In this week’s General Audience, Pope Francis returns to his catechetical theme on matters liturgical…
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
Taking up the series of catecheses on the Mass, today we ask ourselves: Why go to Mass on Sunday?
The Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is at the center of the life of the Church (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2177). We Christians go to Mass on Sunday to encounter the Risen Lord, or, better, to let ourselves be encountered by Him, to listen to His word, to eat at His table, and thus become Church, that is, His living Mystical Body in the world today.
It was understood, from the first moment, by Jesus’ disciples, who celebrated the Eucharistic encounter with the Lord in the day of the week that the Jews called “the first of the week” and the Romans “day of the sun,” because on that day Jesus rose from the dead and He appeared to His disciples, speaking with them, eating with them, giving them the Holy Spirit (Cf. Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:9.14; Luke 24:1.13; John 20:1.19), as we heard in the biblical Reading. The great effusion of the Holy Spirit also happened on Sunday, the fiftieth day after Jesus’ Resurrection. For these reasons, Sunday is a holy day for us, sanctified by the Eucharistic celebration, the Lord’s living presence among us and for us. Hence, it is the Mass that makes Sunday Christian! The Christian Sunday revolves around the Mass. For a Christian, what sort of Sunday is it that lacks the encounter with the Lord?
Unfortunately, there are Christian communities that cannot enjoy the Mass every Sunday; however, on this holy day, they are also called to recollect themselves in prayer in the Lord’s name, listening to the Word of God and keeping alive the desire of the Eucharist.
Some secularized societies have lost the Christian sense of Sunday illumined by the Eucharist. This is sin! In these contexts, it’s necessary to revive this awareness, to recover the meaning of the celebration, of the joy of the parish community, of solidarity, of the rest that restores the soul and the body (Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 2177-2188). The Eucharist is the teacher of all these values, Sunday after Sunday. Therefore, Vatican Council II wanted to confirm that “Sunday is the primordial day of celebration which must be proposed and inculcated in the piety of the faithful, so that it also becomes a day of joy and of abstention from work” (Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 106).
Sunday’s abstention from work didn’t exist in the first centuries: it’s a specific contribution of Christianity. By biblical tradition the Jews rest on Saturday, while in Roman society a weekday of abstention from servile works was not foreseen. It was the Christian sense of living as children and not as slaves, animated by the Eucharist, which made Sunday – almost universally – the day of rest.
Without Christ we are condemned to be dominated by tiredness of the every day, with its preoccupations and the fear of tomorrow. The Sunday encounter with the Lord gives us strength to live today with trust and courage and to go on with hope. This is why we Christians go to encounter the Lord on Sunday in the Eucharistic celebration.
Eucharistic Communion with Jesus, Risen and Living for ever, anticipates the Sunday without sunset, when there will no longer be fatigue, or pain, or mourning, or tears, but only the joy of living fully and for ever with the Lord. Sunday Mass also speaks of this blessed rest, teaching us, in the flow of the week, to entrust ourselves to the hands of the Father who is in Heaven.
What can we answer one who says there is no need to go to Mass, not even on Sunday, because what is important is to live well, to love one’s neighbor? It’s true that the quality of a Christian life is measured by the capacity to love, as Jesus said: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples: if you have love for one another” (John 13:35); but how can we practice the Gospel without drawing the necessary energy to do so, Sunday after Sunday, from the inexhaustible source of the Eucharist? We don’t go to Mass to give God something, but to receive from Him what we truly need. The prayer of the Church reminds us of this, which addresses God thus: “You do not need our praise, but by a gift of your love you call us to render thanks to you; our hymns of blessing do not enhance your grandeur, but obtain for us the grace that saves us” (Roman Missal, Ordinary Preface IV).
In conclusion, why go to Mass on Sunday? It’s not enough to answer that it’s a precept of the Church; this helps to keep its value, but it’s not enough on its own. We Christians need to take part in Sunday Mass because only with Jesus’ grace, with His living presence in us and among us, can we put into practice His commandment, and thus be His credible witnesses.
© Libreria Editrice Vatican
Translation from the Italian by Virginia M. Forrester, © ZENIT, www.zenit.org