Together, we form the Church.
This is the time of year we all await. Winter is long. Summer is very welcome. That is even more the case this year because we have been anxiously awaiting not only good weather but also relief from the burden of the pandemic caused by COVID-19. It has been a challenging and different time these last 16 months. People have experienced great pain and suffering. There was anxiety about the strength of this virus and its terrible toll on human life. Few of us are not touched by the loss of a family member or a friend. At this moment, however, we see the light. We are finding our footing and moving forward. Vaccines have been the instrument of progress. We can be grateful for the ingenuity of the scientists who have worked on these. Of course, we are equally grateful for all those who helped us to cope with this crisis. They were beacons of hope in the darkness of the pandemic.
Today, we are in a new place. In June, we opened our churches and invited everyone to return to Mass. As a sign of the progress we have made, we reinstated the obligation for attending Mass on Sundays and holy days. It reminds us of an important part of our Catholic life. As is always the case, the obligation, of course, does not apply to those who have serious reasons for not attending. These can include those who are sick or at high risk for the COVID-19 illness or those who might be caring for someone at such high risk. Many of us, however, have resumed our life. We are going into grocery stores and restaurants. We need also to be returning to church. It is an ancient practice that is at the heart of our faith in God.
I thought it might be worthwhile to share some reflection on what this obligation means. It is, first of all, more than a law or a command. It is among those “words” that we believe are engraved on our hearts. We call those words the commandments. They give guidance in conducting our lives in accord with our human dignity and with a profound respect for that dignity in others. In living according to the commandments, we acknowledge that we were created by God and are sustained each day in His creative love. On Sunday, in accord with the Third Commandment, we keep holy the Sabbath; we pause to remind ourselves of that belief. Sunday is an opportunity to give thanks and praise to God for His goodness to us, but it is also a chance to know ourselves. We are created beings, the greatest temptation we face is the wish to be God. Was that not what tripped up Adam and Eve? The Evil One told them they would be like gods. No, no one of us is God. When we take time to pause and worship God, we remind ourselves of that. And as we do, we kindle within ourselves the virtue of humility. We take the time of prayer at Mass on Sunday to bring our struggles to the One who created us and to ask His help and grace to live as He wishes us to. What does God want from me? How does God call me to live in His love?
There is a second aspect to the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday. It relates to our relationships with each other. In most of the conversations I have had during the pandemic, people told me that one of the most difficult parts of this time has been the isolation. We have genuinely missed the company of others. I hope we will take time to store that memory. We live in a culture that extols the need to actualize the self. There is even a magazine which has SELF as its name. The isolation of the pandemic has helped us to remember that we are made for one another. God has created us as social beings. We have a responsibility for our own care, but we also need each other. The loss we felt during the pandemic when we could not gather is not just a case of missing one another. It was an experience of a loss of community.
And for us, the inability to gather for Mass on Sunday morning was a loss of our sense of being a part of the community of the Church, which sees our coming together as God’s people at Mass not just as a nice way to be together but as a sacred duty we have to each other. Together, we form the Church, and when we worship together at Eucharist, we believe that we will find Jesus in our community. We find Him in the bread and wine which become for us His body and blood. But we also find Him in our coming together as we hear Him tell us, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst” (Mt 18:20).
I will close with words from St. John Paul II writing about Sunday as the Lord’s Day: “Time given to Christ is never time lost but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human.”
See you on Sunday!
Bishop Robert Deeley
12th Bishop of Portland