3rd Sunday of Advent: Why do I have to go to Mass on Sunday

If you have been with us for the past couple of weeks of Advent, you will recall that as we are preparing for the coming of Christ at Christmas, we have stepped back to acknowledge the great blessing and the great reality, that God wants to be with us. It is the great mystery of Christmas, that God who created this world decided to come and be a part of it, because He wants to be with you and I.

In the first Sunday of Advent, we saw how Jesus came into the world on that first Christmas and how before He left this world, He made a promise to us that He would be with us always.[1] Then we saw that Jesus continues to remain with His people right here in the midst of His Church. Last Sunday, we then asked How does this happen? We saw that it happens primarily right here at the Mass, where Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist to be our spiritual nourishment. The same Jesus who was born in a stable, 2,000 years ago, halfway around the world, comes once again day in and day out in every Catholic church throughout the world to be with us. He comes to nourish us in the Eucharist and to allow us to participate in that perfect sacrifice of the cross in atonement for our sins.

It’s both a great reality and a great mystery that God would want to be with us. Those of us who understand this, might then be a little surprised then that only 33% or only 1/3 of our parishioners come to Mass on Sunday, which is sadly one of the higher percentages in the diocese,[2] and the national average is only 23.4%[3] Less than ¼ of Catholics go to Church on Sunday.

Friends, there is a disconnect here. We come on Christmas to see the Christ child, we come on Christmas to adore that child in the manger, but then every other week 75% of Catholics don’t come to adore Him, when He is gathered here on the altar. I think it begs the question then, why do I have to go to Mass every Sunday?

Perhaps the simplest and most direct answer is, open your bible, go back to the Old Testament to the Book of Exodus. You remember the story, the Israelites had been led out of slavery in Egypt and they are wandering in the dessert with all this new found freedom, yet, they keep messing up. So, what happens? Moses goes up the mountain and comes back with the 10 Commandments, those laws written by God and given to the Israelites so they could stay free. We all know them. What is the 3rd Commandment? Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.[4] It is a direct command from God. I don’t know how much more clear it has to be for us.

But of course, this commandment begs the question; how do I keep the Lord’s Day Holy? Why can’t I just sit at home and talk to God, why do I really need to show up? Well, if you were with us last week, you saw how at the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, took wine, said the blessing, gave it to His disciples and gave them a command, “Do this in memory of me.”[5] In the Old Testament, God tells His people make this day Holy and then at the Last Supper Jesus tells us how to make it holy. As Christians, as followers of Jesus that should be enough for us. Lord, if this is what you are telling me to do, then I want to do it.

This is after all how it was for the early Church. The early Christians risked their lives to go to Church every single Sunday. They heard that command, “do this in memory of me” and they snuck into people’s homes to celebrate the Mass. They had every excuse not to go to church. After all, going to church might mean they would get their head cut off, but they still did it. Why? Because Jesus told them to do it. You can read the history of our Church and you see that in eras of persecution, Mass attendance goes up. I don’t know about this parish, but the whole country saw this on September 11, 2021. I guarantee you, the Sunday after those attacks this church was packed. Interesting isn’t it. You see my friends; it is not enough to be Catholic alone. We know the benefit of it, but there is still some kind of disconnect to putting it into practice.

Ok, maybe the religion argument isn’t working for you. Every year they do studies that show going to church is actually healthy for you. It is good for your physical, spiritual and emotional health. There is a study that show that go to church weekly have lower blood pressures than those who don’t.[6] There is a study that show that couples who attend church together report higher quality relationships.[7] I just report … the couples admit it. So, if you are sitting here today and your spouse isn’t coming to Church, well maybe it’s in your best interest to push them to come along. It is my least scientific argument of them all, but perhaps it’s the most convincing … I don’t know anyone who out there who turns on the news at night and says “wow this world is in a really great place.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “I’m really happy with how we live in this society.” My experience is the opposite, most of us don’t want to turn the news on because we don’t want to have to face what is going on in the world. Well in 1970 nearly 55% of Catholic attended Mass every week.[8] Today in 2021, that has been cut in half to under 25%. I think I would rather live in the world of 1974 instead of the world of 2021. Perhaps, going to church then has an effect on our society. This shouldn’t surprise us, for the God who loves us is the one who created us and thus knows what is best for us. So, when He gives us the command to go to Mass every Sunday, He is doing so because it ultimately leads to our freedom.

Why do I have to go to Mass? Because Jesus said so? Why do I have to go to Mass? Because every time I come to Mass, I receive that spiritual nourishment that I need in the Eucharist and you can’t receive that anywhere else. Why do I have to go to Mass? Because I need to gather with the rest of the community who can encourage, support and uplift me as I journey on my way to the kingdom of heaven.

Friends, we can’t save ourselves; we need Jesus and we need the community as well. St. Paul reminds us that each of us is a part of the Body of Christ. Each of us has a function to fulfill and that extends to us gathered here at the Mass. Maybe it is just my perspective, but I see this at most funerals I celebrate, where I am the only one making the responses. If you’ve ever attended a funeral of a loved one it makes sense, because in our sadness we aren’t really feeling like singing, responding etc., but that is why you have the rest of the community to uplift us.

Now at this point you are probably saying “ok father I’m at church, why do I need to hear this?” Well, in just a couple of weeks we will gather here for Christmas and our church will be packed and I, for one, am happy, that everyone will be here with us. We are going to come adore this little child in a manger; the same child who is here on the altar. It would make sense then that if we want to celebrate the birth of Christ, we wouldn’t do it just once a year. No, we would come to encounter Him every Sunday. The challenge for those of us who come, is to understand the great mystery of allowing Jesus into our lives, but then realizing that it is meant not just for me, but for everyone else and to find a way, then to encourage them to come.

Can you imagine the Christmas story if the shepherds heard the message of Jesus and they just decided to stay out in the field and talk to Him from afar? Can you imagine the Christmas story if the wisemen saw the star just decided to talk to God from the comfort of their home? Of course not. Why? Because when you come to see the Christ child, you have to be moved to a point that you want to share Him with others. You and I are privileged to greet the Christ child every Sunday, who then are we sharing Him with? We are called every Sunday to be those shepherds, those who come to see Jesus and then to go out and lead others to Him. After all, it is for our own good and for the good of the rest of the community.

[1] Matthew 28:20

[2] Archdiocesan Statistics

[3] Cara Institute, Frequently Requested Church Statistics. Available at https://cara.georgetown.edu/frequently-requested-church-statistics/

[4] Exodus 20:8

[5] Lk 22:9

[6] Sørensen, Torgeir, Lars J. Danbolt, Lars Lien, Harold G. Koenig, and Jostein Holmen. “The Relationship between Religious Attendance and Blood Pressure: The Hunt Study, Norway.” The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine 42, no. 1 (2011): 13–28. https://doi.org/10.2190/pm.42.1.b.

[7] Wilcox, W. Bradford, Wolfinger, Nicholas H. Better Together: Religious Attendance, Gender, and Relationship Quality. Available at https://ifstudies.org/blog/better-together-religious-attendance-gender-and-relationship-quality

[8] Cara Institute, Frequently Requested Church Statistics. Available at https://cara.georgetown.edu/frequently-requested-church-statistics/

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