Why Mass is a Must

Editor’s note:
Thank you, thank you, thank you, generous readers. (If you did not receive a personal note from me, let me know – there’s been a glitch with PayPal.) We’re beginning to get into the range we need for this end-of-year fundraising appeal. But we’re a third of the way there with two-thirds of the week gone. Please don’t make me turn into one of those ugly fundraisers who tell you they need huge amounts of money or the sky will fall. We’re moving ahead here. Just the other day, Hadley Arkes told me that his wife was curious what he would sound like in French, which you can actually read on our new partner website in Paris France catholique here. I told him he’d sound like Bogart in Casablanca, if Bogey had read and understood Kant. And it’s true. We’re trying to bring real Catholicism to the public square, and now not only in America but globally. You are adults and understand the importance of this whole enterprise. Please, become part of that effort by donating today. – Robert Royal     

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. an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary, New York. He is the author of Steadfast in Faith: Catholicism and the Challenges of Secularism and Staying with the Catholic Church: Trusting God's Plan of Salvation.