Question: What is my Sunday Obligation? Do I have to go to Mass? What if I am traveling? With friends who do not go to Mass?
Response: Baptism into the Church is a gift from the loving Father. This gift is not an “intrusion” but a pure and well given gift. God cannot give a gift badly. A man can give a gift badly. A man can propose marriage at the wrong time or to the wrong woman. A parent can give a gift to her child wrongly or she can give a wrong gift. But God cannot. Therefore, his gift is well given.
Now, for every well-given gift, a response is due. We are under an obligation to respond to our Baptism. There is more expected from those to whom more is given.
Among the expectations, indeed obligations, on the Baptized is Sunday Obligation. This includes the following at least: Orienting the day to prayer, culminating in the worship that is the Sacred Mass, and refraining from unnecessary laborious work. In this, we orient our lives to God in religious worship. We “assist”. We “participate” in the Mass in our proper role, under the priest’s religious worship. That is, we acknowledge God as the Author and Lord of all things. We do so in the manner in which he has ordained, through the Eucharistic Sacrifice. And indeed, this obligation is a great gift, the greatest gift Jesus gave his Church.
Now, if there is some grave reason why I cannot attend Mass — such as I am very sick with fever or paralyzed in the hospital — I can meet my obligation in some other way. (Note, I still must meet the obligation.) But if I have not such grave reason, I sin mortally by failing to meet my obligation. If I sin mortally in this manner, I am bound to go to confession, to reconcile my life with Jesus before receiving him next Sunday. For I have neglected his most precious gift. Jesus was waiting for me in Mass, and I left him hanging. How can I just go back and receive him after so neglecting him who waited for me and was unrequited?
It is a great burden of anxiety and guilt on a soul to receive the Eucharist in the state of sin. That this is the case is one key reason that the loving Pastor withholds the Eucharist from notorious sinners. I have posted on this withholding before. What a delight of reconciliation, of restoration, of rescue, of the real beginnings of salvation, to have repented, left behind all guile, to have repented, confessed, and received absolution, from the hands of Jesus’ priests. Praised be Jesus who left us his ministers to administer his own forgiveness (Jn 20:19ff). Praise him, for his merciful love endures forever.
What might be a grave reason today? One cannot give any definite recipe for determining the matter. Prudence in applying this Divine and Ecclesiastical Law is always required. When I say this, someone might clap and rejoice, thinking that prudence means that the matter is “up to me”. But it does not mean this. Prudence means applying the law, not bending or emending it. I sit before my conscience. My conscience does not create value, does not create law. Rather, it receives law from God and his Church. It sits and applies. (How anxious are we, when we think we must create the law, bend it. For we know we cannot. We know it is a lie. That we are lying to ourselves. Divided inside.)
If I am planning a trip, I make sure to put Mass on Sunday as a priority. If it is a voyage on the seas, perhaps this is not possible. But then again, perhaps the Cruise Ship has a Catholic Mass. But I know the obligation, and I make every effort to meet the obligation. And remembering all the while that every divine obligation God lays down for us is indeed for our own salvation. He lays down laws of life.
Which is why I love his law (Ps 118 in Vulgate; 119 in Hebrew numbering). Lord, help us to embrace your statues and commandments; help us to embrace them; for in embracing them we prove that we love the one whom we say we love. These lead us kindly to embrace our neighbor, not affirming his every desire, but embracing him in the Lord who offers him his Way of Truth.