Sadly, there are a number of Catholics who don’t want to go to Mass. Even more sadly, there are also a number of Catholics who don’t go to Mass. Other than those who can’t go due to legitimate obligations or problems, most of these Catholics probably either a) don’t understand what really goes on at Mass, or b) don’t appreciate what goes on at Mass. At the very least, I hope to help you to understand the central part of the Mass, and why it’s so important to be present for it; from there, you might come to appreciate it … but that part rests more on your contemplation of God’s love.
Okay, so the first thing to understand is that the Catholic Church teaches that a Catholic who misses Sunday Mass without a legitimate reason has done something that is grave matter (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2181). This means that, if the Catholic does this freely and with knowledge of its being grave matter, that Catholic commits a mortal sin (see CCC, 1856-1857), which “turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude” (CCC, 1855)–and thus turns him away from his own salvation.
Stuff’s getting serious here.
But why? Why is it such a big deal to not go to church for an hour on Sunday? Isn’t that a little much, to be severed from salvation for something seemingly so small? (And isn’t that alliteration really lame?)
Quite the contrary! It may seem surprising, but this is actually a very realistic consequence; for it really is exactly what people who miss Sunday Mass are choosing for themselves….
In order to make sense of this, I must finally come to my point. Now consider this: when the Eucharist is offered at the altar, Christ’s sacrifice occurs right there before the congregation. Now please don’t misunderstand that: it doesn’t mean that Jesus is re-sacrificed. What it means is that His one, eternal sacrifice for each of us is re-presented at Mass. The same eternal sacrifice occurs right then at the altar just as it occurred all those years ago on Calvary. (See CCC, 1366-1367).
This is a downright amazing thing. But why is it so important to be there for it?
Think of it this way: if a Catholic refuses to go to Mass, he refuses to go to Christ’s sacrifice, which is one of the very most central parts of his faith, the offering that frees him from the powers of death and sin. Refusing to go to something is the same as staying away from something; thus, the Catholic who stays away from Mass stays away from Christ’s sacrifice. Staying away from Christ’s sacrifice means staying away from that which makes it possible for one to be granted salvation. What more direct way could there be to cut oneself off from salvation? A guy can try to do all the good works he wants; but if he stays away from Christ’s sacrifice, he willingly chooses to stay away from the very source of his hope of salvation.
Of course, since the Catholic Church offers Mass every day except for Good Friday, one might ask why it’s only required to attend Mass on Sunday instead of every day.
There’s no question that weekday Masses re-present the same sacrifice as Sunday Masses; but Sunday itself is different. Not only does it deal with another of the greatest aspects of the Catholic faith–Christ’s Resurrection–but it also represents the hope of a new creation; that is, the eighth day of creation, following God’s rest on the seventh day, the eighth day being when He makes all things anew and glorifies them, when He truly will make man God (see CCC, 2174, 460). This is His plan for all those who are saved; thus, this too is something we cannot afford to turn our backs on.
Perhaps you could think of all Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, then, as pertaining to events we can’t afford to miss out on. That isn’t to say that all of the events these days celebrate are re-presented in the way Christ’s sacrifice is through the Eucharist, but rather that the events behind them—like Christ’s sacrifice, and along with it in God’s plan—all pertain in a special way to our salvation. These events, then, are not optional for those Catholics want to be spared the eternal torment of hell; hence why it’s mandatory for Catholics to participate in their celebrations on the Holy Days signifying them.