By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published November 10, 2011
Kids excel at excuses. “The dog ate my homework” tops the list of creative reasons to explain why Johnny showed up at school without his math assignment. And when it comes to missing Sunday Mass, it seems that Catholics give Johnny a run for his money, as seen in the following common excuses:
“I can pray at home.” Of course you can, but this excuse falls terribly flat because missing Mass is a grave sin. In the Third Commandment, God put it quite clearly: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Our faith teaches that we obey this commandment by worshipping God at Sunday Mass. As St. John Chrysostom said, “You cannot pray at home as at church … where there is … the accord of souls, the bond of charity (and) the prayers of the priests.”
“I go on Christmas and at Easter.” If your job requires you to report to the office five days a week, but you get there only on Fridays, obviously that would be a problem. Similarly, our faith teaches that the Third Commandment covers every Sunday in the calendar, as well as holy days of obligation. So whenever you intentionally miss Mass, you are falling into serious sin.
“I watch Mass on TV.” There’s certainly no harm in this, but TV Mass doesn’t fulfill your Sunday obligation since it doesn’t provide the opportunity to receive Holy Communion. Many elderly people and shut-ins watch Mass on TV because they’re physically unable to get to church. But they should also ask their pastor to arrange for Holy Communion to be brought to them.
“I don’t have any money for the collection basket.” Admission is free! Anything you put in the basket is lovely but not required.
“I can’t stand the homilies or the music (or both).” We’ve all uttered such complaints now and again, but they fizzle out as a valid reason for staying home. For Catholics, the centerpiece of Mass is not the sermon or the singing but the Eucharist. A meaningful homily and soul-stirring hymns are wonderful gifts, but even with humdrum preaching and mind-numbing music, we still encounter the miracle of Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist.
“I don’t feel anything at Mass.” Secular society encourages us to expect hearty laughs or a good cry whenever we go to the movies. But Mass has nothing to do with entertainment—and even if it seems like nothing is happening emotionally, God’s grace is still working, quietly and mysteriously, in our souls.
“My wife (or husband or child) goes to Mass for me.” Are you also willing to let your spouse or child go to heaven while you end up in the other place? If not, then this excuse really falls flat.
“I haven’t been to Mass in years, and I don’t know if God will forgive me.” Some people need reminders of God’s mercy, which is endless. A scene in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” beautifully illustrates God’s gigantic heart. A little boy, Edmund, has betrayed his brother and sisters, and his sin weighs heavily on his conscience. But after he spends time with Aslan—the lion that represents Christ—the child experiences complete forgiveness. We are not told exactly what Aslan said to Edmund, but Aslan assures the other children “There is no need to talk to (Edmund) about what is past.”
Once we confess our sins—no matter how numerous or how grave—God forgets all about them. They truly become part of the past, and we can let go of them. So if you haven’t been to Mass for a very long time, just make an appointment with a priest for Confession, and then come back! As someone who left Catholicism for more than 25 years—and racked up plenty of sins during that time—I can assure you that, as the psalmist tells us, God’s mercy really does endure forever.