1. First came the computer age, then the internet. This provided the Catholic Church with a perfect opportunity to evangelize on a worldwide basis. At the same time, this new modern technology provided the believers in Jesus Christ with the opportunity to educate themselves regarding their faith. It provided them with the opportunity to contact Catholic ministries and to ask questions.
2. Should I go to Church on Sunday? Is it a sin if I do not attend the Holy Mass on Sundays? If it is a sin, what kind of a sin is it? If I miss going to Mass on Sunday, can I receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist on the following Sunday without having received the Sacrament of Confession? Thousands of Catholic continually ask these questions. Why? Because they are unfamiliar with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
3. This course will answer all of the above questions. Quotes related to the Holy Mass, also known as the Eucharistic celebration, will be taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Church Canon Laws and from Vatican documents.
4. As you proceed through this material, you will learn that the celebration of the Holy Mass is the center of the Catholic life. You will learn that the Holy Mass can be traced to the early Christian Church when the people assembled together to celebrate the Eucharist.
5. The Eucharistic celebration is the center of the Catholic life because at that moment, Jesus Christ is present among us. Although invisible, Jesus is present in the priest who presides the celebration of the Holy Mass. In His Word, the Scriptures, Jesus is present. During the Consecration of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus manifest Himself in physical form so He may dwell among His people. Jesus remains in the Church through His physical presence in the Holy Tabernacle.
6. Jesus strengthens the faithful who receive Him during the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist so that they may go forth to defend and spread the Gospel. And finally, Jesus is present in all those who are gathered during the celebration of the Holy Mass, in their prayers, their songs and their actions. Indeed, Jesus is among us.
7. "Emmanuel" means "God is with us." [Mt. 1:23] Through the Eucharistic celebration is fulfilled the mystery of God's promise to dwell among His people. Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we perceive that while Jesus left for a few days to fulfill the prophecies of His death and glorious Resurrection, He has returned to physically remain with us until the end of time.
THE HOLY MASS, A MEMORIAL CELEBRATION
8. "If from the beginning Christians have celebrated the Eucharist and in a form whose substance has not changed despite the great diversity of times and liturgies, it is because we know ourselves to be bound by the command the Lord gave on the eve of his Passion: 'Do this in remembrance of me.'" [1 Cor 11:24-25] (C.C.C. # 1356)
9. "We carry out this command of the Lord by celebrating the memorial of his sacrifice. In so doing, we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present." (C.C.C. # 1357)
10. "The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's Passover, that is, of the work of salvation accomplished by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, a work made present by the liturgical action." (C.C.C. # 1409)
COMMANDED BY JESUS
11. "The command of Jesus to repeat his actions and words 'until he comes' does not only ask us to remember Jesus and what he did. It is directed at the liturgical celebration, by the apostles and their successors, of the memorial of Christ, of his life, of his death, of his Resurrection, and of his intercession in the presence of the Father." [2 Cor 11:26] (C.C.C. # 1341)
12. "From the beginning the Church has been faithful to the Lord's command. Of the Church of Jerusalem it is written: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.... Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts." [Acts 2:42, 46] (C.C.C. # 1342)
13. "Thus from celebration to celebration, as they proclaim the Paschal mystery of Jesus 'until he comes,' the pilgrim People of God advances, 'following the narrow way of the cross,' [AG 1; cf. 1 Cor 11:26] toward the heavenly banquet, when all the elect will be seated at the table of the kingdom." (C.C.C. # 1344)
SUNDAY, THE CENTER OF THE CHURCH'S LIFE
14. "It was above all on 'the first day of the week,' Sunday, the day of Jesus' resurrection, that the Christians met 'to break bread.' [Acts 20:7] From that time on down to our own day the celebration of the Eucharist has been continued so that today we encounter it everywhere in the Church with the same fundamental structure. Sunday remains the center of the Church's life." (C.C.C. # 1343)
15. "As early as the second century we have the witness of St. Justin Martyr for the basic lines of the order of the Eucharistic celebration. They have stayed the same until our own day for all the great liturgical families. St. Justin wrote to the pagan emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161) around the year 155, explaining what Christians did: On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read, as much as time permits."
16. "When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things."
17. "Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves... and for all others, wherever they may be, so that we may be found righteous by our life and actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation."
18. "When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss." "Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and for a considerable time he gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts."
19. "When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying: 'Amen.'" "When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the 'eucharisted' bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent. [St. Justin, Apol. 1, 65-67: PG 6, 428-429] (C.C.C. # 1345)
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SUNDAY EUCHARIST
20. "The Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church's life. 'Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.' [CIC, can. 1246 # 1]
21. 'Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension of Christ, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christi, the feast of Mary the Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception, her Assumption, the feast of Saint Joseph, the feast of the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and the feast of All Saints." [CIC, can. 1246 # 2: 'The conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See.'] (C.C.C. # 2177)
22. "This practice of the Christian assembly dates from the beginnings of the apostolic age. [Acts 2:42-46; 1 Cor 11:17] The Letter to the Hebrews reminds the faithful 'not to neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but to encourage one another.'" [Heb 10:25]
23. "Tradition preserves the memory of an ever-timely exhortation: Come to Church early, approach the Lord, and confess your sins, repent in prayer.... Be present at the sacred and divine liturgy, conclude its prayer and do not leave before the dismissal.... We have often said: 'This day is given to you for prayer and rest. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.' [Sermo de die dominica 2 et 6: PG 86/1, 416C and 421C] (C.C.C. # 2178)
24. "'A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop.' [CIC, can. 515 # 1] It is the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. The parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: it gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ's saving doctrine; it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love: You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests." [St. John Chrysostom, De incomprehensibili 3, 6: PG 48, 725] (C.C.C. # 2179)
MASS ATTENDANCE, A CHURCH PRECEPT
25. "The first precept ('You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation.') requires the faithful to participate in the Eucharistic celebration when the Christian community gathers together on the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord. [CIC, cann. 1246-1248; CCEO, can. 881 # 1, # 2, # 4] (C.C.C. # 2042)
26. "The Church obliges the faithful 'to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days' and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season. [OE 15; CIC, can. 920] But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily." (C.C.C. # 1389)
27. "The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: 'On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.' [CIC, can. 1247] 'The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.' [CIC, can. 1248 # 1] (C.C.C. # 2180)
THE SUNDAY OBLIGATION
28. "The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. [CIC, can. 1245] Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin." (C.C.C. # 2181)
29. "Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God's holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit." (C.C.C. # 2182)
30. "'Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy.' [Deut 5:12] 'The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord.' [Ex 31:15] (C.C.C. # 2189)
31. "The sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ." (C.C.C. # 2190)
32. "The Church celebrates the day of Christ's Resurrection on the 'eighth day,' Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord's Day (cf. SC 106)." (C.C.C. # 2191)
33. "'Sunday... is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.' [CIC, can. 1246 # 1] 'On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.' [CIC, can. 1247] (C.C.C. # 2192)
THE MEANING OF A 'CHURCH PRECEPT'
34. Quoting from the Catholic Church Canon Law # 49, 'A singular precept is a decree by which an obligation is directly and lawfully imposed on a specific person or persons to do or to omit something, especially in order to urge the observance of a law.'" (Canon # 49)
35. "The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbour." (C.C.C. # 2041)
36. In other words, a Church precept is a rule that has been set by the Catholic Church to nourish the soul of the faithful with the minimum necessity to spiritually grow in the love of God and one's neighbour. This rule must be obeyed without exception.
DISOBEYING A PRECEPT
37. Frequently, the following questions are asked: "Is it a sin to disobey a precept?" "Is it a sin if one does not go to Holy Mass on Sunday?"
38. The previously mentioned quote from the C.C.C. # 2180 states that "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day."
39. The faithful can only be excused from participating in the Eucharist on days of obligation when there is a serious reason. A serious reason consist of illness, the care of infants or having been dispensed by one's own pastor for a valid reason. Those who fail to meet this obligation, they commit a grave sin. (C.C.C. 2181)
40. "Anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass or receive the Body of the Lord without previously having been to sacramental confession, unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, which includes the resolve to go to confession as soon as possible." (Canon Law # 916)
41. In other words, if someone intentionally misses a Sunday or holy day mass without just cause, that person commits a grave sin. Therefore, that person cannot receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in the future until such time as that person has confessed this grave sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
WHEN A GRAVE SIN IS NOT A SIN
42. A grave sin is not a sin until such time as one knows that it is a sin. In other words, for those who did not know that failure to attend the Holy Mass on Sunday is a grave sin, they have not committed a sin. But, once they do know that it is a grave sin not to participate in the Eucharistic celebration on Sundays and holy days, they cannot be excused of the grave sin that they have committed and it must be confessed to a priest.
LAY LITURGY OF THE WORD
43. "Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God's holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (C.C.C. # 2182)
44. "If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the Liturgy of the Word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place according to the prescriptions of the diocesan bishop, or engage in prayer for an appropriate amount of time personally or in a family or, as occasion offers, in groups of families." [CIC, can. 1248 # 2] (C.C.C. # 2183)
45. One must bear in mind that when it is said that "the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible," this is for exceptional cases. It is for situations when not one priest is available within miles and no other Holy Masses are being celebrated at Catholic Churches that are within a few miles.
46. One must also bear in mind the instructions that the Mother Church has given us on this subject. Speaking of "Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest," the Vatican emphasized two things:
47. (1) "It must be clearly understood that such celebrations are temporary solutions..."
48. (2) "For the same reasons, it should be emphasised for the benefit of those participating, that such celebrations cannot substitute for the eucharistic Sacrifice and that the obligation to attend mass on Sunday and Holy days of obligation is satisfied only by attendance at Holy Mass.(C.I.C., can. 1248) In cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle, every effort should be made to encourage and assist the faithful to fulfil this precept." [Instruction on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, Approved by the Supreme Pontiff on August 13 th, 1997, Theological Principles, Practical Provisions, Article 7, Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, § 2.]
49. The aforementioned emphasizes that "in cases where distance or physical conditions are not an obstacle..." As such, in cities where there are numerous Catholic Churches and where most of the faithful own a vehicle, they are obligated to attend Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days in fulfillment of the first precept of the Catholic Church.
50. "In some areas, circumstances can arise in which a shortage of sacred ministers and permanent, objectively verifiable, situations of need or advantage exist that would recommend the admission of the non-ordained faithful to preaching."
51. "Preaching in churches or oratories by the non-ordained faithful can be permitted only as a supply for sacred ministers or for those particular reasons foreseen by the universal law of the Church or by Conferences of Bishops. It cannot, however, be regarded as an ordinary occurrence nor as an authentic promotion of the laity." [Instruction on certain questions regarding the collaboration of the non-ordained faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest, Liberia Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, Approved by the Supreme Pontiff on August 13 th, 1997, Theological Principles, Practical Provisions, Article 2: The Ministry of the Word, § 4.]
52. "... there is a fundamental difference between the common priesthood of all the baptized and the priesthood of the ordained ministers (cf. Interdicasterial Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priests). The Church needs ordained priests who in sacramental celebrations act "in persona Christi" and represent Christ the bridegroom in relation to the Church as bride. In other words: the ordained pastors, who are members of the one Body of the Church, represent its head, who is Christ. Therefore, any attempt to clericalize the laity or to laicize the clergy must be rejected. It does not correspond to the mysterious ordering of the Church as willed by her Founder. Nor are tendencies that eliminate the essential difference between clergy and laity of any use in attracting vocations. I ask you, dear Brothers, to keep alive in your parish communities a deep desire for ordained priests. Even a long period of waiting, due to the current shortage of priests, should not lead a community to accept an emergency situation as the rule. Priests and laity need each other. They cannot replace but only complement one another." [Address of the Holy Father to the German Bishops on the occasion of their "Ad Limina" visit, Saturday 20 November 1999.]
53. In the "Instruction on Certain Questions Regarding the Collaboration of the Non-Ordained Faithful in the Sacred Ministry of Priest, Practical Provisions, Article 4, § 1" the Mother Church states that the non-ordained faithful, as happens in many worthy cases, may collaborate effectively in the pastoral ministry of clerics in parishes, health care centres, etc... Provisions regulating such extraordinary form of collaboration are provided by Canon # 517, § 2."
54. "The right understanding and application of this canon... requires that the exceptional provision be used only with strict adherence to the following conditions:"
55. "a) ob sacerdotum penuriam and not for reasons of convenience or ambiguous "advancement of the laity", etc.;"
56. "b) this is participatio in exercitio curae pastoralis and not directing, coordinating, moderating or governing the Parish; these competencies, according to the canon, are the competencies of a priest alone."
57. "Because these are exceptional cases, before employing them, other possibilities should be availed of, such as using of the services of retired priests still capable of such service, or entrusting several parishes to one priest or to a coetus sacerdotum."
58. Article 4, § 2 of the aforementioned document states "The presentation of resignation at the age of 75 by a Parish Priest does not of itself (ipso iure) terminate his pastoral office. Such takes effect only when the diocesan Bishop, following prudent consideration of all the circumstances, shall have definitely accepted his resignation in accordance with Canon 538, § 3 and communicated such to him in writing. In the light of those situations where scarcity of priests exists, the use of special prudence in this matter would be judicious."
59. "In view of the right of every cleric to exercise the ministry proper to him, and in the absence of any grave health or disciplinary reasons, it should be noted that having reaching the age of 75 does not constitute a binding reason for the diocesan Bishop to accept a Parish Priest's resignation. This also serves to avoid a functional concept of the Sacred Ministry."
THE HOLY MASS VERSUS LAY LITURGIES
60. In obedience to the teachings of the Mother Church, the faithful are obligated to make every effort to attend the Eucharist celebration on Sunday and holy days. Lay liturgies are to be implemented as a last resort, not as a general rule.
61. When lay liturgies are implemented as a means of training lay persons or as a substitute to the Eucharistic celebration when a priest is on holiday, such is an abuse of the teachings of the Catholic Church. Such places emphasis on clericalizing the laity or the laicizing of the clergy. Such must be rejected!
62. Before a lay liturgy is implemented, all other resources must have been exhausted. The priests from other parishes must have been contacted to see if they can avail themselves for the celebration of the Holy Mass. All the retired priests in good standing must have been contacted to determine if they are available. Consideration must have been given to providing the transportation of the faithful to another Catholic Church that is within reasonable distance.
63. And, as the Holy Father stated to the German Bishop on the occasion of their "Ad Limina" visit on Saturday, November 20, 1999, "Even a long period of waiting, due to the current shortage of priests, should not lead a community to accept an emergency situation as the rule."
64. When emphasis is placed on clericalizing the laity, there is a tendency to forget the need to promote and recruit religious vocations. When the faithful are obligated to make an extra effort to attend another Church because of the shortage of priests, a greater emphasis is placed on promoting and recruiting religious vocations within the parish in order to secure the future administration of the Sacraments.
BUILDING UP THE FAITH COMMUNITY
65. What is more important, participating in the Eucharistic celebration or lay liturgies for the building up of the faith community? The Catholic Church teaches that participation in the Eucharistic celebration is of utmost importance for the spiritual growth of the soul in its love of God and its neighbours.
66. There is one Body of Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The building up of the faith community as a parish must not be a cause for division within the Body of Christ. The Church is One! Catholic Churches are open to all the faithful. Not only are they open to all, they also welcome converts and non-believers who wish to learn about the Catholic Faith.
EXAMPLES OF THE NEED FOR THE LAY MINISTRY
67. Throughout the world, there are many remote areas such as in the far North of Canada or in deserts. In these areas, communities consists of a few dozen people to a few hundreds. Many of these communities can only be reached by airplane or after hours of travelling by car or by train. And many of these communities are without priests.
68. Some of these communities will have a priest who administers four or five parishes. In some parishes, the priest only comes around once a month; in others, he only comes around a few times a year. These communities that have no possibility whatsoever of finding a Catholic priest, even a retired priest, have just cause to implement lay liturgies.
69. In these communities, the role of the lay ministry is not limited to a Sunday liturgy. It includes assistance with the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage and Funerals. It includes the distribution of the Holy Eucharist to the elderly and the sick. While these lay ministers cannot celebrate the Holy Mass, nor will they ever replace the functions that are reserved to the Holy Orders, they meet a specific need within the Church. Without the dedications of such lay ministers, the faithful would be denied many graces that provide spiritual growth.
70. While the Catholic Church teaches that attendance at the Eucharistic celebration is an obligation on Sunday and holy days, such cannot be said regarding attendance at lay liturgies. While it is a grave sin to miss Holy Mass on Sundays and holy days, it is not a grave sin to miss a lay liturgy. Why? Because the lay liturgy cannot replace the Eucharistic celebration!
This completes the Catholc Bible course "Sunday, A Day Of Obligation." I pray that this spiritual material has been of great benefit to you for the growth of your soul in Christ.
The Catholic Doors Ministry encourages you to continue in your personal studies so that you may grow in the knowledge and understanding of the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.
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