The weekend of August 14-15 coming up will give us the rare treat of celebrating the great feast of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven on a Sunday. As a “solemnity” it outranks the Ordinary Time Sunday in our liturgical calendar.
To mark the occasion, we will resume for that one summer Sunday our Ordinary Form English High Mass at 11 AM, and a traditional Latin Missa Cantata at 12:30 PM.
It also marks something else this year: the resumption of the Sunday and Holy Day Mass Obligation for all Catholics above the age of reason ( 7 years old) that has been suspended since March 2020. This of course was due to the height of the Covid pandemic that was feared at that time.
I will be quite honest with you: I had personally hoped that this binding canonical Obligation would be allowed to lapse for the foreseeable future.
This might surprise you.
Let me explain.
While I do of course believe that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and a worthy reception of Communion is THE fundamental expression of an integral and true Catholic life, as well as a reasonably regular Confession; the fact remains that LONG before the Covid “shut down” during which for four months EVERY Catholic was in effect denied the Sacraments, about 80% of all self-described Catholics in our parish, diocese, and indeed throughout the country infrequently, rarely, or almost never, attended Sunday Mass. This percentage is shown in every poll one sees.
As a parish priest I, like most of my brethren, had simply come to accept the fact that a very large majority of my parishioners were “in noncompliance” with a precept of the Church and her Canon Law and customs on an habitual basis. This was despite so many organized “campaigns”, meetings, instructions, sermons, and liturgies designed to appeal to specific groups, etc. This cognitive dissonance breeds a certain cynicism and discouragement.
It was particularly in sharp focus at many Funeral Masses, Weddings, First Holy Communions, and Confirmations at which clearly rarely-practicing, never-practicing, unprepared persons were de facto expected, indeed, invited, to present themselves for Holy Communion. The atmosphere at such celebrations was often noisy, confusing, and hardly reverent.
As we emerged last June from the total “shut down” I began to notice something: the congregations gradually increased, and were composed of Catholics who voluntarily, and by a conscious decision returned to Mass, even when, at first, there was no Communion of the Faithful. Traditional and ancient concepts such as “Spiritual Communion”, smaller Confirmations administered locally “outside of Mass”, Funeral Masses with no general “come one, come all “ Communions, First Holy Communion Masses shorn of large crowds, special gimmicks, and focused entirely on the CHILD receiving Holy Communion under the loving eyes of their parents and close relatives, all created a much more reverent and peaceful liturgical life. This benefits not only the “practicing”, but the infrequent visitor as well.
Our numbers have grown back gradually, and happily, with some adjustments to former practices, that more peaceful, and prayerful atmosphere has been maintained.
Let me go back to why I hoped the Obligation would have allowed to stay dispensed: as of next Sunday, once again, thousands of non-practicing Catholics will once officially be deemed in serious violation of a binding Church law which they have taken lightly or ignored on an habitual basis for decades.
A strict interpretation would hold that they are assumed to be in a state of mortal sin if this non-compliance is conscious and deliberate.
Yet many still come to the parish for pivotal moments, both happy and sad, however infrequent.
It has been said that a law reminds to do out of obligation what on our good days we would do voluntarily.
I pray it will be so.
So, as a priest and pastor I remind you that as a faithful Catholic attendance at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation in person is a basic obligation, not an option.
(As before, sickness, disability, physical or moral impossibility, and a fear of contagion are all legitimate excuses by virtue of the Law itself.)
With my prayerful thoughts, and in Our Blessed Lady,
PS: As of this writing ( August 2nd) we are now hearing about a possible return to mandatory masks, restrictions, etc due to emerging “variations” of the Covid-19 virus.
Who knows what the situation will be by the time you read this?
One thing is clear from history, governments rarely if ever voluntarily renounce “emergency” powers acquired over their populations.
If it comes to that, I hope the bishops of the United States will take a more critical approach to the demands of often hostile and unfriendly civic authorities than hitherto.