10. THE OBLIGATION OF HEARING MASS
1. Every Catholic is bound, under pain of mortal sin, to hear the whole of one Mass devoutly every Sunday and holyday of obligation.
1. Those persons who could not go to church without great injury to themselves, or who have some urgent work of mercy to perform, are excused from hearing Mass.
Those are dispensed from hearing Mass who by going to church would incur serious personal injury. Thus the sick who cannot go to church are excused, likewise those whose health is so delicate that they cannot go without at least the risk of falling ill; or those who by going would be in danger of being set upon by ruffians; others again who live more than three miles from a church, or at too great a distance to go in bad weather. A king once observed that on a stormy December morning the church was almost empty, whereas in the evening, though the snow was falling heavily, the theatre was crowded. “Alas,” he exclaimed, “people are ready enough to make sacrifices for pleasure, but for God they will make none.” Working-people are also excused if they would lose their employment by leaving their work to hear Mass, or they may stay away occasionally, if by going they have great disagreeables to put up with from the people they live with, though they should endeavor rather to bring them to a better mind. One member of a household may remain at home to keep the house; those, again, are excused from attendance at Mass who have works of mercy to perform, such as nursing the sick, taking care of young children, preparing the meals for other inmates of the house, etc.
2. We have not heard a whole Mass, unless we have been present in the church during the three principal parts of one and the same Mass.
It is requisite to be present at the three principal parts of the Mass; if one of these is omitted through negligence, the obligation is not fulfilled; if, for instance, we do not come in before the offertory, or if we leave before the communion. It does not suffice to hear one Mass from the consecration to the end, and another from the commencement to the consecration. What Christ has joined together, let not the Christian put asunder. He who comes in after the offertory must stay for the whole of another Mass. Moreover one must be present inside the church; it will not suffice to sit or stand outside, unless the church should be so overcrowded that it is impossible to get inside. How potent is the prayer of an assembled multitude; for where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, there is He in the midst of them (Matt. xviii. 20). St. John the Almoner, Patriarch of Alexandria in the seventh century, put a stop to the bad habit his flock had contracted of remaining outside during Mass-time. One Sunday, instead of vesting for Mass, he went out and sat with the people outside the church, to their great astonishment. “Where the sheep are, there the shepherd must be,” he observed. “While you stay here, I shall do the same; if you go in, I will go too.” After this rebuke no one was to be seen outside the church at Mass-time.
3. Those only can be said to hear Mass devoutly who banish from their mind all that may cause them distraction, and who unite their petitions to those of the priest, especially at the three principal parts of the Mass.
4. It is permissible to assist at the holy sacrifice of the Mass on Sundays and holy days in any church; but it is desirable to go to one’s parish church.
The Council of Trent admonishes the faithful to be frequent in their attendance at their parish church, at least oil Sundays and the greater festivals. On those days the priest offers the holy sacrifice for all his parishioners, both living and dead, and adapts his sermons to the needs of his flock; furthermore in the parish church notices are given out of marriages, of fast days, of ecclesiastical festivals and ordinances. The faithful ought to become acquainted with their parish priest, who is their pastor and spiritual father, in the house of God. There is however no law which makes it binding upon Catholics to hear Mass in their parish church.
2. To hear Mass on week-days, if possible, is a highly com mendable practice, for it may be the means of gaining the greatest graces.
If the holy sacrifice were celebrated in only one place in the world, and offered only by one priest, with what longing would Christian people hasten to that spot! But now that there are many priests, and Christ is daily offered up in many places, how much is our lukewarmness and negligence to be deplored, which has thereby arisen (Imitation, Book iv., ch. 1). Some people consider the half hour they take from their work to hear Mass as a loss of time; this is, however, not so, for they do their work better and more quickly through having been to Mass. Has not Our Lord said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. vi. 33)? “If,” says Cochem, “a shower of gold fell from the clouds, thou wouldst surely leave thy work and hasten into the street to gather up the coins. Only a fool would stop indoors. And thou art a fool if thou dost through indifference or negligence omit to hear Mass, when a stream of heavenly treasures is poured out from on high. Through neglecting holy Mass one loses far more than one would gain by a whole day’s work. Arrange thy business therefore, if thou canst, so as to allow of thy hearing Mass daily. And if it is impossible for thee to go thyself, give an alms to some poor person to hear Mass for thee; he will do so gladly, and thou wilt reap the greater benefit.” For, as is the case with every good work, we may apply to others the merit of hearing Mass without being losers ourselves. For the priest, in the canon of the Mass, supposes that those who are present who with him offer up the holy sacrifice, do so for their families and friends as well as for themselves. Do not allow human respect to keep you from serving Christ, for if you are ashamed of Him, He will also be ashamed of you (Luke ix. 26). When King Louis of France was told that people talked about his habit of hearing one or even more than one Mass daily, he replied: “How careful people are about my time; if I spent twice as long at play or out hunting, they would not have a word to say about it.” The Blessed Thomas More was accustomed to say, in connection with hearing Mass daily, that he esteemed it his greatest honor to render that mark of respect to the King of kings.
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