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.