Sunday Mass Obligation Explained 

Dear friends in Christ,

Last Friday February 12, Bishop Walkowiak announced that the suspension of the Sunday Mass obligation will be lifted beginning Thursday, February 18.  Therefore, this coming weekend, February 20-21, the first Sunday of Lent, the Sunday Mass obligation will again apply as it did before the pandemic.  We are still required to maintain social distancing, mask wearing, and so on, as before.  In order to accommodate the increased attendance, for the time being we are adding an 11:30 Sunday Mass.  We have set up radio transmission if we reach our capacity, in which case people can tune into the Mass from their car radio and come to the door to the church to receive communion.

What is the Sunday Mass obligation all about?  The Third Commandment is to keep holy the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11).  This includes setting this day (for Christians the Sabbath of course is Sunday) aside as a day of worship and of rest.  Part of what it means to be a faithful Catholic includes coming to Mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening for the Sunday Vigil Mass).  This has been referred to as an obligation that all Catholics must fulfill.  Intentionally failing to attend Sunday Mass without good reason (such as illness, caring for a sick family member, blizzards, etc.) is therefore a serious sin which should be confessed. However, in recent decades, the practice of coming to Mass every Sunday has sadly become less common across all Christian denominations, and for Catholics as well.  More and more, Sunday has become a day much like any other, filled with all kinds of activities.

Why is it important for Catholics to attend Mass every Sunday?  Briefly, the Mass is the highest and greatest prayer of the Church.  God has given us the Mass as the form of worship He most desires us to make to Him.  In it, we come together as a community of faith – not isolated individuals – to worship the Lord, to hear His word, and to receive the Body and Blood of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Eucharist.  Our worship of the Lord sustains and nourishes us on our journey through this life.  Through the Mass, the Lord shares His grace, or His very life, with us.  It is a great gift and a great privilege for us; Catholics throughout the ages have died for the sake of the Mass.  We should regard it as the gift that it is, not as a burden, and make Sunday Mass the top priority in our week.  Going purely out of a sense of obligation is not at all a bad thing, but even better would be to go because it is an opportunity to worship the Lord as He most desires, and to receive His love.

The bishop as a successor to the apostles has been given the authority to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19).  This means, for example, that bishops can for good reason temporarily suspend our obligation to attend Sunday Mass.  (Priests however do not have the authority to do this.) Our bishop suspended the Sunday Mass obligation last March in response to the pandemic, meaning that all Catholics could choose to not attend Mass on Sunday due to the pandemic.  However, in line with many other dioceses in the country, Bishop Walkowiak has now seen fit to reinstate it.  This means that all Catholics should make a good faith effort to return to Sunday Mass.

There remain, however, some exceptions, which really are not that different from those that normally apply, i.e. health and other significant reasons – things that are essentially out of one’s control.  If for example, you find yourself on a Sunday far from a Catholic Church and without a car, you would not be guilty of a sin for missing Mass.  On the other hand, if you were particularly tired on a Sunday and decided you just didn’t feel like going, then – better get to confession!

Hopefully this helps in understanding what the Sunday Mass obligation is all about.

Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Bill

Lenten Resources

Dear friends in Christ,

The season of Lent is already upon us; tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  We will have five Ash Wednesday liturgies:

  • 8:00 am
  • 12:00 noon
  • 5:30 pm
  • 7:00 pm
  • 9:00 pm

Please note: only the 9:00 pm is a Mass; the others are a Liturgy of the Word with the distribution of ashes.

Ash Wednesday, along with Good Friday, is a day of fasting and abstinence.  Here is how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have defined fasting: eating no more than one full meal and two smaller meals which together do not equal a full meal.  Fasting is for all Catholics ages 14 through 59; it is voluntary for those older or younger.

Abstinence applies also to all Fridays in Lent (and technically to all Fridays throughout Ordinary Time and Advent as well).  This means refraining from eating meat.  This is for anyone age 14 and up.  If you already do not eat meat, then I would suggest abstaining from something else that you normally enjoy.

In addition, Lent is a penitential season in which we should be more intentional than usual about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  It is the perfect time to renew one’s daily prayer, perhaps to add a special prayer, do a little extra reading of Scripture or a good religious book.  Fasting is usually understood as “giving something up” – something that would be a genuine sacrifice.  And almsgiving of course means sharing one’s resources with the Church, the poor, and those in need.

The purpose of all of this – abstinence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, etc. – is not for the sake of taking the fun out of life, but rather so that we might prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday (also in preparation for our own death and resurrection).  So whatever you choose to do this Lent, do it first and foremost out of love for Our Lord Jesus Christ who suffered and died for our salvation.  When you feel a pang of hunger on one of the days of fasting, offer it up to Our Lord out of love for him and for anyone who might be hungry without choosing it.

Here are some good Lenten resources you might consider in order to grow closer to the Lord this Lent:

Please also note that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is available at these times:

  • Tues-Fri 5:00-5:30 pm
  • Tues 6:00-8:00 pm
  • Sat 9:00-9:30 am

And we have Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (Eucharistic Adoration) from 6:00-9:00 pm on Tuesdays, and Stations of the Cross at 6:00 pm on Fridays during Lent.

May you have a blessed and peaceful Lent

In Christ,
Fr. Bill

Discernment Opportunities

Are you discerning the priesthood?

‘Exploring the Priesthood’ is a discernment opportunity sponsored by the diocesan Office of Priestly Vocations. Time for prayer and reflection will be held monthly for young men (ages 16 – 35) to discern God’s will for their lives.  This year’s discernment opportunities will be offered on the following Sundays at noon: Feb. 21, March 21, April 18, and May 16.  If you are interested in joining these events, please email Pattie Reynolds in the Office of Priestly Vocations at preynolds@grdiocese.org.

Project Rachel

Project Rachel Training Day in February

Social workers, counselors, parish nurses, crisis pregnancy center staff, pastoral staff, and spiritual directors are invited to attend a statewide Project Rachel Training Day being offered virtually on Feb. 12 from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

 Project Rachel offers opportunities for post-abortion healing and reconciliation for women and men. The event will feature presentations addressing healing after abortion, including trauma, shame, post-abortion stress, grief, and how faith plays a role in healing. For additional details ad to register, visit: http://bit.ly/ProjectRachelTrainingRegistrationFeb2021 or email mwalsh@ccwestmi.org. Registration deadline is February 11th.

Finding healing after abortion

The next Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat for healing after abortion will be held virtually on the weekend of March 12-14. The retreats are designed to help you with forgiveness, allow you to experience the mercy of God, and grieve the loss of your unborn child or children. Retreats are open to women, men and couples. For more information or to register contact Maggie Walsh at (616) 340-1824 or mwalsh@ccwestmi.org. All inquiries are confidential. Financial aid is available.

GLO Ministry

Deacon Pitt provides meals to people downtown in the Heartside neighborhood of Grand Rapids twice a week. On a normal day he serves about 120 people. Last week with the shutdown 200 people showed up and he was running out of food. By the end he could only offer a bread stick and a bottle of water. Normally he serves chili, but has been unable to find ground beef. He is looking in particular for donations of ground beef and is willing to pick it up. Any help would be much appreciated.

For more information visit GLO website: https://www.gloministry.net