“This is the day which the Lord has made: let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24).
As we begin the Columbus Day holiday weekend, I was thinking about when I was assigned to St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth, where we were blessed to have many summer visitors. The number of people that flock to Cape Cod during the summer months make it necessary for so many of the parishes to add extra Masses to accommodate those on vacation. At St. Patrick’s we had the Chapel of St. Thomas that was open from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, allowing us to have an additional four weekend Masses. I personally think it was a great witness of faith that so many people see the necessity of attending Sunday Mass, even when on vacation.
However, we shouldn’t get into the frame of mind of thinking that this is something extraordinary. Our attendance and participation at Sunday Mass is something that is central and essential for all Catholics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “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 days of obligation” which includes every Sunday of the year (Catechism, 2181).
However, it is no huge revelation that in recent years the number of people keeping the Lord’s Day holy is in a steady decline. Many people may fondly remember the days when Sunday was a day for God and family, when stores were not open, when there were no youth sporting events interfering with morning Mass as a family. It is clear that Sunday has become just another day of the week.
In response to this ever-increasing predicament, our late Holy Father, Pope Saint John Paul II wrote the Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, on the importance of keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It is clear that the Pope was keenly aware that the crisis of Sunday observance reflects the crisis within the Catholic Church and of Christianity in general.
The “strikingly low” attendance to the Sunday liturgy reflects in the Pope’s view the fact that “motivation of faith is weak” and “seems to be diminishing” (Dies Domini, 5). John Paul II reminded us of the ever-present sacredness of Sunday by tracing through Sacred Scripture the significance and the relevance of Sunday Worship. From the natural creation of the world at the beginning of time to the re-creation of the supernatural order at the moment of the Resurrection, the Lord’s Day is meant to be observed and kept holy. The natural question to ask is why have we lost a sense reverence for the Lord’s command to keep this day sacred, as we find in the 3rd Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). Where did we go wrong? When did we lose the sense of fulfilling our Christian obligation? Why is Sunday no longer important?
We can spend a lot of time trying to answer that particular question and trying to find the moment or series of events that led us to this point. What is most important, however, is that we reclaim the sanctity and importance of Sunday as both a day of rest and a day of worship. Pope John Paul II explained that “even if in the earliest times it was not judged necessary to be prescriptive, the Church has not ceased to confirm this obligation of conscience, which rises from the inner need felt so strongly by the Christians of the first centuries. It was only later, faced with the half-heartedness or negligence of some, that the Church had to make explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass” (Dies Domini, 47).
After describing many challenging situations around the world, Pope John Paul II also highlighted the fact that there are “many who wish to live in accord with the demands of their faith that are being faced with surroundings which are sometimes indifferent and unresponsive to the Gospel message.” He goes on to say that, “if believers are not to be overwhelmed, they must be able to count on the support of the Christian community. This is why they must be convinced that it is crucially important for the life of faith that they should come together with others on Sundays to celebrate the Passover of the Lord in the sacrament of the New Covenant (Dies Domini, 48).
It is simply so sad when so many Christians have forgotten about or neglected the importance of Sunday worship. This is the most basic part of our Christian identity and yet it has become one of the easiest things to dismiss. But we can not just shake our heads and agree that this is disappointing. Our Lord calls each of us to invite others back to a regular practice of the faith, especially in the communal observance of Sunday Mass.
“Today more than ever, the Church is unwilling to settle for minimalism and mediocrity at the level of faith. She wants to help Christians to do what is most correct and pleasing to the Lord” (Dies Domini., 52). Many have gone astray, especially in their worthy reception of the sacraments and their lack of attendance and participation at Sunday Mass. Some even think that it is no big deal to consciously skip Mass on Sundays or on Holy Days, even when the Church is clear that those who “deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (Catechism, 2181). We can not stand by and allow others to persist in their sin. The Lord calls each of us to be his witnesses (Acts of the Apostles 1:8). The Lord calls each of us to witness to our friends and members of our families the importance of Sunday and this is fundamentally exemplified by our keeping the Lord’s Day holy and sacred.