By: Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, OFM Cap
the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, many of us endure traffic and crowded
airports to get home for the holiday. Why? We do this because our presence
matters to our family and friends. We witness to our love when we’re present at
the table for Thanksgiving and other family gatherings.
Each issue carries an imprimatur
from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
As a Church family, we celebrate a Thanksgiving
meal every Sunday. The word Eucharist
comes from the Greek for “thanksgiving.” Jesus instituted this family tradition
at the Last Supper.
Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, teaching
them the importance of humble service. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and
transformed it into his body, blood, soul, and divinity. He said, “Whoever eats
my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (Jn 6:54) and instructed, “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19,
emphasis added). The Church carries out Jesus’ command.
A PRECIOUS GIFT
Eucharist is Jesus’ gift to us and the fulfillment of his promise to be with us
always. It’s central to God’s saving plan of love. Many Catholics seem to take
the gift of Sunday Mass for granted and choose to be absent from Mass. In the early Church,
Christians didn’t enjoy the freedom of religion that we in the United States do
today. They faced persecution by Roman authorities for attending Mass.
The convenience and legality of Mass today shouldn’t
cause us to lose sight of how precious it is. Catholics around the world brave
great inconvenience and persecution to receive what we may take for granted. Pope
John Paul II recalled living under religious oppression and situations of faith
triumphing over persecution. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
instructed new priests to “celebrate each Mass as if it is your first, your
last, and your only Mass.”
Let us anticipate and participate in each Mass
as if it could be our last or only Mass.
Let us never take for granted this encounter with God each Sunday.
WHY CATHOLICS COME TO MASS
reasons Catholics give for skipping Sunday Mass are important, and the Church
needs to hear these concerns and respond. Equally important, however, are the
reasons Catholics come to Mass.
respond to God’s love
“God so loved the world that he gave his only
Son, so that everyone who believes in him . . . might have eternal life” (Jn
3:16). Jesus offered himself on the cross for our salvation. He continues to
give himself through the Eucharist.
word love in English has been
stripped of much of its beauty and meaning. It’s often reduced to a feeling. The
word for God’s love in Greek, agape,
connotes action, a self-gift. Our love for God is a self-gift in return—of our
time, energy, worries, hopes, and joy. The Mass is the best place to thank God
for our gifts—especially life, family, friends, faith, and love.
At Mass, eternity and time intersect. It’s part of God’s
plan of salvation that we meet him directly and receive his grace through the
sacraments. We believe that God is really present with us in the Mass.
is present in four ways during the Mass: 1) the community celebrating, 2) the word
proclaimed, 3) the priest presiding, and 4) the Eucharist (see Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 7).
Because of these encounters with Christ at Mass, we seek to be active
participants—not passive spectators—listening to his word, sharing in the
offertory, singing, and proclaiming a reverent Amen (“truly, I believe”) when
we receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
gather and pray with our parish family
Christian life is a pilgrimage with our brothers and sisters
in Jesus. Discipleship is lived in friendship and fraternity with those for
whom and with whom we pray at Sunday Mass.
Our presence symbolizes solidarity and unity with God and others. It’s the
fullest expression of our Christian identity.
strengthen our particular family
During the Sacrament of Baptism, parents are reminded that
they’re called to be the first and best teachers of their children in the ways
of faith. Knowing that the Mass is Catholicism’s central prayer and the source
and summit of Christian life, we teach our children one of the most important
lessons when we attend Mass with them.
I attended a dinner honoring the principal of a Catholic high school. In his
remarks, he said, “I grew up in a family where going to Mass on Sunday was
about as optional as breathing.”
of us can identify with his experience—this sense of how important Sunday
Eucharist is for our family identity and survival. To miss Mass is to stop
witness and provide a legacy to our children
Children watch their parents and grandparents. We form our
young people by the way we participate in the Mass. Children who see that their
parents get to church early to pray before Mass will want to imitate them.
who observe parents and other adults reverently receiving the Eucharist will
more readily realize that the Eucharist is truly the body and blood of Christ.
The example of parents is an essential part of preparation for first holy
Communion. Children whose parents tell them how much and why they love Mass
will be less inclined to compare Mass to television and consider it “boring.”
way we celebrate Sunday will affect the way we live the remainder of the week
and is a mark of Christian identity from generation to generation.
6. To be
transformed by sacramental grace
The Eucharist gives us strength to face life’s challenges
and to keep mindful of God’s love for us. Jesus said, “I am the living bread
that came down from heaven. . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has
eternal life, and . . . remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:51, 54, 56).
graces and transformative insights God provides in each celebration of Mass
help us move toward happier, holier lives. As we prepare for Mass, we can pray
confidently that Christ will give us sanctifying grace. When we arrive, we can
ask God to speak to us through the readings, music, homily, and prayers, and
show us how to become the persons we’re created to be. We can then pray about how
to put our new insights into practice in the upcoming week.
7. To participate in Jesus’ victory over death
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Each Sunday Mass is a “little Easter” because it marks the resurrection—Jesus’
victory over death. This is the most significant victory in history because it
opens up the possibility of everlasting life.
loves each of us so much that he became incarnate—a human being—and died for
our sins. He did this because he wants us to live eternally with him in heaven.
His victory becomes our victory.
receive a foretaste of heaven
time we celebrate the Eucharist,” Pope John Paul II preached, “we participate
in the Lord’s Supper which gives us a foretaste of the heavenly glory.”
his encyclical On the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia), he wrote, “Those who feed on Christ
in the Eucharist need not wait until the hereafter to receive eternal life: they already possess it on earth, as the
first-fruits of a future fullness which will embrace man in his totality. For
in the Eucharist we also receive the pledge of our bodily resurrection at the
end of the world: ‘He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,
and I will raise him up at the last day’ (Jn 6:54).
“This pledge of the future
resurrection comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as
food, is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the
Eucharist we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection. For this
reason Saint Ignatius of Antioch
rightly defined the eucharistic bread as ‘a medicine of immortality, an
antidote to death’” (no. 18).
9. To follow God’s guidance and grow in relationship
Third Commandment instructs us to keep the Sabbath holy. By keeping Sunday for
God, keeping first things first, and putting God above other things, we will
experience greater order and peace in our lives.
The Church calls us to make a
commitment to attend Sunday Mass. In doing so, we promise to keep up our
relationship with Christ and our Church family—the body of Christ.
We come to Mass in response to a commitment of love, not just to fulfill an
obligation. Christ eagerly desires to meet us in the Mass and be present to us
at all times. He hopes that we reciprocate his desire and make it a personal
commitment of love and gratitude each week.
FOUR WAYS CHRIST IS PRESENT AT MASS
1.In the community of the faithful. Each of us is made in God’s image
and likeness. The kindness we show each other shows kindness to Jesus. By
joining in the community of the faithful, we’re included in Jesus’ prayer of
thanks and praise to God the Father. It’s a holy encounter with Jesus and our
his word. The Scripture readings are the words of everlasting life
and the letter from a loving God to his people. If we pray before Mass for
guidance and intently listen to the proclamation of Scripture and the homily,
God often speaks to us in words we most need to hear.
the priest. During the consecration, when the priest says,
“Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this
is my Body,” Jesus speaks through him. The priest stands in the person of
Christ. Through the priest, we participate in the greatest event in history,
the one that saved us from our sins and opened up the possibility of spending
eternity with God.
the Eucharist. We take Jesus’ body and blood within us, and
Jesus transforms us. We become one with him by receiving him in holy Communion,
and through him, we become one with each other.
–from The Mass: Four Encounters with Jesus That
Will Change Your Life by Dr. Tom Curran; see also Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, no. 7
WHAT IF I CAN'T RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION?
To those who consider themselves unwelcome
at Mass because of some irregularity or moral struggle, please know that you are
always loved by God, and the Catholic community desires your presence with us.
We are all brothers and sisters in Christ.
An inability to receive
Communion shouldn’t keep you from Mass.
In fact, the habit of being faithful to the Sunday obligation to attend Mass can
provide the actual grace, if you cooperate with it, to give you the strength to
overcome current obstacles and find paths of reconciliation.
Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, OFM Cap, of Boston wrote the pastoral letter “Jesus’
Eager Desire: Our Participation in the Sunday Mass” to Catholics in his
archdiocese in November 2011. In it, he called them to more frequent and more
enthusiastic participation in the Mass.
With his permission, we share a condensed version of this letter here. The
entire pastoral letter can be found at bostoncatholic.org.
NEXT: Advent Day by Day by Sr. Melannie Svoboda, SND