By Dr. Judy Bullock
Surveys report that over the last decades, religious denominations have experienced a decline in attendance for Sunday services. The Catholic Church is no exception to this trend.
We have all heard some of the reasons people don’t go to Mass on Sunday:
“I don’t need to go to Mass because I can experience God’s presence in a walk through the woods. I don’t get anything out of it.”
“I can pray on my own.”
“My children go to Mass at school so we don’t need to go on Sunday.”
“I’m too busy. It’s the only day I have to relax and sleep in” and so on.
Rather than addressing “why we don’t go,” the next columns will focus on “why we do go or should go” to Mass on Sunday. At the risk of “preaching to the choir,” perhaps even regular participants need reminders from time to time.
The groundwork for a day set aside for giving thanks, breaking from day-to-day work to focus on our Creator, is such an ancient tradition that it is hard to identify the origin. In the creation accounts in Genesis, even God is assumed to take a day of rest from the work of creation. In the Book of Exodus we have Moses receiving the 10 Commandments including one to “keep holy the Lord’s day.” In the New Testament, the Gospel accounts of God’s incarnate son, Jesus, add a new dimension to this command.
At the Last Supper, the command to “do this in memory of me” is the foundation for the celebration of the Eucharist. And it’s the foundation for the responsibility we have to serve one another, one prompted by the image of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Our first reason to go to Mass is because God calls us to it.
We know from accounts of the early church that Sunday, a separate day from the Jewish Sabbath, was set aside for Christians to gather and hear the accounts of the prophets and Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. And it was a time to celebrate, in thanksgiving, the special meal.
Around 150, Justin Martyr gives an account of what took place “on the day named after the sun,” describing a gathering that is remarkably similar to today’s liturgy.
From these simple beginnings the tradition became well established and has yet to be broken for more than 2000 years. As the structure of the church developed, laws or precepts were put into place mandating Sunday worship. Belonging to the church included participation and mission.
During the centuries, much has been written on the primacy of the Sunday celebration. In Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (CSL), the liturgy is described as “the source for achieving, in the most effective way possible, human sanctification and God’s glorification, the end to which all the church’s other activities are directed.”
How are we to understand the command to “give honor and glory to God?” The term “worship,” for some, conjures up images of people bowed down before pagan idols. The glorification of God in the liturgy is far more complex and centers on praise and thanksgiving for all God has done for us. The climate of gratitude
permeates the liturgy. Yet our words may seem inadequate without the action to follow.
Theologian J.D. Crichton, reflecting on the CSL, wrote, “Glory can be given to God only through the lives of those who worship him. In short, it is the redeemed man and woman who is responding to God in worship and life, who is sanctified by the redeeming love of Christ, who gives glory to God.”
St. Irenaeus said, “It is the living human being who is the glory of God.” This concept is explicitly expressed in one of the dismissal options in the current missal: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.