Holy Day of Obligation (or, why this is anything but Ordinary time)

Author’s Note: I’ve spoken to quite a few friends recently who have mentioned that it has “been awhile” since the last time they went to Mass. That led me to write the following.

Truly remarkable, life-altering occasions seem to come rarely in our lives and the lives of those around us. Certainly those in my age bracket may beg to differ as the costs of bridesmaid dresses and groomsmen tuxes seem to pile up summer after summer. If this describes a recent, but distant, history then you might now be familiar with the baby showers, Christenings, and first birthdays that come with such a blessed past. But upon further reflection it appears that these events certainly are rare – a handful at best, two at most. Knowing this intuitively we have a natural tendency to describe anything that happens with frequency as quite routine. Mundane. Old hat. Even our liturgical calendar is currently set to “Ordinary” time.

It’s quite easy for us to perhaps be lax during this time between Christmas and Lent.  Perhaps what is seemingly ordinary doesn’t quite rouse up the “extraordinary” out of us. Certainly we’d get out of the routine for a wedding, a Baptism, or another special occasion – but for some reason ordinary Sunday Mass is something that can be become optional. And of course it’s harder to turn down an RSVP to a very special occasion than it is to skip out on a routine duty.

And this got me to thinking – do we sometimes forget the invitation that we receive to gather at Mass every Sunday – and for every Holy Day of Obligation? Do we forget that it is God Himself, appealing through His Son, to come to Table to taste and see that He is good? Do we not realize that God thirsts for our prayer and worship (even though it adds nothing to His greatness)?

Ultimately to be lax in our Sunday obligation is seen as a very grave sin by the Church – it has been this way for as long as men and women have been gathering for the Eucharist. This is not so we can pad the collection plate, or give Catholics something new to feel guilty about – No this is because God Himself is present to bring about a miracle at every altar where the Eucharist is shared. The sacrifice of the Cross – the true Pole of the earth – is re-presented to all each and every time the faithful gather for Mass. And God provides us with the opportunity to have the most intimate union possible with Him – to partake of the very flesh and blood of His only begotten Son. If this is something that you cannot make time for you must ask yourself – what is it that I am making time for? What is it that is more important than giving the proper worship that God deserves and desires? What could possibly be getting in the way of accepting the free invitation of a God who pleads for you and is always patient for the sake of your Salvation?

This time may certainly be called Ordinary, but it celebrates something Extraordinary every day.  The Mass is never ordinary.  Indeed, Ordinary time is called as such because it’s the time given to us.  It’s the time given to celebrate the human project that was, is, and will be (God willing).  Ordinary time is our time.  It’s the time of our growth, of our pain, of our struggles, of our joys, and our suffering.  It is the time for us to continue to “work out our salvation.”     Do not be fooled by the frequency of Mass – there is nothing ordinary about it. The Mass IS the most remarkable and life-altering occasion there is, and the frequency of its celebration should not be a cause for laxity or a mundane disposition, rather it should make us realize the abundance that God wants to bestow on us.  Now that is a God worth giving time for every Holy Day of Obligation.

To forsake that abundance, to decline God’s invitation, this has real consequences for your relationship to Him, and to His Church.  Do not be fooled.  Declining God’s absurdly generous RSVP indeed is a grave matter, one that can have eternal consequences – not because He’s keeping score or taking attendance – but because He eagerly desires to spend eternity with those who eagerly desire Him.

So if it’s been a while since you’ve been to Mass, stop on by Confession, feel the forgiveness offered in Christ and then go on and celebrate that forgiveness and God’s radical love for us this, and every, Holy Day of Obligation.

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