Why come back to Mass?
Ideally there would be one Mass. Not one Mass per parish. Not one Mass per diocese. Not even one Mass per country. Just one Mass, period. And all of us—all the angels and saints, all the members of the Church in heaven and on earth—would participate in it at once. This, of course, is not currently possible. We’re limited by space and time. And it will not be possible until the end of time when all the members of the Church are perfectly united with Jesus in heaven. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to realize this heavenly ideal as much as we can while still on earth.
Every time a member of the Church is missing from Mass, the ideal is less perfectly realized. The foretaste of heaven which we are meant to have, the glimpse of heaven which we are meant to see, is diminished. The Christian poet John Donne said that “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” That is true on a natural level, but it is even more true on a supernatural level. Any member’s absence diminishes our worship, because we are all members of the same worshiping Body—the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church. We come to Mass not only for our own spiritual well-being, but for the spiritual well-being of the entire Church.
Since March 15, we have not been required to attend Mass in person on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. And our worship has been diminished because of it. The worship of God has still taken place, of course. It takes place at every Mass regardless of how many people attend. But its heavenly ideal has not been fully realized, not by a long shot. Coming back to Mass, participating in Mass in person in a full, active, and conscious manner, would go a long way to helping realize that ideal.
Beginning the weekend of September 20, we will once again be required to attend Mass in person on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Why? For heaven’s sake! Because we’re made for heaven, and we’re meant to begin to live the life of heaven while still on earth. That’s why we come to Mass and that’s why the Church requires us to do so: so that we might experience a foretaste of heaven, that we might catch a glimpse of it, while we’re still on earth. When we don’t attend Mass, not only are we depriving ourselves of participating in the heavenly life for which we are made, but we are diminishing our fellow parishioner’s participation in that life. The foretaste becomes weaker, the vision dimmer—not just for you, not just for me, but for all of us.
That being said, the Church has always acknowledged, and continues to acknowledge, circumstances which may legitimately excuse someone from attending Mass in person on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. The Church’s official law—called Canon Law—acknowledges that a “grave cause” may make it impossible for someone to do so (Canon 1248). Beginning on September 20 and going forward, what are some circumstances that would constitute a “grave cause” and legitimately excuse someone from attending Mass in person? Archbishop Listecki has offered some examples in a recent letter: (1) If someone is sick. (2) If someone is caring for another person who is sick. For example, a parent caring for a sick child or for an elderly relative. (3) If someone is at risk because of age, underlying medical conditions, or a compromised immune system. These circumstances would legitimately excuse someone from attending Mass in person. Those who are legitimately excused, however, should still devote themselves to some suitable time of prayer as they are able. This could be done by watching a livestreamed Mass, praying with the Mass readings, or praying the rosary or another devotion.
These coming weeks and months offer us an opportunity to come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the obligation to attend Mass in person on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. Perhaps you’ve fulfilled this obligation out of a well-formed habit over these past years. Perhaps you’ve gotten out of that habit in recent months. This is an opportunity to understand the reason for having that habit in the first place. It’s so that you—and me—and all of us—can begin to live the life of heaven while still on earth. And how desperately do we need to live that life these days! 2020 has been challenging, but you can make it better by coming back to Mass. Do it! For heaven’s sake!