Saturday, May 20, 2017

Christians Are Commanded to Worship Together on Sundays and Holy Days: Why Should We Trust the Church's Teaching Authority?

Sometime back, I got into a discussion with someone regarding the Baltimore Catechism and how it has been an effective supplement for me as a catechist in teaching my students in our parish's religious education program. The pictures inside are remembered by many Catholics of a certain age, and these pictures, and their explanations in Q&A format, made it easy for the kids to understand the reality of the Eucharist during our first Holy Communion prep for 5th-7th graders. The Baltimore Catechism is the perfect supplement to any textbook series a catechist today uses.

However, as the discussion went on, one Catholic person expressed how he disliked some of the pictures and ideas presented in the Baltimore Catechism. This led to a discussion on whether all Christians are obligated to pay due worship to God, by assisting at Mass on Sundays or Holy Days, under pain of mortal sin. This further led into us discussing whether the teaching authority of the Church (the Magisterium) has clearly stated such an obligation to all Christians, and if those same Christians should pay heed.

I think it needs to be said that many non-Catholic Christians, specifically those of an Evangelical or non-denominational bent, eschew corporate worship. They believe that a "Jesus and me" relationship is the only real requirement anyone needs for eternal life, and that if one misses worship with their brothers and sisters on a particular Sunday, it's not a big deal. Clearly, such persons have made only a cursory reading of Scripture. For if they really had delved into the Scriptures, it would be apparent that not only are we obligated to worship our Lord each Sabbath day, but we are to do so corporately. The thought process goes something like this:

1. The relationship between me and Jesus is the most important thing there is, and one doesn't need the Church to have a relationship with Jesus.
2. This must mean it's the only thing I'm really required and obligated to focus on in regards to entering eternal life.
3. So if I miss worshipping with my brothers and sisters in Christ on Sundays, it's not really a big deal.
4. Therefore, I am not required to assist at Mass on Sundays.

Unfortunately, the jump from "1" to "2" does not prove what a relationship with Christ entails. Not to mention, the jump from "3" to "4" is untenable, because who has decided it's "not really a big deal"? Furthermore, who has decided that we are not obligated to keep the Third Commandment, "Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy"? This is the problematic thought process we've received from many Evangelical Christians; it's seeped into the practice of more than a few Catholics who no longer feel it's necessary to corporately worship each Sunday and holy day. As Patrick Madrid puts it in his book Any Friend of God's Is a Friend of Mine:
"Me and Jesus" Christianity isn't biblical"
St. Paul said, "[W]e, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another" (Rom. 12:5). Catholics believe membership in Christ's Body means a personal relationship with Jesus and, through Him, with all Christians. 
Although Protestants may agree with this in theory, in application most of them (this is especially true of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists) promote an individualistic "me and Jesus" version of Christianity, teaching that the only thing ultimately important is one's own relationship with Christ, independent of any relationship to anyone else. While it may pay lip service to the communion of saints, in reality most of Protestantism ignores the organic bond of unity between the Christian faithful..."
Excerpt from the Baltimore Catechism
The "me and Jesus" mentality is indeed "individualistic", flying in the face of Scripture; so how anyone can think worshipping with our brothers and sisters is a trivial matter has obviously not read or reflected on what St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He actually scolds other Christians for thinking they don't need other Christians, emphases mine:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ...  For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, ...those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor... 
But God has so adjusted the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Cor. 12: 12, 14-15, 18-27)
Many Christians, Catholic or not, talk about caring for the needs of other people as Christ instructed, but then they forget about how we need to develop an even deeper relationship with our brothers and sisters since we are all incorporated into the same Body of Christ. This need... this relationship, which is developed concretely at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and our partaking of the Eucharist, must no longer be forgotten. The spread of this individualistic notion of a "personal relationship" with Jesus at the expense of His Body, of His spotless Bride (cf. Rev. 22:17; Eph. 5:26-27), needs to be curbed. We, as Christians, must assist at the Mass so that we may keep the Sabbath holy by giving due worship to God, and we also must worship corporately so that we "may have the same care for one another."

Below is my discussion, with my interlocutor's words in red, mine in blue, and various other commenters in different colors.

Tom: Some [pictures in the Baltimore Catechism] are OK. But not the one showing people drinking blood squirting out of Jesus's side. That's disgusting. Also not sure about a few things that seem extreme, such as missing a Sunday mass is a mortal sin and condemns you to Hell if you die before going to confession. Most churches are more relaxed now, not so self-serving.

Jo: The Church of nice might boost your ego but read the current catechism, it is still a serious sin to miss Mass on Sunday. Hell yes!

Harriet: It's a commandment,not a request,so it would be a mortal sin to miss Mass.

Nicholas: Tom, try watching this short video from the late Cardinal Francis George:

Also, the relevant passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) that Marcy mentioned:
The Sunday obligation 
2180 The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass." 
"The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day."
2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

Emily: Yep. It's mortal. Yes it is scary teaching that to Confirmation kids who only go Christmas and Easter. We have to talk about how to get a ride to mass when your family is busy. Learning early how to evangelize without judging. Asking for a ride to Mass is different from telling your parents they are going to hell.

Tom: I don't know who or when this was decided but I kind of doubt it's true. Consistently missing mass might eventually separate you from God and lead to other mortal sins but I doubt skipping one mass is a mortal sin. Especially if the person still loves God, doesn't start worshiping idols, and still does spiritual activities on Sunday, such as reading or watching something spiritual on TV. Even priests in the confessional have said that it's not necessary to go every week but try to go at least 2-3 times per month.

Harry: But God said that we must keep the Sabbath holy! It is a commandment, mandatory, and a duty for us humans and most specially Catholics. There are some exceptions for those not attending Mass on Sunday, specially for those who can't, like the sick. But if you can attend and don't have physical disabilities, why not go? Even those in wheelchairs still want to attend Mass. In the Mass you worship God, and that is your work as a Catholic.

Tom: Going to mass is optimal. But there are other ways to keep it holy. Ideally, more people would go not out of obligation or fear, but because they'd get so much out of it and feel closer to God. There's a lot that could be done to improve the whole experience. Unfortunately, almost all the changes mandated in the past 20 years, especially changing all the wording, have made things worse. I would have preferred they brought back the Latin mass.

Nicholas: "Ideally, more people would go not out of obligation or fear, but because they'd get so much out of it and feel closer to God."

I agree with this wholeheartedly, Tom. However, it's not a bad thing to have obligations. I take care of my kids because I love them, I get a lot out of being around them, and taking care of them makes me feel closer to them. But I'm also obligated to do this because I'm their parent.

It's the same thing with honoring our Lord. I'd like to know what priests have told you that you can only go 2-3 times a month, but they are wrong. Seriously wrong. We do have an obligation to participate in the Mass, because we are one body. Doing spiritual things by yourself on Sunday or a Holy Day of Obligation instead of with your local Church contradicts the communal, Christian way of life. Remember that attending Mass on Sunday and Holy Days is one of the Precepts of the Church. Also remember, the priest says during Mass, "Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to the Father." The priest makes this sacrifice on our behalf... but he can't do that if we're not there! If the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life, to not attend the Sacrifice of the Mass on Sunday, and instead simply do some other random devotion, doesn't cut it. Why would we willingly cut ourselves off from the source and summit of life, Tom? And here's what the Church teaches about the precepts, straight from the CCC:
2041: The precepts of the Church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by liturgical life. The obligatory character of these positive laws decreed by the pastoral authorities is meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.
Going to Sunday Mass is more than just "optimal"; it's indispensable! This doesn't come from a bunch of random guys, Tom. If we as Catholic Christians believe that Jesus and the Church are one, and that He is the Head of the Church, then it's obvious these teaching of the Church come from Christ Himself.

Tom: It was a more modern, young priest. And I'm not saying it's good or even OK to skip mass. It's probably a sin. I just don't think it's a mortal sin. If it is, why isn't the Pope and every bishop and priest telling everyone that? They barely talk about sin at all, or judgement, or Hell. The more modern way to look at it is that you end up in a Hell of your own making because you reject Christ to the very end. An otherwise good Christian doesn't just end up in Hell for something so minor as skipping mass one Sunday. If so, almost everyone would be going to Hell. I find a lot of these people so eager to condemn everyone to Hell are utter hypocrites and totally ignore sins they themselves commit.

Nicholas: Some people might be hypocrites, Tom, but then we just have to redouble our efforts and be good witnesses for others. But truth is truth; you're on the right track thinking it's not ok to miss Mass, but I think I've shown you that doing so (willingly) is a mortal sin. Skipping Mass is not minor. Look at the language used by the Church. It's "grave" to skip; to participate in the Mass is an "indispensable minimum" each and every Catholic must do. Have you watched that video of Cardinal George I posted earlier? He's one bishop that did tell everyone that.

You raise a good point though Tom: some of our leaders aren't saying enough about the things you listed. You have to keep one thing in mind though: the Magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church) is clear on the three things you listed. But sometimes, our priests, and even our bishops ignore these things, or sweep them under the rug to the faithful's detriment.

St. Athanasius
Remember, in the 4th century, a majority of bishops in the Catholic Church accepted and promoted Arianism. That's the heresy that taught that Jesus was not God; that He was not divine. The leadership was so bad that one bishop, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, lamented, "Has the whole world turned Arian?!"

Everyone has free will to accept, reject or become ambivalent to the teaching of the Church. Unfortunately, that includes priests too. I encourage you to study the CCC along with the Bible; learn what the Church really teaches. You've seen it here plainly in this thread. Cardinal George in his video proved that what your young priest told you was incorrect. If you have any other questions on a different subject or anything else to discuss, feel free to message me at any time.

Harriet: Very true Nick! Tom, if you are. Catholic, then you follow the Magisterium no? They say it is a grave sin. If you want to disagree, then why not find a different church? [The Church] is not changing their teaching to fit modernity. Also tho...for a sin to be mortal it must meet 3 conditions. One of which is full knowledge which I do not think most missing Sunday Mass have. Let's pray they learn more and read their Catechism! 

Tom:  Harriet, I do happen to disagree, with this and a few other things. Lucky for me, and the Church, you are allowed to disagree with the Magisterium on certain things and still remain a Catholic. 

A person's life is important but nobody is actually worthy. Salvation is a gift - grace. It comes from faith, not works, and is not lost on technicalities.

Nicholas:  Tom, sin is not a technicality. That's what one does when they willfully skip Mass. You're making an error similar to those of the Protestant reformers. The Catholic Christian teaching has always been that salvation comes from grace alone, a gift just as you said. But under this system of grace in the New Covenant, we must show our love for God by our faith in Him and in our works that must be modeled after the 10 Commandments. [For reference's sake, to the point Tom made that "Salvation... comes from faith, not works":

Council of Trent, Session VI, Canon IX.-If any one says, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.]

If salvation comes from faith, then it would appear that you don't have faith in the Magisterium since you find what is said in the Catechism to be incorrect. Is this the case for you? Again, we've showed what the teaching of the Church is. Do you actively dissent from that teaching? And you can't use the example of that young priest, as his opinion has already been proven wrong by Cardinal Francis George, and the CCC on this thread alone. I'll ask again, is it a sin to miss Mass? Leave mortal and venial out of it for now.

Tom: When you start calling almost everything a mortal sin, it loses its meaning and the Church loses credibility. So I'd be very careful. On top of that, it changes people's perception of God in ways that aren't helpful. We'll know the truth eventually.

Nicholas: Who's calling almost everything a mortal sin? It would seem in your mind the Church has already lost credibility.

We already know the truth, Tom, yet you keep trying to back peddle from it because it doesn't "feel right" to you. You originally said that it "seems extreme" that missing Mass intentionally is a mortal sin. These are all subjective feelings of yours. You don't base them on the objective teaching of the Church. You have yet to show how any of the sources we've provided in this thread are incorrect. If the CCC is incorrect, and does not present objective truth, I ask in all honesty, please show me. I still encourage you to study more deeply what our Catholic faith actually teaches. There are many great resources available.

We have to stop putting the objective teachings of the Magisterium against our own subjective feelings and opinions of what sin is. I leave you with these wise words from Pope St. John Paul II:
"Since the Magisterium of the Church was created by Christ the Lord to enlighten conscience, then to appeal to that conscience precisely to contest the truth of what is taught by the Magisterium implies rejection of the Catholic concept both of the Magisterium and moral conscience. To speak about the inviolable dignity of conscience without further specification, runs the risk of errors... 
"The Church’s Magisterium is among the means which Christ’s redeeming love has provided to avoid this danger of error. In his name it has a real teaching authority. Therefore, it cannot be said that the faithful have embarked on a diligent search for truth if they do not take into account what the Magisterium teaches, or if, by putting it on the same level as any other source of knowledge, one makes oneself judge, or if in doubt, one follows one’s own opinion or that of theologians, preferring it to the sure teaching of the Magisterium.”
Pope St. John Paul II
Tom: Nicholas, I'd be a little humble about how much of the truth we actually know. You do understand there's a difference between the Magisterium and God himself. And you understand that the Magisterium does not actually condemn people to Hell. That is reserved for God.

Nicholas: Tom, I understand there's a lot we don't know, but there have been many things revealed to us through the Church, such as the point you're arguing about mortal sin. You seem to be downplaying the connection between the Magisterium and God. If the Magisterium is the teaching authority of the Church, then we are talking about an attribute of the Church. And I think we both know who the Bride of Christ is...

Consider what the CCC says about the Magisterium:
"890. The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium's task to preserve God's people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates."
I don't know how much farther we can take this, because I sincerely think you should study more about our common Catholic faith. It's obvious to all Catholics that God alone judges, but the Magisterium guides us so that we do not face condemnation at the end of our earthly lives. Also from the CCC:
"86. [The] Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully."
I encourage you to probe more deeply into what the relationship between the Church and its teaching authority is. The teachings regarding our participation weekly at Holy Mass are handed to us from God Himself. The Magisterium gives an objective interpretation of God's Word; you keep giving me a subjective take. Re-read the citations given throughout this thread, and do some more of your own web searches. I hope your research is fruitful.

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