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Take advantage of this incredible opportunity to attend Mass

If you’re waking up in the middle of the night to care for your baby or tending to the needs of elderly parents, do you do it because you have to? Or because you love them?

It’s probably some of each. However, I’m willing to bet that doing it out of love far outweighs any sense of obligation.

I would like to suggest that we think of Sunday Mass the same way. We go because we love God and are grateful for all he has given us, not because we’re told to. 

My good friend Bishop Bill Byrne, now leading the Springfield, Massachusetts, diocese, refers to “Holy Days of Obligation” as “Holy Days of Get-to-Go” (to Mass). It’s an opportunity to love and be loved by God more than it is a requirement.

That’s why it saddens me to see so many of our fellow Catholics choosing not to regularly attend Sunday Mass. When I was growing up, 75 to 80 percent of Catholics went to church every Sunday. Statistics tell us it’s now closer to 30 percent. That’s a big drop in 70 years. We seem to have lost our ability to use Sundays as an opportunity to rest, to take even just one hour to thank and praise the God who loves us so much and is the source of everything we have.

I’ve been reminded of this again after the holidays. Attendance at Christmas Masses was huge. People came in big numbers, and I believe they really loved the liturgies and the carols. Going to church with loved ones was important to their Christmas celebration. There may have been some element of going because they “had to,” but I believe it was more because they wanted to.

Sadly, Mass attendance has fallen back to regular numbers. It appears most of those who joined us for Christmas Mass who weren’t coming most Sundays have not come back in force. We’ve returned to the “norm,” which is most of our fellow Catholics not going to church regularly. 

I think COVID has something to do with declining Mass attendance. The pandemic made it possible to “go to church” at home via screens – or simply not to go at all. Churches weren’t even open for a time, so we had no choice. New habits were created, and I think the time away dulled our sense of encountering Jesus in the Mass. 

I frequently hear confessions at our local schools, and children often tell me that they don’t go to church on Sundays. These are kids mostly under the age of 16, so they don’t drive yet. They’re telling me indirectly that their parents don’t take them to church, which really breaks my heart.

As I’ve gotten older and throughout my priesthood, the Mass has become increasingly important to me as a way to give thanks to God. The word eucharist means thanksgiving, and I think regaining a sense of gratitude amid our jam-packed calendars would help us see the Mass as a valuable opportunity to show appreciation for all God gives to us, and to allow our hearts to be moved as we recognize the many blessings we have and share. 

I’ve written before about one of my friends who captured this so well when he said: “Why do I go to church on Sunday? Because I have a wonderful wife, wonderful children, healthy and happy grandchildren, a great job and so much more. I go to church for one reason – to say thanks to God.”

I hope we can all see Mass as the heavenly gift that it is – much more than something imposed on us. Vatican II eloquently referred to the Mass as “the source and summit of the Christian life.” That sounds like an out-of-this-world opportunity, doesn’t it?

As we get closer to the beginning of Lent, maybe we can revisit how we view Mass and see it for the opportunity it is to spend time with and draw closer to our Creator. Let’s take advantage! Let’s celebrate God’s love and thank God for all he has given us, and let our young people see us doing it with sincerity and enthusiasm.

(Msgr. John Enzler serves as the mission advocate of Catholic Charities of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and is a chaplain at his alma mater, St. John’s College High School in Washington. He writes the Faith in Action column for the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites.)