Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization

Why do Catholics go to church every week?

December 12, 2018

Alternate title: Aw mom, again?!

This past weekend we had a double whammy of obligatory worship: a holy day of obligation on a Saturday and then the regular Sunday obligation of Mass the next day.

My kids whined and squirmed and demanded to know whyyyyy we had to go baaaaack when we had just been there the previous morning. There were some sniffles and a lingering hacking cough, involved, too, so, in total, we actually ended up attending 4(!) separate(!) masses(!) to get all the healthy-ish people where they needed to be.

I was thinking about the feat we accomplished and the juggling required, and grateful that we both have jobs that don’t typically require weekend work and free us up to attend pretty much whatever Mass time works for us. We also live in a major city and have a laundry list of different times and locations to choose from, which is a luxury I don’t take for granted.

I explained that having to go to Mass is a privilege and a gift, not a drudgery and a drag. I also admitted that yeah, it’s not always entertaining. That even adults struggle to pay attention and to sit still, and that I don’t leap out of bed with joyful expectation on Sunday mornings and run to Jesus.

Still, the reason we go has less to do with God commanding us and more to do with God giving us what we need to flourish.

God gives us our Sunday obligation to meet our needs, not His. He gives us Himself in the Eucharist to sustain us.

While it’s true that our obligation to participate in communion, receiving the Lord in His Body and Blood, is only annual according to canon (,), our presence with Him at Mass is required on a weekly basis. (And if we are in a state of grace and properly disposed to receive Him –  recently confessed/not in a state of mortal sin – then He gives Himself to us willingly, over and over again.

This is what is known as the Sunday Obligation, and it requires a Catholic to attend Holy Mass every week, either as a vigil Mass on Saturday night, or on Sunday itself. Missing Sunday Mass intentionally with full knowledge of the gravity of doing so is actually itself a mortal sin.

Crazy, right? Of course, there are circumstances beyond our control that might keep us from church: sick kids, a serious injury, a deployment, a career as a first responder requiring shifts that would all of Saturday and Sunday sometimes, etc. But to miss Mass intentionally for a soccer tournament, while on vacation, or out of a desire to sleep in or hit up Home Depot bright and early?

Nope. Not sufficiently grave reason to excuse the Sunday obligation.

What a demanding God we Catholics worship. Couldn’t He lighten up a bit and given the frenetic pace of most modern family’s lives?

Let me put it another way. I feed my children every night. I am richly blessed to be able to do so, and I want to nourish them as well as I am able. (Some nights the level of nourishment is more apparent than others, but for our purposes here, the analogy is sufficient.) I invite them to the table and fill their plates every night because I love them and because I care about their health and wellbeing. I could feed them less frequently, but it wouldn’t be best for them. I could also excuse them from sitting down at the family table and toss a granola bar their way while they engaged in some other activity, but it wouldn’t serve them well long term. It wouldn’t build our family relationship the way a meal around the table does (or is meant to, anyway. Fingers crossed for better behavior from the preschool set at some point, eventually)

They need real food that nourishes their bodies, and real connection as a family to nourish their hearts.

God didn’t have to leave us a tangible, fleshly reminder of His presence. Didn’t have to pour Himself out, literally, as physical food and drink to be consumed.

But He did. He chose to give us more than could be reasonably expected. He lavishes us with the physical gift of Himself because He knows it will meet our needs – physical and spiritual – more completely than anything else in this world.

Even if we don’t fully understand it. Heck, even if we don’t fully believe it. Even if we feel utterly unworthy to approach it. There is a reason we recite the words of the Roman Centurion just before we approach to receive Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

There can be any number of reasons for our unworthiness. Doubt, fear, anger towards God, apathy, lack of faith…the list is as endless as the number of faithful in the pews. But He still comes. And because He knows how good it is for us, He requires us to come back again and again, every week, for as long as we draw breath.

God doesn’t need our worship. But we need to worship God.

We are created beings, externally oriented toward the Creator. We can turn away from Him, of course, and we do so over and over again, sometimes permanently. But it hurts. We were made to be in relationship with Him and with one another. When we turn away from that for which we have been made, we fracture something essential to our happiness, to our wholeness.

This imperfect nugget of “why” is something I’m trying to give to my kids. Trying to help them frame their understanding of God as lavish Father, not demanding dictator.

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6 Comments

  • Reply James H Dobbins, PhD December 12, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    Very well stated. Going to Mass because of what Our Father wants to lavish on us, for our own good, instead of because it is an obligation is a beautiful way to look at it. It is why I go to daily Mass. Then, Sunday becomes just another day at Mass, not the “obligatory” day. Sunday, for me, is just the day I teach adult ed after Mass instead of going home.

  • Reply Kim Burris December 13, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    Love this explanation! Seems like the very least we could do and do so willingly for someone who loved us so much he died for us!

  • Reply Okafor Ifeanyi Luke December 13, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Beautiful explanation, God bless you.

  • Reply jeanette December 13, 2018 at 11:44 pm

    All those things you said Jenny were really wonderful and well thought out. But I’m reading this and the responses, and I have a different perspective on a couple of points.

    One point is: daily mass going does not eliminate the “obligatory” nature of Sunday mass or a holy day of obligation. It is still obligatory regardless of your feelings. What you feel in your heart about it, that is, wanting to be there regardless of obligation, doesn’t change that fact. You can skip mass the other six days for any reason whatsoever, but you cannot do that on Sunday or a holy day of obligation. And you really also would want to see Sunday as something greater than the other daily masses, because it is the “day of the resurrection” and has a unique place in our liturgical week. It is not the same at all, and I would hope it is seen as different for more reasons than (the example of the comment) teaching adult ed afterwards rather than going home (and if you are teaching adult ed, I would assume it really does mean more to you).

    As for seeing our motive for going to mass as love rather than obligation: love obliges. The two are not separable. Have you never been obliged to do something for someone BECAUSE you love them? We can think of many ways we are obligated in our relationships to others, so why not to God? However, love itself is not an obligation. So it is not the same as fulfilling a Church law. But we should not be afraid to teach our children that there are in fact Church laws and that we are obliged to follow them BECAUSE we love God. Jesus Christ gave us the Church as our guide, and therefore we listen to the Church when she acts with God-given authority (and that, by the way, is why the errors of individuals within the Church hierarchy cannot dissolve the legitimacy of that authoritative role, they distort their role and damage their credibility, but can never make Church authority cease to be from God). We also listen to God who, in the 10 commandments which we hope our children learn by heart, instructed us clearly to “keep holy the sabbath” which for Christians is Sunday. Keeping it holy means attending mass. Jesus tells us that we LOVE HIM if we keep His commandments. He also stated to the apostles, “Whoever hears you hears me” and therefore the Church does have the ability to make laws that we are bound to follow. It all works together. Don’t separate it, or you might be sorry later on. Obedience to law is a sign of love, not an empty act. Even obedience to civil law represents good citizenship, so why would we not want our children to see that connection as even greater in their relationship to God and the Church?

    In the case of the holy days of obligation being an extra mass, it is helpful to explain to children why that particular mass is observed so seriously that it has a separate celebration from Sunday mass. Explain in their age-appropriate terms, of course. For the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception for instance, we can explain that we are celebrating in a special manner the unique gift given to Our Lady to be born without original sin. That is certainly something to solemnly celebrate. You might share the story of Adam and Eve to give them a concept of original sin. You also need to help them understand that God created them to belong to Him and that is why they were baptized, and that as their parents, you promised to help them learn how to belong to Him. They can learn that their baptism removed original sin, but that they need continued graces to fight against temptations and sin and live holy lives. You can teach them that Mary is “full of grace” as the prayer says, and help them to understand how she is always cooperating with God to be free of sin by the special grace of her Immaculate Conception.

    Mary is one of us, and that can inspire children to know that with God’s help we are given a special gift, too, to overcome our own sins. Any child who has a concept of sin and the freeing experience of being absolved can be taught to understand what a beautiful thing it is to be without sin. After a good confession, for however long it lasts, they are without sin for awhile, too. They can think about how to prolong that state by asking for God’s help. They can learn that one way God’s help comes to them is through the gift of the mass, and especially the worthy reception of the eucharist. They can think about how to work in their daily lives to try do what Jesus wants them to do. And to do it for love. They can readily see that they do things out of love for you and that you do things for love of them and that it is a 2 way relation of love, and that it is the same way with God.

  • Reply Peter kitchin December 14, 2018 at 3:58 am

    My experience is that the Lord graces us not only with this gift of love, inviting us to this holy Banquet, but overtime He offers us the grace of intoxication with which those who He offers this grace too can not, not go to daily Mass! With it we need the daily invitation to His Banquet everyday, not only receiving the Lord into the altar of our hearts, united to His and our spiritual mother and the living and heavenly communion of saints, but part of the edifice of the Mass is to unite all present as His Mystical Body before we are told to “Go, the Mass is ended” and to take Me to the world and be my disciple, giving the Lord Jesus in small or large portions to others that cross our path in life, by good example, a smile, or addressing their individual concerns and inviting others “to come and see the goodness of the Lord.” Personal examples or our own real life conversion stories are very powerful and are always great examples of how the Lord works in our own individual life’s!

  • Reply Jean C December 14, 2018 at 7:27 pm

    You might be interested to know that in Canada there are only two Holy Days of Obligation which are observed on days other than Sunday – Christmas Day and Mary, Mother of God. All other Holy Days of Obligation were transferred to Sundays a number of years ago. It seems strange to me that such a thing was permitted and certainly doesn’t keep us in step with our RC brothers and sisters in other countries who continue to celebrate on the actual day.

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