Should we return to Church Services, or Mass
The world, and the USA, are filled with problems and issues (nothing new, there’s always been hard times but, the pace does seem to have quickened in recent years). Do you believe a turning back to God is in order? Speaking as a Roman Catholic, and looking at some quick stats, weekly Catholic Mass attendance in the 1950s was approximately 74%, today that has fallen to 22-25%! Similar numbers are found in non-Catholic churches. Is this massive drop in practicing the faith a healthy development?
This is a reposting of a two part piece centered on the many reasons for attending weekly faith services (or Mass if you are a Catholic). It is easy for a person to say they believe in God, yet do they place their proclaimed faith into practice, or is it simply a moniker many wear but never really pursue?
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MEN WHO DO NOT CARE
How often do children, wives, parents, and friends, witness men who rarely make an effort to attend weekly faith services?
If a child’s father shows no effort to go to Mass, why should his child (or children)? How old must a child be before he/she starts questioning why they should attend if their father stays home to sleep in or to watch the Sunday football game?
Fathers and men in general, provide a powerful witness to faith when they attend Mass/Church and are engaged in what was happening in their faith, and especially when they demonstrate a desire to draw closer to God. Children see what we do–often we don’t want to admit that, but they have discerning eyes and intelligent minds. They can see the hypocrites in their midst, and they don’t like it anymore than we adults. If fathers do not go to church, their children will follow their example.
To all fathers and men: if you value your faith and want to see the next generation hold it firmly, than start attending regularly and delve deeper into your walk with God. It will pay eternal dividends for your soul and for the souls of your children.
WHY THE LORD’S DAY OVER THE SABBATH?
There is within Christianity places of worship that have rejected the Lord’s Day as a correct New Covenant replacement for the Sabbath. However, Christians from the earliest days of the Church observed Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Some converts in the early Church kept both the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day; however, those people were Jewish converts to the Christian faith who mistakenly felt they remained bound to Jewish rituals. Before continuing, let us consider the underlying meanings behind the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day.
Observance of the Sabbath is a Biblical mandate for Jewish people. Orthodox Jews continue to observe to this day. It falls on the seventh day of each week (Saturday), followed by Jews beginning sundown on Friday and ending the following night (Saturday). It is a day of rest and the day recalls the Biblical Creation account, during which God created everything in six days and rested on the seventh. God made the observance of the Sabbath one of His Ten Commandments. The day is intended to be one of spiritual renewal.
THE LORD’S DAY
For Christians, the Sabbath was replaced by the Lord’s Day, mainly as a memorial of Jesus’ Resurrection. Worship on that day does have Biblical support (see below). However, there are important reasons for observing the Sabbath that also apply to the Lord’s Day and those reasons can be gleaned from the Scriptures: (1) For rest; (2) To offer regular weekly worship to God; (3) To commemorate what God (Jesus) has done for us. Please consider the words of Jesus regarding the Sabbath:
And he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the sabbath.” [Mark 2:27-28 RSV-CE]
We see Jesus providing the right interpretation and meaning of the Sabbath: it was made for humans, not for God. There are times during which Jesus appeared to have broken Sabbath laws, yet during those times Jesus always gave the proper meaning. From this comes an obvious question: Why did the Church change the weekly observance of the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day?
In the New Testament, Jesus spoke about the Ten Commandments. He mentioned all of the Commandments except the need to keep the Sabbath. A primary reason for this is that Christians are followers of Christ—they are free from the ritual observance of the Law. The Bible reflects that the early Christians gathered together on the first day of the week, the Lord’s Day, as the following passage reveals (there are additional readings):
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them,… [Acts 20:7 RSV-CE]
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come. [1 Corinthians 16:2 RSV-CE]
The Didache, along with the early Church fathers, taught that the Sabbath was replaced by the Lord’s Day: “If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day,… [Ignatius, A.D. 110]On the first day of the week let there be service,[sacrifice of the Mass],…”Assemble on the Lord’s day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. [Didache AD. 70] *** Note: The Didache is the teaching of the 12 apostles. It is a short piece describing the teachings of the Lord to the Gentiles (or nations) and was given by the apostles. It is believed to have been written between AD 50 and AD 120. It is one of the earliest known works that describe the faith as practiced by early Christians, and it serves as the earliest known document dealing with liturgical, Church and faith matters, a near first Catechism. As seen from the quotes above, both Scripture and the Didache speak of assembling on the Lord’s Day (Sunday). It must be remembered that the Lord gave authority to Peter and later the rest of the apostles to make binding rules upon the Church (Christians).Many additional citations can be offered; however, the point is that Sunday was always the day of worship for Christians. I recommend the following resources for further study:
The Didache (GO HERE)
The Mass of the Early Christians, Mike Aquilina — (GO HERE)
The Fathers of the Church, Mike Aquilina — (GO HERE)
The Faith of the Early Fathers, William A. Jurgens — (GO HERE)
The Sacrifice of the Mass (GO HERE)
The Lord’s Day replaced the Sabbath (GO HERE)
THE MASS AS HEAVEN ON EARTH
Of all the many reasons there are for attending Mass, this section describes potentially the most important. Many Catholics routinely take the miracle of the Eucharist for granted, with many dismissing it outright. The Eucharist forms the summit and source of the faith. Each time we receive Holy Communion we receive the Real Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Risen Lord Jesus Christ. It is critical that we understand that Jesus made one sacrifice for us and that we do not re-sacrifice the Lord during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When we receive Communion during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we are entering into the once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross worked by Christ. The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving, it is a memorial, and it is a true sacrifice by offering the same Body and Blood that Jesus sacrificed on the cross once for all. Christ offered Himself in a bloody manner on the cross, and since then the Church offers Jesus Body and Blood in a bloodless manner on the altar. That sacrifice is propitiatory or atoning (Catholics, read CCC #1367, and #1322-1381 in the Catechism). Where in the Bible do we find the teachings regarding the Real Presence? Consider Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in the following passage:
I am the bread of life…Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?…After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;… [Read John 6:47-69 RSV-CE]
In the passage above Jesus proclaims Himself to be the Bread of Life. Jesus also states that His Body and Blood are food and drink and that we must eat His Body and Drink His Blood if we desire eternal life. Some will say that Jesus must have been speaking metaphorically; however, the passage reflects that many of Jesus’ followers could not handle Jesus’ teachings about eating His flesh and that caused them to walk away from the Lord. If Jesus was speaking symbolically or metaphorically, then why would there be any reason for many of his followers to leave Him, as they did? Further, in the Last Supper discourses we read that what Jesus means is clear, the bread and wine become Jesus’ Body and Blood:
And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. [Luke 22:19-20 RSV-CE]
The Church uses the word, Transubstantiation, when referring to the transformation of the bread and wine into Jesus’ Real Body and Blood. The process remains a mystery; Saint Paul makes it clear that the bread and wine become Jesus Body and Blood:
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? [1 Corinthians 10:16-17 RSV-CE]
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”…Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. [Please read 1 Corinthians 11:23-30 RSV-CE]
Saint Paul affirms that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” A person cannot profane the Body and Blood of Christ if they consume a mere symbol (notice that Saint Paul also teaches confession: “…let a man examine himself…”).
The Real Presence is one of the most Biblically supported truths of the faith with many more passages we could cite, and it was universally accepted in the early Church and has always been held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Here is one example of the many statements made by early Church fathers:
“Take note of those who hold heterodox [the holding of unorthodox views] opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” [Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1 [A.D. 110].
There are hundreds of statements from the early Church that support the Real Presence (see the endnotes section). Please consider this excerpt from “Understanding the Scriptures:”
The thank offering or “sacrifice of thanksgiving” became the primary liturgy celebrated at the Temple, rather than the sin offering. The thank offering was unleavened bread and wine freely offered to God in gratitude for deliverance. Ancient Jewish teachers predicted that, when the Messiah came, no other sacrifice would be offered; the thank offering alone would continue. The word for “thank offering” in Hebrew, todah, was often translated by ancient Jewish scholars (like Philo) with the Greek word, “eucharistia,” which resonates with the language of Jesus and the early Church.
The reader might, at this point, wonder why I quoted the various passages above. The reason is to firmly implant the truth of the Real Presence in the hearts of Catholics. The early Church, as well as the Church throughout history, has always held the truth of the Real Presence. Churches that do no accept the truth of the Real Presence have broken away from the early Church and the teachings of Christ as reflected in the Bible.
Jesus promised He would be with us until His return, and He does that through His Real Presence in the Eucharist (this is different than, and should not be confused with, the Presence of the Holy Spirit whenever two or more are gathered in Jesus’ name). Heaven comes to earth during every Mass; therefore, if one desires to have a foretaste of Heaven, they need to look no further than the Mass and the Eucharist.
The sad truth is that the Real Presence forms a stumbling block for many people, including many Catholics (it is hard for them to believe, as was the case for so many of Jesus’ followers in the Bread of Life discourse). However, many Christians have no problem believing that Jesus rose from the dead, or that God created everything from nothing. Is it difficult to believe that the Bread and Wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ when we consider all of the items of faith we each hold without doubts?
There is no more powerful expression of being in Communion with the Saints, then when we receive our Risen Lord in the Eucharist, for where Jesus is, so is the Father, so is the Holy Spirit, so are the Angels and the Saints. The Eucharist provides a means through which we receive Jesus, and a means through which we commune with the Father, the Holy Spirit, and all of the Heavenly Host.
How could any Catholic, or any person who has studied and learned of the Real Presence, stay away from such an amazing gift? It’s hard to conceive of any reason to attend Mass that exceeds the reception of our Lord during Holy Communion; however, a joyful fact is that we do not have to wait for Sundays to receive the Lord in the Eucharist. We can receive the Lord every day during daily Mass, and we can worship our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration in many Catholic Churches. It is a joyful reality to know that the Lord comes to people in the Eucharist every minute of every day during Masses held throughout the world and across all time zones. Praise God for this wonderful gift!
In a future post, I will post additional arguments for attending faith services each week.
Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment so we can discuss this topic.
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