by Rev. Albert F. Ernst, O.S.F.S.
In the first commandment, God commands us to respect Him by worship and adoration. In the second commandment, God obliges us to respect and honor His holy name. In the third commandment, God prescribes the time when He demands our worship. "Remember thou keep holy the Sabbath Day." "Remember," He says; that means, keep it in mind, make it your special duty never to forget it. For us, of course, Sunday is the Sabbath Day.
How should we keep Sunday holy? There are two things necessary if we wish to sanctify Sundays. First, we must not do any unnecessary service work. Secondly, we must practice the duties of our religion which consists in attendance at Mass, participating in other public services in church, prayer, spiritual reading and performing good works such as the corporal or spiritual works of mercy.
Since attendance at Mass is the most important Sunday duty, I will speak about that obligation. Our Lord, after instituting the Holy Eucharist, after He said the first Mass, commanded His apostles to say Mass when He said, "Do this in commemoration of Me." If then, those who are successors of the apostles; the bishops and priests, are by duty bound to say Mass, it certainly follows that the faithful, are in like manner bound to assist at Holy Mass. Mass is not a private but a public art of worship, and we as church are obliged under pain of mortal sin to hear Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. In the U.S., there are six such days. Two in honor of our Lord, (all Sundays honor our Lord), three in honor of the Blessed Mother, and one in honor of the saints. The two in honor of our Lord are: Christmas Day and Ascension Thursday. The three in honor of Mary are: Mary as the Mother of God, the Assumption, and the Immaculate Conception. The feast of All Saints on November first is the feast in honor of the saints. Everyone who has attained the use of reason, sins if he freely chooses not to attend Mass on these days. Parents, too, are guilty of sin, if they do not bring or send their children to Mass on these days after their children have reached the age of reason.
Missing Mass on Sunday is a serious sin that has frightful consequences. When there is the question of declining faith among Catholics, or of a person drifting away from the Church, it is almost always due to negligence in regards to going to Mass. Sins intimately associated with human respect, scandal, unlawful marriages, bad literature and evil associates have slain their thousands, but missing Mass has brought its ten of thousands to eternal ruin. It has armed many towns and cities of the U.S. with an army of ex-Catholics, with "Ought to be Catholics," and "Used to be Catholics." Missing Mass has always been and will continue to be the first step in the downward path that leads to loss of faith, apostasy and irreligion.
The one who does not attend Mass cuts himself off from the very thing that helps to keep him faithful and true to God. Everything around the church reminds him of what he is and what he ought to be. Here, at Mass on Sundays we are repeatedly reminded to associate with all that is holy and good. Here we are reminded from Sunday to Sunday of the promise we made through our godparents, at the baptismal font when we renounced Satan and all his works and pompts. The altar reminds us that Jesus is always here in the tabernacle, ready to listen to our wants and petitions.
The sacrament of Holy Eucharist brings to mind the day we received Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion, or of the day our children received Holy Communion for the first time. The confessional reminds some of us that it has been a long time since we went to Confession or that we have mortal sin on our souls and that we ought to stop in there to have it removed so that once again we may be happy and be on friendly terms with God. All our surroundings, even the people sitting or standing next to us remind us of the graces we have resisted and the opportunities we have wasted. Sunday after Sunday we meet associates and friends who are advancing in the spiritual life, in the love of God and all that is holy and virtuous while others, who have had the same opportunities, have not advanced a single step. They have so much to regret about the past and will have even more to regret for the future unless they resolve to change their attitude and behavior concerning attendance at Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered by your pastor every Sunday for you, his people, ought to give you fresh courage.
Attending Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, even at the cost of serious inconvenience is doing nothing extraordinary. Actually, it is doing very little It is doing what we must do if we don't want to go to hell. It is giving God one hour out of the one-hundred-sixty-eight hours in each week. We give God one hour of our time and we reserve one-hundred-sixty-seven hours for ourselves, if, the Mass were to last an hour. Or, if we look upon these facts on a yearly basis we find that God gets fifty-eight hours of our time and we give ourselves eight-thousand-seven-hundred-sixty. This is true if we never miss Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation. Accordingly, we give less than one-percent of our time to God. Appalling figures when you stop to think of it. Have you ever thought that you could be so selfish in your dealings with Almighty God? That you loved Him so little? Now you know.
If we believe what the Church teaches about the dignity and value of the Mass, how is it that so many of us who could hear Mass frequently never go except on Sundays? Is the Mass of less value on weekdays? Can we sincerely believe that the Mass is a renewal of Calvary? Can we really believe that and then not go? We think that the apostles who were not with St. John on Calvary when Christ was crucified must have grieved bitterly for the rest of their lives for such a loss. We, sad to say, do exactly the same thing with this exception, they did it once, we do it more often. We can't go on fooling ourselves, we can't go on cheating ourselves; and yet, that's precisely what we do, for a Sunday without Mass is always followed by a week without blessing.