It is offered at weddings and funerals, and sometimes even with baptisms and anointings. At St Teresa’s and in most places, it is available every day. But on Sunday, it is an obligation to attend.
I am speaking of what we Catholics call “Mass,” aka the Eucharist or the divine liturgy. For Catholics, there is no other religious service more important. But, believe it or not, the majority of baptized Catholics around the world (and even some here in Summit) simply don’t see the need to attend. It is reported that, in the USA, only about 24% of Catholics attend Sunday Mass.
Of those who don’t, the majority still believe that God exists, that Jesus is his Son, and that there is an obligation to give thanks. Some, remembering the truth of the Catechism that God is everywhere, don’t see why they can’t pray to God in private at home or wherever they are, whenever they want. Others see the value of going to church on Sunday but find the preaching, music, and programs better at a nearby church of some other denomination. Concerning Mass, some say they just don’t get much out of it.
This is a real phenomenon – and one that is severely hurting our Church. Churches are about people – both theologically and practically. You are the Church, and the Church is you. And in addition to the worship and praise that happens inside our walls, there is also the practical and temporal part of the Church too that needs the real support of its people too. When people stop attending, congregations die, and Churches close. This is a sad, but true reality.
We do many great things here at St Teresa’s, including teach children, feed the hungry, assist immigrants, visit the sick, etc, but the most important thing we do it celebrate the Eucharist – offer mass, for our parishioners and so many more. In fact, we know it’s so important, we added two new masses to our schedule!
It is true that God is present everywhere, including when we pray to him alone or when two or three of us gather in his name. However, in the Eucharist, there are at least four extraordinary ways that the Lord Jesus is present that transcend the ways he is present outside the liturgy of the Catholic Church.
- Christ is present in the community. Even when it’s hard to see Christ in our fellow Mass-goers, he’s really there. People gather from various places; some of them are distracted and preoccupied. As they come into that church, though, they’re no longer just scattered individuals but members of Christ’s body. At Mass, we deepen our communion not only with Christ but with the whole Church, including the saints and our beloved deceased.
- Christ is present at Mass in the person of the priest. Despite what we are reading in the news these days, some Catholic priests are astounding in holiness and powerful in their preaching. Others, unfortunately, are not. The good news is that Christ’s presence doesn’t depend on the priest’s personal virtue. Christ makes himself present through a unique charism we have been given as priests through the sacrament of holy orders. This is one of the reasons we wear vestments when we celebrate the Eucharist: it signifies that we are acting in the person of Christ (in persona Christi), not in my own person or on my own behalf.
- The Lord is present in the Word of God. God’s inspired Word is a tremendous gift, and this understanding is reflected in the Eucharist. Our readings at mass are arranged so that Sunday Mass-goers hear the most important passages from the entire Bible over the course of three years. It is a comprehensive and ongoing Bible study. Through the readings the Lord wants to speak to us personally, penetrating to the depths of our hearts with a nourishing, challenging word that draws us to conversion.
- The final and most special way that the Lord is present in the Eucharist is in his Body and Blood, present to us under the signs of bread and wine. In the Eucharist, and only in the Eucharist, Jesus makes his Body and Blood present to us in a real way. This is why the sacramental presence of Christ’s Body and Blood is so extraordinary. In all of the other sacraments Jesus gives us his grace, says St. Thomas Aquinas; while in the Eucharist, the “sacrament of sacraments,” he gives us his whole self, his divinity and his humanity.
As we begin this new season of faith together, please make every effort to attend mass regularly – alone and as a family – certainly on Sundays, and even on weekdays if you can. Jesus gives us no greater presence in our world than in the Eucharist, and at St Teresa’s we are blessed to celebrate that together as a family of faith!