Today we begin a look at four sections that cover the “Sunday obligation.” Clearly, modern believers take the obligation of “every Sunday” less seriously than some of former generations. On the other hand, the people who do attend Mass receive the Eucharist more regularly, and many receive more devoutly than people of, say, more than a century ago.
46. Since the Eucharist is the very heart of Sunday, it is clear why, from the earliest centuries, the Pastors of the Church have not ceased to remind the faithful of the need to take part in the liturgical assembly. “Leave everything on the Lord’s Day”, urges the third century text known as the Didascalia, “and run diligently to your assembly, because it is your praise of God. Otherwise, what excuse will they make to God, those who do not come together on the Lord’s Day to hear the word of life and feed on the divine nourishment which lasts forever?”.(II, 59, 2-3: ed. F. X. Funk, 1905, pp. 170-171) The faithful have generally accepted this call of the Pastors with conviction of soul and, although there have been times and situations when this duty has not been perfectly met, one should never forget the genuine heroism of priests and faithful who have fulfilled this obligation even when faced with danger and the denial of religious freedom, as can be documented from the first centuries of Christianity up to our own time.
We can call it obligation. And we would be correct. Believers harm their sisters and brothers by their absence more than God. Inactive believers also harm themselves. They miss great opportunities to encounter the Lord Jesus in ways they will not find outside of liturgy. People have acted heroically in the face of persecution and the lack of clergy to honor God on Sundays. Perhaps those witnesses seem lame in comparison to the many diversions available in modern Western leisure. How to motivate an active Sunday assembly of Christians? I don’t have all the answers for that. We can probably agree that far fewer Catholics are frightened into attending Mass.
And there are others frightened into not celebrating Mass:
In his first Apology addressed to the Emperor Antoninus and the Senate, Saint Justin proudly described the Christian practice of the Sunday assembly, which gathered in one place Christians from both the city and the countryside.(Cf. Apologia I, 67, 3-5: PG 6, 430) When, during the persecution of Diocletian, their assemblies were banned with the greatest severity, many were courageous enough to defy the imperial decree and accepted death rather than miss the Sunday Eucharist. This was the case of the martyrs of Abitina, in Proconsular Africa, who replied to their accusers: “Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law”; “We cannot live without the Lord’s Supper”. As she confessed her faith, one of the martyrs said: “Yes, I went to the assembly and I celebrated the Lord’s Supper with my brothers and sisters, because I am a Christian”.(Acta SS. Saturnini, Dativi et aliorum plurimorum Martyrum in Africa, 7, 9, 10: PL 8, 707, 709-710)