In recent Pastoral Letters, I have been encouraging everyone in the Diocese to adopt The Six Holy Habits: (1) Sunday Mass; (2) daily prayer; (3) Friday penance and works of charity; (4) fortnightly visit to the Blessed Sacrament; (5) monthly Confession; and (6) to join a small support-group. Here I begin a six-week mini-series about each Habit.
I remember once after Mass, when during the homily I had mentioned the obligation on Catholics to attend Mass on Sundays and Holydays, being asked by a parishioner: Where does this obligation come from? Ultimately, of course, the obligation comes from God. On Mount Sinai He gave us the Ten Commandments, the fourth of which is to keep holy the Sabbath. From the very early Church, Sunday, the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1: 10) replaced the Jewish Sabbath as the day of worship. It was the day the Lord rose from the dead. Sunday was also the day God rested from the work of creation (Gen 2: 2-3) and the day the Holy Spirit came down on the Apostles (Acts 2: 1-13). It is the Day when we listen to God’s word and partake of the Holy Eucharist (‘unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you cannot have life in you’ Jn 6: 53). The moral obligation to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice on Sundays and to rest from work dates from the early Church, although it did not become a definite law of the Church until the fourth century. The obligation is there of course not to burden but to help us: if we were to fall out of the habit of going to Mass on Sunday, when would we hear the Word of God? When would we be nourished by the Holy Eucharist? When would we meet our fellow disciples, the community of the Church?
Keeping Sunday special is a challenge to us all in a busy, secular culture. Depending on work patterns, it would be good to make Sunday truly a family day, with rest and relaxation, and a different rhythm from the rest of the week. Parishes might reflect on the ‘Sunday Experience’ and how to enhance the variety, beauty and solemnity of the parish Liturgy, so that it truly ‘enchants’ its participants? Clergy could reflect on homilies and how to improve them. Laity might prepare themselves better for Mass and afterwards, spend a few moments over tea and coffee with the community. In the prayer book Lord I am not worthy, which gives a selection of prayers to say before and after Mass, I said this: ‘The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life’ (Catechism 1324). The whole of a Christian’s daily life and practical charity flows from the Eucharist (source) and leads back to it (summit). It is the most important event each week (Sunday). Before setting off for Mass, therefore, we should familiarise ourselves with the Scripture Readings and the Collects. Pray on the way to Mass. Arriving early, try to spend some time quietly uniting yourself with Christ in His self-offering to the Father. Tell God a list of all your needs.” I also outlined the purpose why we go to Mass: that is
- to adore the Blessed Trinity, through, with and in Jesus Christ, as He offers Himself on the Cross to the Father through the Holy Spirit (adoration);
- to give thanks to God for the many graces and blessings He has given us (thanksgiving);
- to beg pardon for our sins and for the times we have failed to love God and our neighbour as we ought (expiation); and
- to ask God for the many things, spiritual and material, that we need (petition).
I go to Mass too to meet, support and fulfil my duties towards the Christian community, to profess our common faith in the Triune God and to give a witness of faith to others.