Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 14, 2008
What qualifies as a Sunday Mass?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
The 1985 Code requires that Catholics participate in the Mass.
I'd like to add a bit of history. Early Christians continued to observe the Sabbath, the last day of the week, as a day of rest in accordance with the creation story and the commandments.
But soon after Jesus' resurrection, they also began to gather for a weekly commemoration of the paschal mystery to follow his command and to keep alive his memory and presence. This celebration was held in homes and in the context of a meal, as was the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
This special day, which commemorated Jesus' Sunday resurrection, began at sunset on Saturday. So, likely the first Sunday observances were on Saturday evening with the Sabbath meal and the "breaking of the bread" in accordance to Jesus' wishes.
Early in the second century, their celebration was moved to Sunday, which may have been due to the acceptance of Gentiles who had no need to keep the Sabbath ritual as did the Jewish Christians. It was held before dawn, as Sunday was an ordinary workday.
In addition, the empire's suspicion of evening activities may have played a role. The celebration consisted of prayers, hymns, readings, instruction and the Eucharist. By 165, the Eucharist had a form that we would recognize as our Mass today.
In the first century, Sunday was called the Lord's Day and it is still the Church's official title. It was dedicated to the risen Christ who is above all earthly lords, including the emperor.
The name Sunday, which comes from pagan worship of the sun, is appropriate since the sun is life-giving as Christ is. Also Christ is recognized as the "light of the world" (John 8:12), "light of revelation to the Gentiles" (Luke 2:32), "true light - who enlightens every person" (John 1:9).
In the early Church, there were no strict regulations about Sunday Mass participation although it was expected of all the baptized. Of course, this small group of Christians was eager to gather together to follow Jesus' command at the Last Supper and for prayer and mutual support.
Their needs were no different than ours. We need to pray and grow in our faith as a community to become more fully Christ and more fully human.
By the 13th century, it had become required of all Catholics to attend Sunday Mass unless a serious reason prevented them. This became a universal obligation in the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
The 1985 Code requires that Catholics participate in the Mass. Therefore, we are expected not only to be physically present but to participate as well.
Isn't it strange that we have to be obliged to go to celebrate the Mass? We should be wanting, yes, begging to go with a great desire for the Eucharist. Each Eucharistic celebration is a re-presentation of Christ's giving of himself totally to the Father for us, particularly in his death and resurrection and it is a loving following of Jesus' wishes at the last Supper.
It is the source and summit of our Christian life. By the Mass, we are to be transformed, as Paul tells us so well, so that we can live in Christ, for Christ and with Christ and, in this way, be Christ for others.
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