Since I started work as a Youth Minister this past summer, I’ve been completely swamped with varied and sundry tasks, so my blog has been pretty neglected. I realized recently that it’s not that I haven’t been doing any writing: I just haven’t been posting it!
So I’m going to try posting some of the Q&A articles I send out to parents of my high school Confirmation Candidates. After each formation session, I ask the students to submit comments and questions to me, from which I select one or two to answer in my weekly parent emails. Here are the questions from this week, after our session on “What is the Mass?” Enjoy!
This week, I got a couple of interesting and related questions about Mass, primarily about why we go. One person asked: Why can’t we just pray at home? and another asked: Why are we supposed to go to Mass? We aren’t hurting anyone if we don’t.
Good questions, both of them. I’ll start with the second one first. Let’s think about it this way:
There are a lot of things we are supposed to do just because they are good for us, regardless of how they may or may not impact other people. If you go to the dentist, they will tell you that you “need” to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss regularly. They say that you “need” to do this not because it will hurt someone else if you don’t, but because it will harm YOU. Your health will be at risk. Maybe you’ll get gingivitis. Maybe your teeth will get cavities. Maybe they will rot and fall out. A good dentist will tell you that you “need” to do these things because he/she is concerned for YOU.
So, you should brush and floss because it’s good for you. But just because you aren’t actively hurting someone by neglecting your oral hygiene doesn’t mean that no one is affected by it, either. If you don’t brush and floss, you will have stanky breath. And I bet a lot of people would want to stop hanging out with you as much. It would be unpleasant for them, so they might choose to stay away from you. Maybe your best friends will be able to overcome their revulsion, but the choice you make to stop brushing your teeth will make it very difficult for them on a regular basis. It will strain your relationship.
I hope you get the analogy here. Attending Mass is something we need to do because it is “healthy” for our soul. Think of it as spiritual hygiene. No one will get hurt if we don’t go to Mass, but if we avoid taking care of our spiritual health, eventually we are going to spiritually stink. If we choose to not put God in a prominent place in our lives, if we choose to neglect the gift of the Eucharist (which helps cleanse us and protect us from the inclination to sin), then we will gradually build up some spiritual plaque. We’ll get some spiritual gingivitis, which might lead to some spiritual cavities and maybe some spiritual teeth will fall out. The temptation to sin is always there, but it’s really easy to overlook. It’s really easy to say, “I don’t feel like going to Mass this Sunday. I’ll do it next Sunday.” It’s really easy to say, “I don’t feel like flossing tonight. I’ll do it tomorrow.” But next day turns to next day turns to next day and all of a sudden, you realize you haven’t been taking care of those basic hygiene needs for quite a while now.
So, you are supposed to go to Mass because IT IS GOOD FOR YOU.
But you are also supposed to go to Mass because ALL OF US are contractually obligated to do so through our baptism. Nowhere and at no time will the Church ever say that non-baptized people need to go to Mass. It’s not an obligation for you if you’re not part of the Church. But if you are, going to Mass on Sunday is a Precept of the Church. Weekly Sunday Mass attendance is the absolute minimum we “need” in order to grow in faith, holiness and communion with one another as fellow Christians.
Which leads to the second question, “Why can’t we just pray at home?”
I hope the assumption here is that OF COURSE you can (and should!) pray at home, but that’s not enough. None of us are allowed to fall into the trap of thinking that we have a completely private relationship with God. Through your baptism, you become part of God’s FAMILY. God adopts you as a son or daughter through the Church, so that you are joined with LOTS of other people! Like it or not, we’re all in this together.
St. Paul talks in his letters about how we are all united in baptism into the “Body of Christ.” He says “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (1 Cor 12:12-13a) When we come together at Mass to meet our own bare minimum of individual spiritual health, we come as a member of the Body of Christ—the Church. Some ancient Christian communities took this membership so seriously, that you had to get special permission from your pastor to be away from Mass on Sunday. If you were traveling, you needed to clear it with your congregation first, because it meant that when your community gathered on Sunday they would somehow be INCOMPLETE… because you weren’t there. ALL the members are needed in order for the community to worship God AS A COMMUNITY of faith—as a family.
God doesn’t want us to have an isolated relationship with Him. He wants us to have a personal relationship with Him, but that personal relationship is always mediated within and supported by the larger community of the Church. He calls us to come together to worship Him. Like any good Father, He wants to have a good relationship with all of His children, but He also wants his children to love one another and get along. He wants them to have a relationship with one another, because that’s how we grow in holiness.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, one person strengthens another.” We become better sons and daughters of God when we take the time to worship our Father together. When we receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, we are not only more closely united to God (which keeps us spiritually healthy!), but we also strengthen our bonds with one another—with the other members of the Body of Christ.