Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reason #1: A Distaste for Obligation

"When I was young, I went to Mass because I had to.  Now, I go to Mass because I want to." 

It is rare these days to hear a pastor declare, "You must go to Mass."  Actually, it is rare these days to hear a pastor declare that you must do just about anything. 

Sometimes the phrasing is softened for contemporary sensibilities: "We are to do what God has asked of us."  We "invite" our fellow Catholics to do this-or-that.  Sometimes a prophetic or vocational dimension is highlighted: "We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly."  (I have daydreamed about taking this popular hymn and rewriting it for the First Precept of the Church: "We are called to Mass on Sundays, we are called to cease laboring...")

It is not that priests consider Sunday Mass to be unimportant.  The Eucharist is all-important to most every priest.  However, the element of obligation strikes many priests as well as their parishioners as an outdated and immature notion, as something more fitting for children than for adults, a view of Christian discipleship that is contrary to the God-given freedom to choose whether and how to worship God.

Still, is it not "right" to give Him thanks and praise?  And if, indeed, we are called to "act with justice," is it not an act of justice toward God  --  who has created us, redeemed us, and sanctified us  --  that we offer Him fitting worship?  There are many obligations in life  -- fidelity to one's spouse, for example  -- which need not stunt a mature, free, and sincere self-offering. 

There is no good reason why we cannot, or should not, worship God both because we wish to and because we ought to.


  1. Amen, Father!

    I think the concept of obligation is increasingly foreign to our culture which champions individualism, emotion, and instant gratification. Perhaps because of this many priests are afraid of speaking of our obligations as Catholics because they fear losing parishioners. If that's the case, I think they're (mostly) wrong: most people will respond to a standard or set of obligations by rising to meet them. The exception might be where a parish has been heterodox for so long that the introduction of anything smelling like faithful Catholicism will drive them off (St. Stephen's in Mpls., for example).

  2. Amen Father, do not be afraid to speak the truth! As a lay member sitting in the pews, let me say I am craving the truth, and for guidance on how to love God with all my heart and soul. After all, our number one goal in life should be to reach heaven, not to dance around the truth in the name of political correctness.

    Austringer, I believe inside all of us is a thirst for the truth, and once the truth is spoken, even parishioners of heterodox churches will stay and listen. Sure, you will see a few very vocal members parade out the door, but I have to believe it is a minority. It seems to me that the most vocal protests almost always come from the minority.

  3. It's very helpful to have an obligation; it puts steel in my backbone.

    Looking at how few people still abstain from meat on Fridays shows what a difference an obligation can make.

  4. Hmm, that rewrite might just redeem that song! ;-) And we could sing it at CCD with all the kids, too!
    (I have already a set of verses to the tune of "Let My People Go" and the refrain goes: Every Week, We Give Thanks To God. The verses are the various parts of Mass...well, only 5-7 b/c "my kids" are 1st graders.)
    Best to you!

  5. Anonymous,

    I agree that we all have a thirst for the truth within us (sometimes buried quite deep, and popular culture distracts many). However, I'm afraid that the case of St. Stephen's in Minneapolis belies your second comment: it was NOT a minority that walked out the door. I believe they lost about 80%, and were left with a mostly poor, Hispanic parish (which Fr. Williams pastors with great zeal and love).

  6. These sunday Mass homilies have been my #1 harrangue over the past two years at my current parish where less that 19% attend weekly. My favorite line is "What part of the Third Commandment don't you understand?"