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Cardinal Seán O’Malley 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 which names nine reasons Catholics come to Mass. Cardinal O’Malley extends welcome and encouragement to those Catholics who can’t receive holy Communion and explains the four ways Christ is present at Mass.

Nine Reasons for Going to Mass: Thanksgiving Every Sunday
By: Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, OFM Cap


Each issue carries an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited
On 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.

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

The 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

The 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.

1.  To 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.

The 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.

2.  To encounter Christ
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.

Christ 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.

3.  To 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.

4.  To 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.

Recently 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.”

Many 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 breathing.

5.  To 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.

Children 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.”

The 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).

The 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.


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7.  To participate in Jesus’ victory over death
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.

God 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.

8.  To receive a foretaste of heaven
“Every 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.”

In 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 with God
God’s 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 fellow communicants.

2. In 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.

3. In 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.

4. In 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

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Bernadette Soubirous: Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. 
<p>There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig. </p><p>According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was. </p><p>Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. </p><p>During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. </p><p>She was canonized in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog In humility, a woman ultimately forgets 
herself; forgets both her shortcomings and accomplishments equally and 
strives to remain empty of self to make room for Jesus, just as Mary 
did.

 
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