Summer Sunday Mass: Obligation or Option?

June 3, 2011

The Pastor's Page

Sunny day over Sava river

Sunny day over Sava river. Creative Commons license by Marko Cvejic

Sunday is the Lord’s Day. Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, so Sunday is reserved as the “Lord’s Day,” the day to remember the Resurrection and to offer our praise and worship. God gave us the Third Commandment as a solemn obligation, not a suggestion or an option:  “Keep holy the Sabbath day” (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15) (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Numbers 2174 – 2178).

Regular Sunday worship dates back to the first generation of the Church.  Early Christians instinctively gathered to study the teachings of the apostles and to break the bread (Acts 2:42).  The Letter to the Hebrews gets straight to the point:  “We should not stay away from our assembly [i.e., the liturgical assembly, the Eucharist], as is the custom of some” (Heb 10:25).

It is shocking the number of people who say that they believe they are excused from Sunday Mass when they are on vacation or traveling.  This is not the case!  Church teaching is clear:  “On Sundays the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (Canon 1247).

There are a few legitimate reasons to miss Sunday Mass: illness or disability, serving as the sole caregiver for someone in need of constant attention, a natural disaster like a flood or a blizzard, or the absence of a priest.  There is no exception for vacation or traveling (Catechism, Nos. 2180-2188).

All we have is a gift from God, so God is entitled to our weekly thanks. Time is a precious commodity, and how we spend it is a clear indication of our priorities.  There are one hundred and sixty-eight (168) hours in a week, and one hour spent in worship barely puts a dent in the praise that we owe our God.

We need to put first things first, and for Christians, God comes first!  If there ever was a time that God deserves extra thanks, it would be vacation time.  It is a huge blessing to be able to take time off, to have the resources to travel, to have the wherewithal to enjoy a cabin or a RV or a lake home, to be blessed with the beauty of the lakes and the forests, to be able to go fishing or boating, and to have the leisure time to spend with family and friends.

The common error is to make recreational activities the starting point in building one’s weekend vacation schedule, and to relegate God and Mass to an afterthought, something to fit in if there is time left over or to be skipped entirely.  The proper way is to decide on a Mass time and place first, and then figure out the rest of the weekend’s activities.  God never goes on vacation when it comes to providing for us; we should never go on vacation from offering God our thanks and praise.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun