Why Go To The Catholic Mass?
By Luke Lancaster
What is the purpose of going to the liturgy of Catholicism - the Mass? For many, there isn’t much of a reason to attend, so they don’t consider it all that important. Just as society needs reasons to, say, go to the gym or eat spinach, so also society needs a list of reasons to go to the liturgy or not. If you need some convincing, then read this article. It will cover mainly what happens when you receive the Communion “bread” near the end of the liturgy.
Communion recalls an event from the history of the Jewish people within the book of Exodus. After the Jews were freed from their slavery in Egypt (≈1400 BC), they travelled through the wilderness that connected Egypt to the land of Israel. Yet immediately, they started to complain about their need for food. This was a massive problem, for a large nation of people needs to eat, otherwise, they’ll die. Some kind of food source needs to be found to sustain them. To resolve this serious issue, God sent “manna” to them, heavenly bread, which miraculously appeared every day on ground while they were travelling. The manna or bread from heaven satisfied their hunger for forty years. This relates to the Mass in an important way according to Jesus.
When the God-man Jesus came to earth (≈30 AD), He said to the Jews that He was the true/new manna come down from Heaven to nourish them (John 6:51). This new bread would be His flesh, which somehow would be true food (Jn. 6:55). This was a confusing teaching which Jesus then clarified a year later during His last supper meal, “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body’” (Matt. 26:26). Through this action, He implied that the bread mystically became His Body, and that when you ate of this transformed “bread,” you would be nourished with the eternal life of Jesus’s Body.
Considering that Jesus had already drawn the connection (Jn. 6) between the old manna and the new manna, then He would be implying that we maintain eternal life today by eating this new mystical bread from Heaven. We are just like the Jews starving in the wilderness, except, instead of traveling from Egypt to the land of Israel, we are travelling from earth towards the eternal land of Heaven. Because of this, we are in need of a greater sustenance. And just as the Jews feared temporal death, so we fear eternal death. Because of this, we need Jesus’s eternal life to sustain us on the journey towards Heaven. Jesus does this by feeding us the new bread, which is His living flesh, but under the appearance of bread. Every time we go to Mass, and the priest takes bread and says the words of Jesus, “This is my body,” that bread becomes the life of Jesus, which we then eat and become sustained by.
Receiving this transformed “bread” is so important that Jesus said, “[U]nless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you” (John 6:53). Without the Communion “bread,” one only has material life. But with the Communion “bread,” one has Jesus’s supernatural life – eternal life. This life strengthens us to stay on the journey towards Heaven. We need to go to Mass! For without this bread, we die of spiritual starvation, just like the Jews would have done centuries before had they not eaten the manna that God had given them (Ex. 16). God has given us a way to survive, and if we die eternally because we ignored this, then we are without excuse.
If God has offered us His divine life to sustain us to eternity, then it would be a massive slap in the face to Him to refuse this gift. What ingratitude if we did not go! Imagine for a moment the fact that all-powerful and almighty God, the creator of mountains, stars, and oceans, would be willing to humble Himself and appear like ordinary bread. He is so in love with His creation – human beings – that He wants to be as close to them as possible. The most intimate way for this to occur would require God, the governor of the cosmos, to lower Himself into becoming ordinary food for humanity.
He wants to be so united with us that He is willing to do whatever that takes. When God takes on the form of ordinary bread, and humans receive this “Communion” bread, a real and substantial communion between God and man occurs. God and man become one flesh in that precise moment. How incredible is that! Just as a husband and a wife unite in marital relations, so also God and man unite through the communion bread! To treat such a gift as if it were an ordinary occurrence, as if it were just one thing among many, would be the most foolish of mistakes. It would be most ungrateful to God to not take seriously what He is doing every Sunday.
To give an analogy, it would be comparable to a wife throwing the most perfect party for her husband - carefully planning it out for months, getting everything he likes - and only for the husband to be ho-hum about it. That would be terribly insulting to all of the work and effort put on by the wife. Yet all too frequently, us Catholics do the same. We make everything else in the world more important than the Mass.
To become one flesh with God Almighty is probably the greatest gift we could ever imagine. This gift literally divinizes us, for we are consuming the life of God. We partake in God’s divinity (2 Peter 1:4). It would be as if someone offered us a million dollars at the Church for free! Now, if literal, material money was offered at the Church, then we’d be there an hour early. Yet something vastly more valuable than earthly money is being offered. God Himself! How foolish and ungrateful we are to consider money more valuable than God.
Because of this profound reality, the Catholic Church authoritatively “binds” (Matthew 16:19) all people to attend Catholic Mass every Sunday. God is offering the greatest gift imaginable, and the Church doesn’t want us to get lukewarm about it. The requirement by the Church is really an act of charity, for we will die in the wilderness of this life without it! When people go to Mass and receive the Communion bread, they are fed with God’s own life – the flesh of Jesus. Just as a parent might command his or her children to eat their vegetables and exercise for the sake of their earthly lives, so the Church commands her children to go to Mass for their eternal, spiritual lives. To refuse to go to Mass would mean that you are spiritually dead from a lack of food. You are committing a mortal sin and are dead from spiritual starvation.
Church’s Mass attendance requirement is all about preserving our own lives, yet besides that, it’s about preserving our relationship with God. God divorces us when we do not listen to the needs of the Church. For when we hear the Church requiring us to attend Mass, we are truly hearing God and His needs. Jesus said to the Church, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). Because of this, it matters to God whether we attend Mass or not. The Church is only the messenger.
To comprehend this, imagine a super-model woman telling her long-distance boyfriend that he must call her at least once a week. What happens if he doesn’t and he gives a lame excuse? “I forgot,” “I was busy,” “I fell asleep,” “I was on the other line with my best-friend.” The woman is going to break up with him, for the man does not make the needs of his girlfriend a priority. The same is true with God. The Almighty, infinite, all-powerful God humbles Himself to appear under the form of bread, so that His people can be visibly close to Him, and…we come up with empty excuses. If we do not take God’s needs seriously in our relationship with Him, then He breaks up with us, and God is much more valuable than a super-model.
As seen, we’ve covered multiple reasons to go to Mass. The manna in the desert is a symbol for our need to eat the new manna within the desert of this life. The gift of God giving Himself within the Communion bread is the most valuable thing ever, and it would demonstrate grave ingratitude to ignore it. So, the Church requires us to go just once a week. God wants us there for one hour out of the one hundred sixty-eight hours we have in a week. That’s not bad at all and we need to go.