March 27, 2008
Two generations ago, Sunday was a special day in most families. No work. No shopping. A special meal. Some recreation. Sunday worship was part of a rhythm of life. Yet, there have been many changes that have altered this pattern of life.
Americans now work the equivalent of one month more per year than twenty years ago. They have less leisure time than people in France and Germany. Blue laws that once kept stores closed on Sundays are all but gone. Americans spend more than three times as many hours shopping as Europeans. They shop with ease on Sunday. As a result, Sunday has become just like any other day of the week.
Sunday has lost its unique place in the week as the Lord’s Day. Gallup polls indicate that Mass attendance peaked in 1957-58. From a high of 74% in the 1950’s, it has declined to 40%. But these polls may not be accurate. When questioned in a poll, many people often try to give the “right” answer to the question. For example, a poll by
Barna Research showed that 17% of American adults
say that they tithe -- i.e. they give 10% of their income to their Church. Only 3% do.
In actuality, the numbers of people attending church on Sunday is much less than the polls say. In Protestant churches, 21% of the people attend religious services during a typical week. Catholics attending Sunday Mass add up to a slightly higher 25.4% of the faithful.
Some people do not go to church on Sunday simply because they are not self-disciplined. Some deliberately avoid church because they feel alienated by Church teaching. Others stay away because they “don’t get anything out of it.” They should get something from going to church. But going to church is primarily about giving worship to God. Perhaps our culture is too narcissistic.
Our culture has idolized freedom. In such a context, the very notion of obligation and duty disappear. Many people simply do not relate to the sense of obligation for Sunday worship inherent in the Christian life. An obligation that springs from love, not fear. Those who love each other cannot endure absence.
Ultimately, whatever the reasons given, non-attendance at the Sunday liturgy reflects a faith that is not mature or informed. According to the
National Catholic Reporter’s 2004 survey, a large majority of Catholics said they could be good Catholics without attending Mass every week. These individuals have sadly lost the special place that Sunday Eucharist has in the life of faith. “Sunday is a day which is at the very heart of the Christian life” (
Dies Domini, 7).
Being Christian means belonging to community. It is not enough for a Catholic simply to pray by his or herself and stay away from Sunday Eucharist. We are not saved as isolated individuals. Through baptism, we die to sin, rise to new life and are made members of the Body of Christ.
The new life given us in baptism is a sharing in the very life of God. As God is the
communio of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, so our sharing in this divine life is a
communio. We are drawn into the communion of life of the divine persons and into deeper communion with each other.
Joining others for Mass on Sunday is an expression of this communal dimension of faith. We are part of a family of believers. Sunday Eucharist expresses our very identity as the Church. We are the
ekklesia, that is, the assembly of those whom The Risen Lord calls together to make his one Body.
In the Eucharist, Christ joins us to himself in the very moment of his offering his life for our salvation on the Cross. He makes present among us his perfect worship of God. He draws us out of time into the eternal worship of the saints in heaven.
Our liberal culture places great emphasis on individual freedom. It recoils from any restriction on the ability to choose for oneself, to determine for oneself what is good and right, to live for oneself. But the Christian faith by its very nature is not individualistic. Christian life can never be lived apart from the community. We lived united with the faithful on earth and the saints in heaven.
The divine life given us through the Risen Lord, “this real life towards which we try to reach out again and again, is linked to a lived union with a ‘people’ and for each individual it can only be attained within this ‘we.’ It presupposes that we escape from the prison of our ‘I,’ because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself—to God” (
Spe Salvi, 14).
As Christ made himself known to the apostles gathered together in the Upper Room on the first day of the week, every Sunday he makes himself known in
our midst through Word and Sacrament. Thus, every Sunday “echoes the joy — at first uncertain and then overwhelming — which the Apostles experienced on the evening of that same day, when they were visited by the Risen Jesus and received the gift of his peace and of his Spirit…” (
Dies Domini, 1). Why would anyone who knows this not go to Sunday Mass?
This is the fourth of a series of articles on “Reclaiming the Lord’s Day as Sacred.”