Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

11 May 2013

"Unpacking the Precepts": The Lord's Day Observance

The first precept ("You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor") requires the faithful to sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord as well as the principal liturgical feasts honoring the mysteries of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the saints; in the first place, by participating in the Eucharistic celebration, in which the Christian community is gathered, and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days. (CCC 2042)
The Jewish sabbath commemorates (1) the account of God's seventh-day rest from the work of creation (cf. Ex 20:11), as well as (2) the Lord's act of redeeming Israel from Egyptian slavery (cf. Dt 5:15).  It goes from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  Liturgically speaking, this fact accounts for the permission for Saturday evening Masses that anticipate the Sunday celebration.  These began to take place in the mid to late 1960s (although some dioceses such as Philadelphia forbade it until the 1980s).

Sunday is the "Christian Sabbath," the day on which we celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Jesus' Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Glorification for the redemption of mankind.  For that reason every Sunday is a "little Easter," an oasis of renewal for the people of God amid the desert of everyday life.  No matter what has transpired throughout the week, we know that the Lord's Day is coming: the opportunity to "confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help" (Heb 4:16).  Although the Catholic Church offers divine refreshment in the form of Mass each day, a great many people are unable to attend because of work and other concerns--thus building up the tensions that, it is hoped, Holy Mass helps to offset.

The greater Reading area is blessed to have a number of parishes close to each other, and the times of daily Mass vary: 6:30am, 7am, 7:30am, 8am, Noon, and occasionally 6 or 7pm.  Saturday Vigil Masses range from 4pm to 6pm in half-hour increments.  Some people would gladly attend Mass during the week if they knew when it was held, and if it were convenient to attend (nearby, at the optimal time, not too long, etc.).  Personal convenience plays a major role in much decision-making.  This is no personal judgment on anyone.  I recognize that praying Mass pertains to my priestly vocation (colloquially speaking, "It's my job"), and I would hope that, if I were not a priest, I too would commit to attending Mass often during the week.

This precept concerns not daily Mass, but Lord's Day (Sunday or Saturday Vigil) Mass.  It's enough for many people to find or make the time for one day a week.  I often wonder: why don't Catholics attend Mass?  (I would very much appreciate true but charitable reader comments on the matter.)  For the moment, I offer a few generalized reasons/excuses:
  • Sabbath Rest.  As one CCD student told me when I was a seminarian visiting her class, "Daddy says that he works all week and wants to rest on Sundays."  The response that "God worked, too," holds no weight because He's God.  Creation was no sweat off His back; only a Word was necessary!  He "rested" as an example for us, so that we should not become exceedingly consumed with production, results, and cash flow.  Which came first: businesses having Sunday hours or shoppers engaging in Sunday commerce?  Even the good people of Alcoholics Anonymous know, "For us, material well-being always followed spiritual progress; it never preceded" ("Big Book," p. 127).
  • Children's Sporting Events/Practices.  This is quite the opposite of "rest," for it involves early rising, preparation, travel, and cool-down.  Coaches, referees, and other key players work during the week like most other people, so youth athletic organizations schedule games on the day when everyone would be more likely to have free time.  Membership on a sports team means more to most kids (and some of their parents) than membership in the parish.  Miss enough practices and/or games, and they're off the team.  Period.  The Church doesn't wield that kind of authority or influence over children, or for that matter, over adults.  Being on a sports team is "cool," while kids would sooner be caught getting sloppily kissed by Aunt Hilda than going to Mass with their family.
  • Booooooriiing (a la the horn of a ship).  In a highly stimulating world, many people (adults as well as children) don't have the attention span for the First Eucharistic Prayer or the average Homilist.  I have read that tiring sermons are a major source of popular dissatisfaction with public worship.  Choral music written by Hallmark gets old quick.  One reason to return to the "pride of place" once and still owned by Gregorian Chant would be its sheer "novelty"!  Can celebrants and their trusted advisors do anything to improve the "worship experience"?  No doubt.  Praying the words and following the rubrics with attentiveness is a good start.  Former and occasional Catholics often claim that the Church hasn't (spiritually, I presume) "fed" them, as this article attests.  Alongside a reverently celebrated Mass, sound teaching is crucial for Catholic "Asset Protection" (otherwise known as "Loss Prevention").
  • Issues.  Father McNasty bit my head off when I made a suggestion to him.  You have to have kids in the school to count for anything around here.  The Church is behind the times because of this whole contraception business, not to mention women priests and mandatory celibacy.  The Church doesn't do enough for the disabled or the unemployed.  It's all about the fancy-shmancy goblets and clothes.  People aren't real around here.  I'm in the middle of an affair.  I'm in litigation.  Why did my daughter die?  I'm depressed.  These and other points of contention harrow the hearts of untold thousands of Catholics, even though the events may have taken place decades ago.  Disappearance from the Lord's Day Mass is the first symptom of a problem.  Some will trail away gradually, others will just stop going.  Most of them won't announce their departure, because someone might try to dissuade them from leaving.
Let me know if I, as a priest, can do anything to help you.  I'll pray, for starters.

Christ did not institute the Sacred Liturgy or anything else about the Church for our entertainment or even primarily for our comfort.  It is the mystical re-presentation of His saving sacrifice upon the Cross, and the mystical banquet that unites us as members of His Body.  Having been gathered by the Holy Spirit into His fold, and having been edified by His Presence in the Scriptures and in the Holy Gifts (the Eucharist), we are sent forth from the Mass for evangelization and service.  As the two new forms of dismissal say, "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life."  "Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord."

The second component of the Sabbath precept involves resting from "servile labor."  Blessed John Paul's apostolic letter Dies Domini ("The Lord's Day") is worth reading for its exhaustive contemplation of the sanctification of our time and efforts.  Renewed attention to personal rest, healthy recreation, care for the sick and needy among us (in whatever form), time with God, with family and friends: these are lovely ways to spend a Sabbath.  We may find that we can build little Sabbaths into each day.  We can decrease our slavish dependence on performance and production, on the adulation we earn by looking and being busy.


  1. When I hear people say they aren't fed by the church it saddens me. Don't people realize we are are fed the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord at Communion. Priests are human, not all unfortunately are great homilists. Don't people realize that without Priests we don't have the Eucharist and without the Eucharist there is no church.

  2. GOD (Good Old Dad) wants to bless all priest even if about four per sent age of our so called holy Catholics men have corrupted many of U>S (usual sinners), long story short, for Christ sake, we should all keep praying for sinners.