The Third Commandment tells us to Keep holy the Sabbath. It doesn’t tell us to Go to church on Sunday but among the most common sins brought to the confessional on a typical Saturday afternoon is “I missed Sunday Mass.” Not a Commandment of God but a precept of the Catholic Church, skipping Mass is even presented as a mortal sin. So essentially we have a choice each new week: Go to church or go to hell. As an increasing number of people are skeptical of church teachings and leaders, they want to separate what is of God from what is of the church. What is of the church usually lines up pretty well with what is of God but sometimes we, the church, get out of line and impose regulations on people that might not be godly. I think we are aligned on this one but, for some of us who are motivated by fear, it is for the wrong reasons.
There are one hundred and sixty-eight hours in every week. The church asks that we give just one of them back to God via Sunday liturgy. It seems more than reasonable to me. God, who wants us to tithe, asks much more from us than that. “Tithe” means to return a tenth portion of all that we possess to God, including the hours of our day. Most of us are awake for 110-120 hours per week—so we ought to give ten to twelve of them to God through prayer and worship, doing good works, and caring for the poor, hungry, suffering souls as Jesus instructed us. There are many ways to keep the Sabbath holy. I suspect most Catholics do, in fact, give a dozen hours per week to God and His work. I also think that most of us are motivated to do this out of gratitude, charity, and goodwill, rather than fear of the fires of hell.
Data shows that those who attend church regularly tend to be happier, wealthier, even healthier than the general population; they also tend to have more friends and less worries; and because they are more disciplined (more discipled) they are more anchored in life and possess greater trust in themselves and in a higher power. At the beginning and end of each Mass, the priest touches his lips to the altar. Altars usually contain stones that contain relics of saints; the stone spiritually connects our earth to their heaven. Altars, therefore, are touchstones that anchor us to the Creator. They are also centerpieces in the house of God that connect us to the family of faith that gathers to be nourished. As members of the human family, we each have a part to play. As we stand shoulder to shoulder with every other worshiper who desires greater union with God and deeper communion with Christ, Sunday Mass keeps us anchored in faith, grounded in creation, and rooted in love. It goes back to Adam—his name means earth or ground—who reminds us that when we are strongly grounded, we will be rooted deeply enough that we won’t sway with the winds of what’s trending morally or even religiously. We will remain solidly on the road that leads to heaven because we’ll be more connected to our creation, the primal act of love in our existence.
Our church has plenty of faults and has made many mistakes. Some of them are chronic while others can be overcome. Like our ancestors in the Jewish scriptures, we periodically veer away from creation’s love. Psychology tells us that every human is motivated either by love or by fear—usually we advance from the former to the latter to the former once again. Unfortunately, even now some church goers are stuck in fear (Go to church or go to hell) instead of being motivated according to our loving creation. On the other hand, some parishes, instead of calling them holy days of obligation, call them holy days of opportunity. They view religion as a gift instead of a weapon; they invite us to strengthen our relationship with God rather than threaten us with eternal damnation. They realize that we benefit from gathering as a collection of sinners seeking to become a communion of saints. We need community and our community needs us.
As our bishops have recently indicated, among the greatest sins of the church is the misuse of power that controls or harms vulnerable people. For all of our faults, the church is still wonderful and worthy of our allegiance and commitment to her betterment. We ought to be with our family of faith for Sunday worship. It benefits everyone, starting with ourselves. Come back to Mass, and do so for the right reasons: it unites us, earthen creatures, with our loving Creator in praise of creation and eternity. It keeps us rooted in who we are and whose we are while also keeping us on the road to union and ultimate communion with Him.