Is Sunday Mass Necessary?
A Reflection on the Importance of Sunday Mass
"I don't need to go to Mass every Sunday. It's not that important."
No doubt we've all heard this from time to time. Is it true? Or is Sunday Mass necessary for salvation? To answer this we must first ask: Did Christ say what was necessary for salvation? In fact, He did:
On one occasion a lawyer stood up to pose to Jesus this problem: "Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?" Jesus answered him, "What is written in the law?..." He replied, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus said, "You have answered correctly. Do this and you shall live" (Lk 10:25-28).
Thus, love is the key. But, how do we love God? Christ, God and man, answered this as follows: "The one who obeys the commandments he has from me is the one who loves me" (Jn 14:21). Now, did Jesus give any commands about the Mass? Yes. At the last supper, the institution of the Eucharist, Christ said, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19).
What is it we remember in the Mass? Merely some meal Christ celebrated the night before he died? No. Something much more wonderful than that.
What is the Mass?
In the words of Pope John Paul II, "The Mass is above all else a sacrifice" (On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist, or Dominicae Cenae, henceforth "DC," Feb 24, 1980).
[In the Mass] Christ perpetuates in an unbloody manner the sacrifice offered on the cross, offering Himself to the Father for the world's salvation through the ministry of priests (Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, henceforth "EM," 25 May 1967, C 3).
We re-offer in the Mass the body and blood of Christ, separated as they were on Calvary. We represent the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the event which saved us and opened the gates of heaven which had been closed by Original Sin.
Just as the Jews offered and partook of the unblemished lamb to celebrate passover, the saving act of God who released them from their slavery in Egypt to journey toward the promised land; so we offer and partake of the unblemished "Lamb of God" to celebrate the new passover, the saving act of Christ who released us from our slavery to sin to journey toward the promised land of heaven. Indeed, all the Old Testament sacrifices, the lamb, the scapegoat, and the various other animals slain as offerings for sin, were but prefigurements of the sacrifice of the Mass, the "consummation and perfection of them all" (Council of Trent, Doctrine on the Mass, chap 1).
This central mystery of our faith is alluded to in Eucharistic Prayer III.
A Reflection on Eucharistic Prayer III
We read in the Third Eucharistic prayer: "Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation, His glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, and ready to greet Him when He comes again, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice." The sacrifice is holy because it is Christ, truly Christ, miraculously present in the form of bread and wine, not just a symbol. It is living because it is a divine sacrifice and what is divine lives forever.
We read on in Eucharistic Prayer III: "Look with favor on your Church's offering and see the Victim whose death has reconciled us to yourself." Christ is the paschal "victim," the "scapegoat," who took our sins upon Himself so we could be "reconciled" to the Father.
We read on: "Grant that we who are nourished by His body and blood may be filled with His Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ." The great miracle of the Eucharist is not only that bread and wine become Christ, but that we become "other Christs" by the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, animating us to express to the world through our own unique personalities, the goodness and love of Christ.
We read on, "May he make us an everlasting gift to you..." It is not enough that we offer Christ to the Father in the Mass. We must offer ourselves on the altar of sacrifice with Him. We too, are to be victims for the sins of the world. The Church confirms this:
The Church, the spouse and minister of Christ, performs together with Him the role of priest and victim, offers Him to the Father and at the same time makes a total offering of herself together with Him..." (EM, C 3).
The magnificence of the Mass is reflected in the following:
Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ, the priest, and of his Body, which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its effectiveness by the same title and to the same degree (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 1963, para 7).
Elsewhere the Mass is called the "source and summit of the whole Church's worship and the Christian life" (EM, C 5).
Thus, to the remark which is often made: "I don't need to go to Mass. I can pray to God just as well in my room or under a tree!" we reply, "There is no way you can offer the sacrifice of Calvary, the 'source and summit' of the whole Church's worship and the Christian life in your room, or under a tree." The Mass is the only divine gift we can offer God.
Sacred Banquet, Covenant Meal
The Mass is secondarily:
...a sacred banquet in which, through the communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord, the People of God... renew the New Covenant which God has made with man once for all through the Blood of Christ, and in faith and hope foreshadow and anticipate the eschatalogical banquet in the Kingdom of the Father (EM, C1).
When we receive the Eucharist then, we renew our covenant of love with Jesus.
Did Christ say anything about the necessity of receiving the Eucharist? Indeed he did: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53). In other words, if we willfully and knowingly refuse to partake of the Eucharist, which Christ called "real food... real drink," we cannot maintain a spiritual life. Without spiritual life, grace, we will never live in God's Kingdom; we are headed for eternal ruin. This is a strong statement by Our Lord.
St Paul warns us, however, that we must approach the Eucharist worthily:
Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor 11:27).
Pope John Paul II wrote in 1980:
...we must always take care that this great meeting with Christ in the Eucharist does not become a mere habit, and that we do not receive Him unworthily, that is to say, in a state of mortal sin (DC).
We must not only make our peace with God before receiving the Eucharist (by sacramental confession if we are in the state of mortal sin), but as part of this peace, we should make peace with our neighbor since the Eucharist is a "sign of unity, a bond of love" (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 47).
How Often Are We to Attend Mass?
It should be clear now that we must participate in this most marvelous gift of the Mass, and partake of its meal, the Eucharist, in order to be saved. But, how often are we to attend Mass?
The answer is found in the third commandment: "Keep holy the Lord's day."
By a tradition handed down by the apostles, which took its origin from the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every seventh day, which is appropriately called the Lord's Day or Sunday. For on this day Christ's faithful are bound to come together into one place, so that, hearing the word of God and participating in the Eucharist, they may call to mind the Passion, Resurrection and glory of the Lord Jesus... (Vatican II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 106).
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states (c1247) "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass..."
Who could say he was keeping the Lord's day holy if he didn't offer God His most valued gift on that day? Who could claim to love God if he refused (without a serious obstacle) to offer the "summit," the high point, of the Christian life at least on the day God commanded us to keep holy? What holier action is there?
Furthermore, if Christ's flesh is real food and his blood real drink, sustenance necessary for spiritual life, should we be satisfied partaking in this sacred banquet just once a week (or once a year, as is required)? And, dare we enter this bodily communion with our God without sharing in a daily intimate communication of love with Him in prayer?
Would a spiritual life of Sunday Mass, a few prayers morning and evening, and confession three times a year constitute loving God with all our "heart, soul, and mind?" In fact, if we do only these things, are we not just hanging on to our faith by our fingernails? And if we knowingly refuse to offer the "summit" of these at least weekly, could we seriously think we are headed for God's Kingdom?
Thus, to the original question, "Is Sunday Mass necessary for salvation?" we must answer, given that we know the above, Yes!, and a great deal more: A life of deeply committed love. What better time than now to face this?
"He who made you without your cooperation, will not save you without your cooperation"