Two (2) reasons why it’s a good idea to go to Mass
In Hillbilly Elegy (Harper Collins 2016), J.D. Vance, who grew up poor in Appalachia and went on to graduate from Yale Law School, recalls a conversation he had during his USMC boot camp training with a young man from Leslie County, Kentucky.
“I was telling him how much [BS] it was that Catholics got all the free time they did. They get it because of the way the church schedule works. He is definitely a country kid, ‘cause he said, ‘What’s a Catholic?’ And I told him that it was just another form of Christianity, and he said, ‘I might have to try that out.’”
What the author doesn’t tell us is whether the Catholic Marines actually used all that time off to go to Mass, as was the intention. My guess would be that only a minority did so, because that’s the way it is, in the “new and improved” Roman Catholic Church. Only a minority of those who self-identify as Catholic actually go to church regularly, even though failing to hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation is still a serious sin.
Surprised by that last sentence? It’s a fact. Our priests don’t talk about it any more — mustn’t make people feel guilty! — but willfully missing Mass is what we used to call a mortal sin. We may not receive Holy Communion without having confessed and received absolution for that sin. And if we die with mortal sins on our soul, Hell awaits us.
My pre-Vatican II Saint John’s Sunday Missal has a section headed “Examination of Conscience”, to be read and thought about before going to Confession. Under the rubric “Ten Commandments”, these questions are asked referencing the Third Commandment:
Did you on Sundays or Holy Days stay away from Mass willfully? Did you come too late? How often? — Have you done or commanded servile work on such days without necessity? — Have you been irreverent in Church?
All Sundays are Holy Days of Obligation. In the United States there are six more: The Solemnity of Mary (aka Circumcision of Our Lord) (January 1st), Ascension Thursday (40 days after Easter), The Assumption (August 15th), All Saints Day (November 1st), The Immaculate Conception (December 8th), Christmas Day.
In most of the USA, the Ascension is transferred to the following Sunday, which would otherwise be the Seventh Sunday of Easter. It is only celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation on Thursday in the ecclesiastical provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, and Philadelphia, as well as by members of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter.
Before Vatican II, the Holy Days of Obligation in Canada were much the same as in the USA, except that The Epiphany (January 6th) was on the list, but The Assumption was not. Now there are only two Holy Days: The Solemnity of Mary (January 1st) and Christmas Day. All the others have been moved to the nearest Sunday, in hopes that maybe some devout Catholics will attend.
That the practice of our Faith has been watered down in this way is a sad commentary on the state of the Church today. It’s also sad that it takes the threat of eternal damnation — the consequence of dying with a mortal sin on your soul — to motivate some people to spend an hour in the Lord’s house slightly more than once a week. There is another reason — perhaps better — to attend Holy Mass regularly. (I was about the say “hear Holy Mass”, but nowadays we all have to sing along, right?)
For decades, social scientists have studied a phenomenon which is hard to explain but worth noting — religious people are much happier than those who let religion play little or no part in their lives. People who go to church regularly commit fewer crimes, are in better health, live longer, make more money, drop out of high school less frequently, and finish college more frequently than those who don’t attend church at all.
In “Is Religion Good for You?”, Linda Gorman, of the National Bureau of Economic Research, quotes MIT economist Jonathan Gruber to the effect that the relationship is causal: It’s not just that people who happen to live successful lives also go to church, it’s that church seems to promote good habits. Going to Mass regularly not only pleases God and helps you work out your salvation, but makes you a better, happier person here and now. See you in church!