The Catholic Thing
Why Mass is a Must Print E-mail
By David G. Bonagura, Jr.   
Thursday, 16 December 2010

Editor’s note:
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Most rationalizations about skipping Mass on Sunday – it’s boring, I get nothing out of it, I don’t feel like it, I can just pray to God on my own, I don’t like the priest or the music or the people or something else – all revolve around a single axis: me. I, the individual, have arbitrarily given myself authority over matters spiritual, and I decree ex cathedra that I do not need to attend Mass for whatever reason the sovereign I sees fit.

Contemporary hyper-individualism has multiplied the number of self-appointed popes – as many as two-thirds of all Catholics, surveys show – who have exempted themselves from the third commandment. Rejecting God in favor of oneself certainly is nothing new; it goes all the way back to Satan’s non serviam and Adam and Eve’s taste in fruit. But today’s rejection, in not a few cases, differs from these ancient models because sloth and indifference towards the supernatural – more so than pride – are the deadly cornerstones of the new self-magisterium, and these sins may be even more difficult to combat. At least those riddled with pride have faith in someone.

We need a different argument about the Sunday obligation for the prideful and slothful: you and your prayers alone are not good enough for God. They are not even good enough for you yourself.

Our prayers and good deeds can never be good enough for God, of course. Not even the heroic deeds of St. Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta impress God, considered strictly on their own merits. It’s basic theology. Their deeds and prayers, like our own, only please God when they are performed in union with the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Before Christ’s death and resurrection, the infinite gulf between God and man could not be bridged by any human prayer or action. Through the Incarnation, wayward humanity was accepted back into God’s loving embrace. St. Athanasius famously expressed this ineffable mystery in the fourth century: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so we, sons of men, could become sons of God.” 

       Athanasius: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so we,
      sons of men, could become sons of God.”

The redemption freely won for us by the Son of God does not work like waving a magic wand that somehow dispenses us from sin and punishment. Like Mary, the apostles, and the first disciples, we have to say yes to God’s invitation to salvation. Our fiat begins at baptism, but it must be repeated each day of our lives. And just in case we forget what our salvation cost, we are reminded of it at the altar whenever Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is re-presented in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

We’ve heard it often, but it bears repeating: The cross is the heart of Christian existence, and it follows that so is the Mass, the re-lived sacrifice of the cross. We cannot be saved without the cross, and therefore we cannot be saved without the infinite graces of the Eucharist. We cannot be Christian without accepting the reality of the cross, and therefore we cannot be Christian without the sacrament that makes the cross real to us.

To return to our initial argument: By rejecting the Mass you make yourself your own savior. But you cannot save yourself; try as you may, no matter what you do or what prayers you say. Without the cross and the Mass, you stand alone, empty and aimless, with no chance or hope beyond the drudgeries of the current moment.

Such frank talk about salvation is not popular. From our earliest moments now, we are all taught that we are wonderful and fantastic simply because we are who we are. Few really believe this and waste much time and effort trying to deal with this self-defeating untruth. The truth sounds like a threat to self-esteem, but is actually much healthier: you have no worth without the God who created you and then gave everything to redeem you. Without God there is no self-esteem, only self-righteousness.

“God who created you without you will not save you without you,” wrote St. Augustine. God’s salvation comes through His grace, and His grace is communicated through the sacraments, and the Mass above all. You do not have to feel edified or jubilant at Mass (though these sentiments are surely good and welcome when they occur). You only have to accept the Mass and the reality it conveys. For that you need faith, a gift given freely by God, but freely accepted by you.

The drama of the Christian life is the daily battle of dying to self and living totally for Christ. To refuse Mass is to refuse Him who died so that we might live fully in Him. To be saved we must “serve,” at the Mass.

David G. Bonagura, Jr. is Adjunct Professor of Theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, NY.

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Comments (6)Add Comment
written by Yezhov, December 16, 2010
A couple of days ago a friend told me that if Dante were to enter Hell today, he'd do it through Central Booking in Baltimore. I reflected that he would also have to add a new circle of Hell just for liturgical reformers who for several decades forced Catholics to eat untold buckets of crap every Sunday. No wonder the smart money was on visiting the Mall vice Church on Sundays. Things have improved as such reformers, no longer fashionable, have flitted away. And even their attempts to erode the priesthood of Christ by dumbing down Mass is no excuse for not attending it. But they didn't make it any easier either.
written by Scott Hesener, December 16, 2010
Q. Is the Mass the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the Cross?
A. Yes, the Mass is the same sacrifice as the sacrifice of the Cross.
Baltimore Catechism
written by Bill, December 17, 2010
Mr. Bonagura: My office is in a town with three "Christian" churches led by female ministers. What separates these "Christian" ministers from a Traditional Catholic priest? After all, they invite people into their churches every Sunday. They don't have the charism of Orders. They cannot confect the Holy Eucharist I would think in an article on this subject you might use terms such as "transubstantiation, Body and Blood of Christ, obligation under the penalty of mortal sin, participation in the Divine Mystery, etc."
written by David Bonagura, December 17, 2010
Bill: Fair point, though my focus was more on why we should bother to get out of bed on Sunday in the first place, rather than which church to choose once in the car. Of course, if we understand my main point--that the Mass is the Holy Sacrifice of Christ on cross, and we must go to Mass to appropriate this one and only salvific act to our selves--then the things you mentioned (transubstantiation, Body and Blood of Christ) follow as important corollaries.
written by olivier bethoux, December 19, 2010
{See French original following) I think that the disaffection of the baptized for Sunday Mass is more complex. It's easy to speak of "self-proclaimed popes." But are Catholic parishes really welcoming? What are the Sunday homilies worth? The majority of the time, one feels that the homily has not been prepared, speaks of contemporary issues and ten thousand things at a time. While we're expecting the priest to clarify the life of Jesus Christ, and its meaning. Lacking constant nourishment for faith, the baptismal life grows thin.

je pense que la désaffection des baptisés de la messe dominicale est plus complexe. C'est vite dit de parler de "pape auto-proclamé". Est-ce que les paroisses catholiques sont vraiment accueillantes ? Que vaut l'homélie dominicale ? La plupart du temps on sent que l'homélie n'est pas préparée, elle parle des sujets d'actualité, evoque dix mille sujets à la fois etc. Alors que nous attendons du prêtre qu'il nous éclaire sur leSeigneur Jesus, le sens de sa vie. Faute d'aliments consistants pour nourrir sa foi, la vie baptismale s'étiole.
written by Graham Combs, December 19, 2010
I find that since my entrance into the Church on Easter Vigil 2009, I cannot miss Sunday mass without feeling a great loss. I also make it a point to attend evening masses during the week when scheduled. As a batchelor I don't feel part of parish life; but then families with children and grandchildren should be at the center of any community worthy of the name. Contempt for the sacrament of Marriage is contempt for children -- we see the results of that contempt everyday. I do invariably feel welcome during the actual celebration and administration of the Eucharist. The mass isn't about me, and yet in a way it is so personal that there is no "me" without it. I've had two surprises since becoming a Catholic. One, a growing devotion to Mary. Two, an actual sense of loving the Church. Something Pope Paul VI felt and understood profoundly. I often remember that wonderful line in AMAZING GRACE when John Newton (Albert Finney) tells William WIlberforce, "I am a great sinner, but I have a Great Saviour." Bishop Conley (of the Archdiocese of Denver) uses the traditional Latin phrase "lex orandi, lex credendi" -- "we worship as we believe." The Mass is central, essential to being a Catholic.

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