In the first reading, we hear about Paul and Barnabas preaching, going from city to city, and preaching. And something very interesting is that they entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and took their seats. Many Jews and worshippers who had converted to Catholicism followed Paul and Barnabas into the temple. They spoke to them and urged them to remain faithful to the gospel and the grace of God. Then on the following Sabbath, so the next Sunday, almost the whole city gathered to hear the Lord. The entire city was coming together in the temple on the Sabbath to listen to the word of God,
I was traveling, I had a little vacation, and I wear my collar usually when I travel, so whenever I’m on the plane or at the airport, restaurant or bar or whatever, people love to come up to me and tell me different things about their understanding of the faith. The one that I normally get, and the reason I’m preaching this, is it might help you in articulating this. I get most: “Father, I don’t have to go to Mass on Sunday. Me and God, we’re fine, we’re good.” I never know how to respond to that because I think, “What God are you following? Jesus, himself, the early disciples all come together to worship on the Sabbath.” I began pondering this and thinking about why we have the Sunday obligation and where that came from.
As I was researching, before the 3rd and 4th centuries, there was no Sunday obligation, and the reason was that everybody was going to mass on Sundays. You couldn’t keep them away. They were being martyred and murdered for gathering together at mass on Sundays. They still wanted the Eucharist so bad that they wanted to go to Mass and receive it. And so Constant the Great, at the end of the 3rd and 4th centuries, people were falling away from that. That’s when he made it the land law to attend mass on Sunday. It wasn’t a doctrine for the first couple of centuries or 100 years because it was just done. It was only when people’s faith began to wane that it became a teaching of the church.
In this passage, Saint John Paul II said on keeping holy the Lord’s Day, “Even the earliest times it was not judged necessary to be prescriptive. The church does not cease to confirm this obligation of conscience which rises from this inner need we had to receive the Lord by the Christians in the 1st century. It was only later on, faced with half-heartedness or negligence of some, that the church was to make explicit the duty to attend Sunday Mass. This was often done in an appeal, which means the church teaching or commands. But at times, the church even had to resort to canonical precepts. So there were punishments set up for actually missing mass on Sunday. Around the year 300, at the Council of Elvira, there was a setting in the church law at Mass on Sundays. As we go through the 6th century onwards, they came together and did a universal practice, so people were called to attend mass on Sunday all over the world.
If we reflect on this call, this precept, it’s not like a punishment or something that we have to do; it’s an invitation to come to mass and receive the Lord. All the laws and commandments aren’t for people who are worshiping and living the faith. The laws and commandments keep us in check when we wander from the debate. That’s why we have these precepts. Then you go back to scripture. The first mention found in scripture of the Sabbath is in Saint Paul’s first epistle to Corinthians written in the year 57, so 57 A.D. He refers to the first day of the week as the most appropriate time to gather together and collect money for the poor. Then about two years later, in the Acts of the Apostles, as they were celebrating the Eucharist and trust, he said, “On the first day of the week.” So we’re given, in this early time in scripture, the gathering together on the first day of the week for the Eucharist was essential.
I want to talk about the martyrs for a little bit, so the early church martyrs. There were 112 mentions of arrested Christians who were worshiping at Mass on Sunday, and they were arrested, and it was declared that the very fault they were accused of was gathering together. Because they gathered together in one place to worship God, they were arrested. Then about 200 years later, 31 men and 18 women were arrested in the same city and brought before the council, according to that authentic act of their martyrdom. They maintain the following impression. This is what they said when they were interrogated. “Why do you go to Mass on Sundays? Why do you worship?” The first is, “Is it true that you celebrate meeting despite the edict of the empire in your house?” They said, “Yes, in my house, we celebrate the day of the Lord.” Then he says, “Why did you allow so many to participate?” He says, “Because they’re my brothers and sisters, and I couldn’t refuse them.” Then he says, “You should have refused them,” and he said, “No, I couldn’t have done that because we had to celebrate the liturgy on the day of the Lord.” These became known as the Martyrs of the Sunday Celebration because they were martyred for celebrating mass on Sundays.
Throughout the church’s history, it goes on and on and on about how Sunday was so important. When I get this question for people, and they say to me, “I don’t need to go to Mass on Sunday; God and I are good,” I think the first thing I think of is the commandments, the third commandment, keep holy the Sabbath. We’ve been called to keep holy the Sabbath for thousands of years. Then the church’s precepts, which we’re called as priests to preach about and teach about. The first, and they’re always listed in order of importance, is, to attend mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile work. The second is to observe the days of fasting and abstinence. The third is to confess our sins to a priest at least once a year. The fourth is to receive our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist at least once a year during the Easter season. And the 5th is to contribute to the church’s support, especially for the poor.
As we celebrate this mass in these first communions, we thank God for coming together freely and worshiping. Those of you who are in pews today are the ones that desire to be here, want to be here. You don’t need the precepts and the commandments because your love for the Eucharist is evident. So the next time somebody asks you or tells you that statement, “I don’t need to go to Mass on Sunday; God and I are good,” I think it’s an excellent question to say, “What God are you following, what church are you following, what Jesus are you following,” and, “Are you being led by the Holy Spirit or by the enemy?” Always hold on to this precious gift that we have with the Eucharist and celebrate on Sundays.