Keeping the Lord’s day

Father, what does “holy day of obligation” mean? And how serious is it to miss a Sunday mass?

Every Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, when Christ rose from the dead. The church celebrates the Paschal mystery every seventh day, which is also a memorial of the first day of creation, and the “eighth day,” on which Christ after his “rest” inaugurates the “day that the Lord has made”. The disciples gathered every Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist (Acts 20:7), and it was on a Sunday they received the Holy Spirit and witnessed the birth of the New Testament Church on Pentecost day. Faith in the risen Lord is the foundation of Christian life. The Eucharist on Sundays unfolds and deepens this faith within the liturgical community, where we perceive ourselves as the Church.

I’ll be so blunt to ask why would anyone call himself a Christian, if the resurrection is not lived out on a regular basis? For us, the Sunday emphasizes our dependence on God for everything and affirms the fact that everything belongs to God, even time. And from a human perspective we understand that we need rest every week.

Since the circumstances vary in the global community of Christians, the Church only offers generals principles. According to the state of life, every Christian need to assess how they can fulfil the obligation to attend mass and do their best to abstain from work “that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body” (Canon 1247).

Does this mean you can’t do your laundry or need to quit your job at the hospital? The Church urge us to arrange our Sunday – to plan ahead – in a way that allow us to sanctify it and fill it with the characteristic joy. Can you attend mass early morning or evening? Could you slowly reschedule Sunday errands to another day, one by one? On the other hand, St. John Paul II makes it clear that Sunday is not a day to do nothing or be bored. “It must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion”. In addition to attend mass and build up the Christian community, you could spend time with friends and family, enjoy outdoor activities or appropriate forms of culture and entertainment. If you enjoy a skill, like cooking or gardening, this day is an opportunity to let yourself flourish in spirit and body. The Church Fathers used “rest” to signify freedom from sin, but the Church has no general regulation on recreation to avoid (in contrast to puritan Protestants/Sabbatarians).

But if you fail to plan, and just find yourself not going to mass for no grave reasons, you have actually sinned and should go to confession before receiving communion again. Even when you are completely prevented from going, the desire of God’s closeness should be there. Perhaps you could

Every Sunday is a “holy day of obligation”. In addition, we have other important solemnities when the faithful are expected to attend mass and rest. In 1642 Pope Urban VIII greatly reduced the feasts of obligation exclusive of Sundays to 36, and today we are left with 10: Christmas, the Epiphany, the Ascension, the Body and Blood of Christ, Mary, Mother of God, her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption, St. Joseph, SS. Peter and Paul, and All Saints. In Norway the obligation traditionally only applied to Christmas day and the Ascension, while the other solemnities were moved to a Sunday.  But a few years ago, Bishop Eidsvig decided that Solemnities should be celebrated on their respective (week)days, and encouraged the faithful to attend mass. We don’t live in a Catholic country, where for instance 8th of December is a public holiday, and it seems like it’s not, strictly speaking, a day of obligation in our diocese. But at least now you cannot say that you didn’t know you ought to go to Church on our Patron fest day (15th of July) or the 8th of December, when we celebrate the Immaculate Conception.

– Deacon Josef

Further reading: St. John Paul II, Dies Domini (The Lord’s Day), 1998.