This installment of the Sermon Series on the precepts of the Church was delivered by Canon William Avis of the ICRSP:
Quinquagesima 2013: Sunday Precept
“And immediately he saw, and followed Him, glorifying God.” (Luke 18:43)
In the Gospel reading for Quinquagesima Sunday, our Blessed Lord encountered a blind man seeking a cure of his blindness. By a word, the Lord heals the blind man. Justice demands that we give to each one what he deserves, and so rightly did the once blind man of Jericho glorify God from whom he received his sight. The Psalmist, King David, puts it in a way that is applicable to all of us: “Sing joyfully to God, all the earth,” he says, “Serve the Lord with gladness. Come in before His presence with exceeding great joy. Know that the Lord He is God: He made us, and not we ourselves. We are His people & the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 99:2-3)” God is our Creator & we depend entirely on Him for our existence. We, as individuals as well as a society, owe Him the debt of adoration & thus from the beginning of time man understood his obligation to worship God, as we see with Adam’s son, Abel the Just, whose sacrifice was pleasing in the Lord’s sight.
Necessity of Public Worship of God & 3rd Commandment
Later on in the time of Moses, God would prescribe when this obligation must be fulfilled through the Third Commandment “Remember that you keep holy the sabbath day. Six days shall you labour, and shall do all your works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall do no work on it...For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it. (Exodus 20:8-11)” He could have, in all fairness, commanded us to worship Him every day or every moment, but instead He dedicated one day a week for this purpose. Now since Apostolic times this obligation to worship God has been transferred from the Sabbath (that is Saturday) to the Lord’s Day (that is Sunday) as we can see in the Acts of the Apostles, the Didache, & the writings of Saint Justin the Martyr.
Since the worship of God is a grave responsibility, the law of the Church specifies what we are to do in order to fulfill it. It says “On Sundays & other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body. (CIC, can. 1247)” This precept then has a double obligation: 1) to assist at Mass & 2) to rest from work. This obligation is binding on all the baptized who have reached the age of seven & have the use of reason.
Assisting at Mass
The holy sacrifice of the Mass is the supreme & most pleasing act of worship which we can render to God. To sacrifice means to offer something to someone in testimony of his supremacy over us. The greater the offering, the more acceptable the sacrifice, in the Mass it is Jesus Christ, the well beloved Son of God, Who is offered to His Father on our behalf. There could not possibly be another offering better than this. And so it is that the Church obliges us to assist at Mass on certain days.
Furthermore the law of the Church states some requirements:” 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 (CIC, can. 1248, par. 1)” It is therefore necessary that it be a Catholic Mass (whether Latin, Byzantine, Maronite or of another Catholic rite) and that it be on the day of the obligation or the evening before. It is understood that we assist at an entire Mass, which in the Traditional rite begins with the prayers at the foot of the altar and concludes with the Last Gospel.
Moral theologians say that for it to be truly a participation at Mass, one must be physically present, awake, and have the intention of worshipping God. If one were to go to Mass only to hear the music or socialize with others, or if one sleeps during the Mass, he would not fulfill his obligation.
Although many try to find ways to deny God His rights to worship by frivolous excuses, there are however some circumstances that would justify not assisting at Mass such as considerable hardship, or corporal or spiritual harm to oneself or others. For example, if one has a highly contagious illness, like the flu, then his presence at Mass could be a detriment to his health, since he needs rest, & to the health of those around him. In case of any doubt about a particular situation, it is good to consult a good & wise priest.
Yet if we purposely miss Mass for no just reason, we would sin grievously against the precept and commit mortal sin. If however, through our own fault, we arrived late, but before the Offertory, we would only commit a venial sin, conversely to miss from the Offertory to the Communion would be mortally sinful.
Abstaining from unnecessary work
The second part of the obligation concerns work. The reasons for this were mentioned already, namely so as not to impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body. In a certain way the Church gives us foretaste of the peacefulness of heaven through a day of rest.
Those works that are not permitted are unnecessary manual labor, judicial acts, and commercial business. Unnecessary means that it does not need to be done that day. Therefore daily things like cooking, flipping the light switch, &c. are permitted. According to many moral theologians, to do hard labor for more than two hours or lighter work for more than three hours would constitute a mortal sin.
Nevertheless there are some circumstances that would excuse from the precept to abstain from work. The first is a dispensation to do some work; this is granted by the Bishop in his diocese or the pastor in his parish. The second is work done for the divine service, such as lighting candles, preparing Masses & the like. The third is necessity when a considerable harm or loss would result for oneself or another. Of course, if there is doubt whether something is excusable or not, it is good to consult an upright & wise priest.
Our fulfillment of this precept can be made easy and even joyful if we are imbued with the Holy Ghost’s gift of piety which renders all efforts for God’s service pleasant & amiable to us. Then we shall join the saints in the heavenly court as praise the Divine Majesty saying: “I will praise you, O Lord, with my whole heart: for you have heard the words of my mouth. I will sing praise to you in the sight of the angels: I will worship towards your holy temple, and I will give glory to your name. (Psalm 137:1-2)” Amen.