Last Sunday I found myself struck by a thought during Mass. I'm not sure why it occurred to me, or actually why it had never occurred to me before.
The thought that came to me was this: our Sunday Mass obligation is a treasured gift from God.
It was not that I was emotionally overcome or had some profound experience during the particular Mass I was attending. In fact, the thought came to me precisely because I was wondering whether I would go to Mass always if it were not something I was obliged to do.
Don't get me wrong. I love participating in the Mass. I look forward to it and often attend on weekdays if possible. Yet I found myself wondering, if there was no Sunday obligation...would I go every week?
And then it struck me. It seemed somehow counter-intuitive. I felt obligated to be there, and yet I realized that the obligation was, in fact, a gift. Like all gifts from God, it is freely given.
I'm human. As a human, I'm imperfect. My intentions are not always motivated by good. Like all of us, I suffer from concupiscence. This inclination to sin is one of the reasons we need Our Lord's mercy. As it turns out, it is one of the reasons we need the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as well. It's why we need it on a regular basis, in fact.
Our Lord knows this. He knows all things. We may only understand a small fraction of the unfathomable treasure that is the gift of the Mass.
Reflecting on the experience later, I realized that every Mass that I participate in has the potential for a greater understanding of its mystery. Like a veil that is slowly lifted, if we allow ourselves to deepen our internal senses and our awareness, we can discover a small part of the eternal mystery of God. In fact, last Sunday during Mass, I had the feeling that my human understanding expanded just a little.
Yet whether I actually understand it or not, however, does not change what occurs at each Mass throughout the world. God Himself enters in, changing the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. To believe this we must suspend our human notions. We have to set aside our understanding about what we see with our own eyes. We have to believe in miracles.
This is part of what I was grappling with at Mass that day. As I sat in the pew after receiving the Eucharist, I was suddenly filled with gratitude. I understood that whether I actually believed in the miracle of the Eucharist, I had just received Him. In doing so, I was offering my belief back to God, weak and inadequate as it is.
We are humans. At times we are full of doubt and lacking in reverence. We refuse to offer to God our gratitude and thanksgiving. We display awful indifference. We can be easily defeated and susceptible to despair. We are like a boat tossed about on the waves.
Yet, regardless of all of that, God comes. At every Mass, He enters in. He never fails us, no matter how often or how terribly we fail Him. This is what occurred to me that day. This precept of the Church (to attend Mass on Sundays), might at times feel like a duty, but in actuality, it is a selfless gift from Our Lord.
As humans, we are weak, and on our own, we might not honor Him as we should. While the saints and "holy" people would, perhaps many of us wouldn't. Yet God does not come for only the holy ones. He comes for sinners, too. God calls each of us to holiness. He gives each of us a chance to redeem ourselves. He does it often and without fail.
Yes, participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday is our obligation. Our Father in Heaven knows what is best for us. He calls us to come to Him, and at Mass each Sunday (and every day all over the world) He presents to us the Gift of Himself.
How can we refuse Him?
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