who merely goes to Mass and forgets about God for the rest of the day can scarcely be said to keep the Sunday holy, although he may avoid mortal sin. So it is that the Church urges all to attend the other services which she provides for them, such as Rosary, Vespers, Instruction, Benediction, and also to devote some time to pious or religious reading or other exercises for the sanctification of the soul.”
Of course, in these post-modern times, one would be lucky to find such extra services in many parishes today. In our Archdiocese, it would be hard enough to find even a Sunday evening Mass in many parishes.
Some years ago, we were on a coastal walk with a Catholic priest one Sunday afternoon. Upon passing a local Catholic parish, I asked if we might stop off there to say a prayer. I was rather taken aback when the priest, seemingly surprised by my request, replied quickly that the building would certainly be closed ”because it is Sunday!”
At least the Traditional communities who offer only the Traditional Latin Mass also continue to offer liturgies like Sunday Vespers to the laity in their surrounding areas.
Building a ”Culture” of Sunday
It is essential that Catholics develop a ”culture” of Sunday in their families through Holy Mass, Rosary, spiritual reading, a family meal, shared relaxation and the visiting of relatives, or of other orthodox Catholics.
We also think that the setting aside of ”Sunday-best” clothes for attendance at Church is an important aspect which helps to mark Sunday as a special day for the glory of the Lord.
The Apostolic Letter Dies Domini – Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy reminds us: ”Since Sunday is the weekly Easter, recalling and making present the day upon which Christ rose from the dead, it is also the day which reveals the meaning of time. It has nothing in common with the cosmic cycles according to which natural religion and human culture tend to impose a structure on time, succumbing perhaps to the myth of eternal return. The Christian Sunday is wholly other! Springing from the Resurrection, it cuts through human time, the months, the years, the centuries, like a directional arrow which points them towards their target: Christ’s Second Coming. Sunday foreshadows the last day, the day of the Parousia, which in a way is already anticipated by Christ’s glory in the event of the Resurrection…
… In fact, everything that will happen until the end of the world will be no more than an extension and unfolding of what happened on the day when the battered body of the Crucified Lord was raised by the power of the Holy Spirit and became in turn the wellspring of the Spirit for all humanity. Christians know that there is no need to wait for another time of salvation, since, however long the world may last, they are already living in the last times. Not only the Church, but the cosmos itself and history are ceaselessly ruled and governed by the glorified Christ. It is this life-force which propels Creation, ”groaning in birth-pangs until now” (Rom 8:22), towards the goal of its full redemption. Mankind can have only a faint intuition of this process, but Christians have the key and the certainty. Keeping Sunday holy is the important witness which they are called to bear, so that every stage of human history will be upheld by hope.
Each of us needs the graces of Sunday in order to live, move and have our being in Christ. May God give us the grace to always Keep the Lord’s Day Holy!