Why is skipping Sunday Mass a mortal sin?
Today some Christians have adopted a very casual idea concerning public Sunday worship. To them, because people can pray in private, there is no real need to pray within a community. But concerning private and public worship, Catholics do not see this as an "either…or" situation, but a "both…and."
Throughout the entire history of the Church, attending Sunday Mass has been considered an essential aspect of living one's Christian Faith. Consider the countless brave Christians who risked and endured persecution and execution by various totalitarian regimes in order to go to Mass. In many times and places, the opportunity to attend Mass was (and still is) likewise an opportunity for martyrdom. They believed that the rewards greatly outweighed the risks. And what are the rewards? The reception of the very Body and Blood of Christ, a participation in the sacrifice of Calvary, the reception of sanctifying grace, the guidance and empowerment to live virtuously, the opportunity to gather and support one another as a family of faith, the chance to express thanks and praise to God as a community, and many other things besides.Consider what I have presented here in light of the following teachings from the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Quote: 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." (John 6:53-54)Quote: "…and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…" (Hebrews 10:24-25; emphasis added)
Quote: CCC # 2182: Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God's holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Also consider the 3rd Commandment (which Protestants number as the 4th):Quote: "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8)
As you know, Christians transfer the observance of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday (i.e., the Lord's Day; as described in CCC #2174 & 2175). The Catechism teaches that attending Sunday Mass is one of the ways in which we obey this commandment:
Quote: CCC #2176: The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public, and regular worship "as a sign of his universal beneficence to all." Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, taking up its rhythm and spirit in the weekly celebration of the Creator and Redeemer of his people.
The ancient Christians referred to the Mass as "the breaking of bread". For example, "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them…" (Acts 20:7). St. Justin Martyr, writing in the 2nd Century, gives us a very detailed description of Sunday Mass in a document called the First Apology (most notably in Chapter 67 of this work). Such references underscore the importance of Sunday Mass, and show how from the beginning it was considered a foundational aspect of Christian living.Sunday Mass is a wonderful gift from God and is a time for spiritual enrichment and joyful fellowship. But in light of all that I have presented, it is also (as we say about very important things in life) "serious business." If something is serious business then refusing to do it must result in serious consequences. The Catechism addresses this in the following manner:
Quote: CCC #2181: The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.In terms of the Precepts of the Church, the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is included in the 1st Precept.
Simply put, if people believe that Sunday Mass is no big deal, then such a view is contrary to the beliefs of the martyrs, to what has historically been taught in Christianity, and to the biblical passages I quoted above. On the other hand, those who believe that Sunday Mass is, indeed, a big deal must admit that that skipping it is likewise a big deal (or else there is a strange disconnect between the great worth of the Mass that one professes, and the small value one ascribes to it when it is missed). In stating that to knowingly and willingly miss Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation results in mortal sin, the consequence of rejecting so great a gift is clearly depicted. Participating in Sunday Mass is a life-giving experience, and the only realistic consequence of a serious rejection of life-giving grace is spiritual death, which culpability to mortal sin entails.
Fr. William Saunders: "Is Missing Mass a Mortal Sin?" found here http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0111.html