Sunday obligation

Question: As an older Catholic, a number of things bother me about Mass today. First, so few come. When I was young, we were taught that missing Mass was a mortal sin, period. Second, almost everyone goes up for Communion, and I doubt all of them are free from serious sin. Third, I come to hear Mass, not to sing Mass. We are so pressured to sing. I look forward to your thoughts about these things.

Joanne DiOrio, Sewell, New Jersey

Answer: The Church still teaches that it is a mortal sin to miss Mass without a serious reason. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (No. 2181).

While the teaching has not changed, the preaching of it has waned. In the 1970s, a notion that religious observance should be “authentic” (and not compelled under pain of sin) led many preachers to tell young people merely to follow their heart in such matters of the moral law. The poor pedagogy of such an approach cannot be underestimated.

While the Catechism sought to correct such a misguided approach, the lasting effects of poor catechesis include not only mistaken ideas but a reticence to confront present practices. Few clergy today teach on the necessity of attending Mass, the reason why or the benefits received. This is being corrected gradually, and younger clergy are more prone to preach on such subjects.

It is much the same with holy Communion. There was a well-intentioned desire to get people to receive holy Communion more often, beginning in the 20th century. Many were taught with heavy emphasis on our unworthiness and so rarely received, usually just once a year. Yet, we now have an overcorrection that downplays sin and overlooks the warning of Scripture that those who receive Communion unworthily bring condemnation, not blessing, on themselves (see 1 Cor 11:27). This is not preached regularly for likely the same reasons as stated above.

As for music, you are entitled to your preference, but liturgically the Sunday Mass should ideally feature some degree of singing. This is not a new idea. The High Mass of the Latin Rite featured a lot of singing, though “Low” Masses were available then. Today, most parishes have at least one recited Mass on Sundays; it may be possible for you to attend that Mass, given your preference.

Created by God

Question: Is it right to say that our body comes from our parents and our soul from God?

Robert Bonsignore, Brooklyn, New York

Answer: This is perhaps too fine a distinction. Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from God (cf. Jas 1:17), thus our whole existence is given and sustained by God. It is perhaps more proper to say that God uses the secondary cause of our parents to fashion the material part of us that we call the body, but directly creates the soul. But we ought not to separate too strictly body and soul, which are both God’s workmanship. Regarding the body, Scripture speaks of God as the one who “knit” us in our mother’s womb (Ps 139:13).

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.