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Emperor Diocletian launched the bloodiest, most cruel persecution of all the emperors against the early Church. Indeed, he had Christians' bodies dipped in tar, tied to stakes and set on fire to light the streets of Rome at night.
One day during the reign of Diocletian, a virgin named Anysia was on her way to participate in the Mass, when one of Diocletian's soldiers stopped her along the way. "Stop!" he shouted, "Where are you going?"
Anysia was terrified. She made the Sign of the Cross and replied, "I'm a servant of Christ, and I'm going to our assembly to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass."
"I'll see that you don't," said the soldier, "and I'll take you to sacrifice to the gods."
The soldier tried to snatch away her veil, and when Anysia tried to prevent him, the soldier was enraged. He drew his sword and plunged it into her heart. The young virgin fell, a martyr to the Sunday observance.
I love the stories of the martyrs because they usually cause me to reflect on my own level of commitment to Christ and His holy Church. From time to time, I find myself wishing I could skip Mass and go fishing or build something out in the shop. Sometimes I'll find myself hoping Father's homily won't be too long, because I don't want to miss a minute out on the boat. Then I read a story like Anysia's and feel so terribly ashamed of myself.
The Third Commandment is: "Remember to keep holy the Lord's day."
Paragraph 2180 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Code of Canon Law, explains what this means for Catholics:
The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: "On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass." "The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day."
Unless excused for a very good reason, failure to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation is a mortal sin. The Mass is the highest form of worship of God as it's the perpetuation of Christ's redeeming sacrifice on the Cross.
Saint John Chrysostom, as quoted in paragraph 2179 of the Catechism, wrote: "You cannot pray at home as at Church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests."
In order to fulfill our obligation on Sundays and holy days, we must be physically present at the Mass. Televised Masses, although a consolation to the homebound who are unable to attend Mass, are not acceptable as a means of fulfilling our obligation. Staying at home to watch Mass doesn't cut it. Furthermore, to miss a notable part of the Mass — that is, to arrive late or leave before the final blessing — prevents us from fulfilling our obligation, which is sinful.
It's of grave concern when people arrive late and leave early at Mass. I'm talking about those who chronically arrive late and leave early.
Some folks say they have trouble getting the kids organized and in the car to get to church on time. If this applies to you, the obvious answer is to get everyone going a bit earlier. After all, how can you expect your children to learn responsibility if you fail in your responsibility to be at Mass on time?
Another thing we see all the time is people who leave immediately after receiving Communion. Friends, the Mass isn't over until the priest gives the final blessing. Leaving right after Communion is a sin (barring some unusual situation like a medical emergency).
Regarding vigil Masses on the evening before a Sunday or holy day of obligation, there is something to consider here too. You most certainly enjoy the privilege of attending a vigil Mass, and you definitely fulfill your obligation by doing so. But it's important to understand why the Church began to allow this after Vatican II. The Council Fathers understood the changes taking place in society, and they wanted to make it easier for the faithful to be able to fulfill their obligations.
For example, it's impossible for people in some lines of work to get the day off on a holy day of obligation.
The intention of the Council Fathers was to keep Catholics from incurring guilt when they have to work to support their families and avoid being fired, or for cases of family hardships. Their intention wasn't so we have more time to go fishing or sleep in late on a Sunday morning.
I want to emphasize that there is nothing sinful involved here. At times, our choices aren't merely between good and evil; sometimes the choices are between good and better. I would argue Sunday and holy day attendance is the better choice.
Sundays and holy days of obligation are obligatory days of rest. According to canon 1247, we are to "abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body."
This means we must refrain from unnecessary servile work on Sundays and holy days. The key word there is "unnecessary."
The Catechism says in paragraph 2186, "Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week."
There are some fields of work where working on Sunday may be necessary, like for hospital staff and first responders.
If space permitted, we would look much deeper into this commandment, as many Catholics today, sadly, fail to treat Sundays and holy days any differently than a Saturday or, worse yet, a typical weekday. However, I hope this little article will give you pause to rethink how you are keeping the Lord's day holy.
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