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Come back to Mass!

Just as a physician might observe that you are endangering your life by eating fatty foods, smoking, and refraining from exercise, so a doctor of the soul will tell you that abstaining from the Mass is compromising your spiritual health.

A man prays during Mass Oct. 1, 2020, at Resurrection Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

The past fifteen months have been a time of crisis and deep challenge for our country, and they have been a particular trial for the Catholics. During this terrible COVID period, many of us have been compelled to fast from attendance at Mass and the reception of the Eucharist. To be sure, numerous Masses and Eucharistic para-liturgies have been made available online, and thank God for these. But Catholics know in their bones that such virtual presentations are absolutely no substitute for the real thing. Now that the doors of our churches are commencing to open wide, I would like to urge every Catholic reading these words: Come back to Mass!

Why is the Mass of such central importance? The Second Vatican Council eloquently teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”—which is to say, that from which authentic Christianity comes and toward which it tends. It is the alpha and the omega of the spiritual life, both the path and the goal of Christian discipleship. The Church Fathers consistently taught that the Eucharist is sustenance for eternal life. They meant that in the measure that we internalize the Body and Blood of Jesus, we are readied for life with him in the next world. Thomas Aquinas said that all of the other sacraments contain the virtus Christi (the power of Christ) but that the Eucharist contains ipse Christus (Christ himself)—and this would help to explain why St. Thomas could never make it through the Mass without shedding copious tears. It is precisely at the Mass that we are privileged to receive this incomparable gift. It is precisely at the Mass that we take in this indispensable sustenance. Without it, we starve to death spiritually.

If I might broaden the scope a bit, I would like to suggest that the Mass is, in its totality, the privileged point of encounter with Jesus Christ. During the Liturgy of the Word, we hear not simply human words crafted by poetic geniuses, but rather the words of the Word. In the readings, and especially in the Gospel, it is Christ who speaks to us. In our responses, we speak back to him, entering into conversation with the second person of the Trinity. Then, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the same Jesus who has spoken his heart to us offers his Body and Blood for us to consume. There is simply, this side of heaven, no more intimate communion possible with the risen Lord.

I realize that many Catholics during this COVID period have become accustomed to the ease of attending Mass virtually from the comfort of their own homes and without the inconvenience of busy parking lots, crying children, and crowded pews. But a key feature of the Mass is precisely our coming together as a community. As we speak, pray, sing, and respond together, we realize our identity as the Mystical Body of Jesus. During the liturgy, the priest functions in persona Christi (in the very person of Christ), and the baptized in attendance join themselves symbolically to Christ the head and together offer worship to the Father. There is an exchange between priest and people at Mass that is crucially important though often overlooked. Just before the prayer over the gifts, the priest says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father,” and the people respond, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” At that moment, head and members consciously join together to make the perfect sacrifice to the Father. The point is that this cannot happen when we are scattered in our homes and sitting in front of computer screens.

If I might signal the importance of the Mass in a more negative manner, the Church has consistently taught that baptized Catholics are morally obligated to attend Mass on Sunday and that the conscious missing of Mass, in the absence of a valid excuse, is mortally sinful. I understand that this language makes many people today uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t, for it is perfectly congruent with everything we have said about the Mass to this point. If the Eucharistic liturgy is, in fact, the source and summit of the Christian life, the privileged encounter with Jesus Christ, the moment when the Mystical Body most fully expresses itself, the setting for the reception of the bread of heaven—then we are indeed putting ourselves, spiritually speaking, in mortal danger when we actively stay away from it.

Just as a physician might observe that you are endangering your life by eating fatty foods, smoking, and refraining from exercise, so a doctor of the soul will tell you that abstaining from the Mass is compromising your spiritual health. Of course, as I suggested above, it has always been the law of the Church that an individual may decide to miss Mass for legitimate prudential reasons—and this certainly obtains during these waning days of the pandemic.

But come back to Mass! And might I suggest that you bring someone with you, someone who has been away too long or has perhaps been lulled into complacency during COVID? Let your own Eucharistic hunger awaken an evangelical impulse in you. Bring in people from the highways and byways; invite your co-workers and family members; wake up the kids on Sunday morning; turn off your computers. Come back to Mass!


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About Bishop Robert Barron 198 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

40 Comments

  1. Come back to Mass? Is this message for the laity or the clergy? We never left the Mass. On the contrary, when my Byzantine pastor locked down the parish, forbidding even private prayer in the Church building we pay for, we were fortunate enough to find a “disobedient” priest who celebrated Divine Liturgy for us outdoors, on a windswept farm. That’s all we had for months, no thanks to the bishops.

  2. Christ present in the Eucharist is our greatest treasure, a miracle as Aquinas says of God’s love. Miracles can be seen, mysteries like Christ’s real presence cannot be seen except through faith. He suffered his passion and death on the Cross consummating his love for us. If that were not enough he rose from the dead that we might rise with him, and in this life possess him in the Eucharist. He gives himself to us in the Eucharist that we may adore him and become like him in his goodness. Bishop Barron is right in placing emphasis on the Holy Eucharist as the main reason that we should return to Mass. We congregate as a body united with him, bonded together in the same precious body and blood. Where does the fault lie for the absence of parishioners now if not with bishops who so easily capitulated to civil authority. Especially when civil authority was prejudiced in its mandates and permissions. Bishops and pastors enforcing absurd rules not for a few weeks rather for endless months, some requiring wearing of masks, distancing, monitored by police presence, parishioners subject to removal or arrest. It became more convenient to stay home during the many long months of dispensation. Now that most businesses, shopping centers, post offices no longer require masks, some pastors continue to insist on the requirement of distancing and masks. What was needed much earlier was a bit more courage and confidence in God’s providential care. Many parishioners felt scandalized that their next of kin, loved ones remained and died in medical centers without the sacraments. Most bishops, pastors doing little or nothing. Complaints spread that clergy were absent when they were most needed. It was a tragic error that should have been avoided with a reasonable, measured exercise of our religious freedom. Our bishops will have to provide the kind of leadership that proves they really care for the spiritual welfare of laity. That includes the issue of Eucharistic coherence now stalled in endless debate slated to end in the status quo, politicians who support abortion and homosexuality permitted to receive the Eucharist. An additional reason for many to conclude going to Mass doesn’t matter. Bishops, successors of the Apostles, defenders of the faith must give the Church the leadership they require and deserve.

    • Thank you for saying aloud, in truth and charity, what many of us want to say but find that silence, as the Eucharistic silence, says it all best.

      This very Eucharist was denied the faithful by bishops who feared something which cannot by its nature do no harm to the soul. Empty pews and collections will perhaps speak more loudly to some bishops than any word from Our Eucharistic Lord. Although the Eucharistic Lord DOES speak to them, their ears to hear are MIA.

      • meiron, I agree.

        “Thank you for saying aloud, in truth and charity, what many of us want to say but find that silence, as the Eucharistic silence, says it all best.”

        My comment which has not yet been confirmed is not as generous in thought as is Father’s.

  3. Here is a compelling reason why Catholic people would NEVER stay away from Mass:

    Have this mind…Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    “In this is love, that though we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

    If people don’t come to Mass, then they never really believed the revelation above, and no offer of a “summit” or a “privileged way of worshipping” has any spiritual power to impel them.

  4. Bishop Barron and the overwhelming majority of his colleagues in the navel gazing cabal known as the USCCB should consider returning to the faith.

  5. For crying out loud, what did they expect? We were unable to attend Mass because our BISHOPS didn’t allow us! While my family was in sad disbelief and suffered because of it, another group of folks were thrilled not to have to go…and they aren’t coming back. They were never there in the first place. Others were truly afraid, and upon reopening, they believed receiving Jesus in the Eucharist was a dangerous risk. I’m not sure they were there in the first place either.

  6. It wasn’t a surprise that this mystical reflections is coming from you – Your Lordship. Well done. Thank you. Keep praying for us, please, and be assured of our prayers.

  7. Those of us who feel that we need the Mass and the Eucharist found a way a place a priest to get it to us. The churches and Bishops who closed and still close the doors will find it will take years maybe generations to get the pews full again. And maybe that is good it’s not the number in the pew its the strength of the numbers that are in the pews.

    • To many bishops and priests have lost the true message of Jesus Christ, they have been lead astray over the last two centuries. By those who thought they knew what Jesus wanted or intended how is church was to be. The stories in the New Testament the parables where told to convey a message the facts so say recorded if true or not it the message that was hidden that was or has never been explained to the people. The early church assumed what Jesus mentioned and made it into teaching, sacraments rules and Norns of thr church.

  8. I have a problem with encouraging “every” Catholic to return to Mass. Some people are vulnerable to the virus by pre-existing conditions and shouldn’t be encouraged to subject themselves to those who have been vaccinated, because they can still get the virus and pass it on to the vulnerable. Outdoor Mass, which my parish is now offering at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, is the safest for the vulnerable, but even that isn’t foolproof. I also have a problem with people who laud priests who disobeyed their bishops, thus breaking their vocation vow of obedience, and continued to celebrate Masses during the shutdown. They risked the health and lives of their parishioners, because there wasn’t sufficient knowledge about the virus when they broke their vows. They are not heroes; rather, they are fortunate that their actions didn’t harm or kill their parishioners. God expects each of us to be prudent about the risks we are willing to take to protect ourselves. He expects us to be even more prudent in protecting others. If people are compromised by health issues, encouraging them to risk their life is not Christ-like in any way.

    • “God expects each of us to be prudent about the risks we are willing to take to protect ourselves. He expects us to be even more prudent in protecting others.”

      That is the exact emotional blackmail to which we’ve been subject for the past 16 months or so.

      I can just hear you talking to, say, the early Christian martyrs. “God expects you to be prudent about the risks you take. You might be killed for going to Mass. You should be prudent. And you should be even more prudent protecting others. Why, your family and friends might be killed or punished if you attend Mass. You are being very selfish. You should just stop.”

      Possibly they would’ve been too courteous to laugh in your face.

      • Excellent points. It’s not our responsibility to put our lives on hold to “protect” others. In that respect, I am not my brother’s keeper.

    • How is encouraging them to risk their spiritual health a better alternative? And priests are not obligated to obey their bishop if the law is unjust. Telling a priest he is forbidden from giving communion to those who ask for it and are properly disposed is unjust. And it’s a major slap in the face to tell us to watch Mass being livestreamed: “Hey starving laity, stay home like the government told you, your neighbors’ health is your responsibility. You can watch we fat bishops eat and partake though.” They are tone deaf.

  9. Why return to Mass or be Catholic at all if all are saved Bishop universalist Barron! After all the Church is just one way to be saved per you!

    • The Catholic Church is not the only way to heaven. We may shout the loudest think we are better than others with our liturgy,sacrements, bells and smells ect. It’s symbolic as a priest said the Catholic Church has become a world wide Country Club. The Catholic Church PLC. Look at what Jesus said to Peter build my church, no instructions, no plan, the went on happily do what Jesus did and they increased in numbers. Then Constantine made Christian faith the one and only religion.The Holy Roman Catholic Church was truly established and the rules doctrines where put into place., The root started and continued to this day. Out Pope is trying to implement Vatican 2 reforms while bishops and others are hindering , stopping and preventing any forward movement for fear of a loss of power or status to themselves.

      • You say “we” but it’s fairly obvious that you aren’t Catholic. EIther that or you’re so utterly ignorant and confused it amounts to the same thing.

  10. Bishop, thank you for this encouraging piece. As you are seeing from the comments many people are angry and frustrated believing you are “preaching to the choir”. Many many Catholics believe the problems of the Church are rooted in bishop negligence. And how much greater the frustration watching certain politicians gloat over their ability to receive Christ’s body with hands stained from actions designed to further their political career, their grab for power destroying marriage, unborn children, etc. And all the while forcing us to accept what they do and pay for it to. From my tiny corner of the world, I see a divided America and a divided Roman Catholic Church. Everyone needs to be praying earnestly and speaking boldly. Pax Vobis Bishop Barron

    • Jan, I liked your comment to bishop Baron which was to the point and respectfully written. All of the Catholic laity need to follow your example when addressing the hierarchy and the many thorny issues that are currently in the news these days.

      • Mr. Veryser, respect is earned. All of the Quisling bishops who threw their hands up and caved whether closing churches or denying the sacraments to the dying do not deserve respect. The vast majority of these comments are a testimony to the contempt the faithful have for the generic American bishop. Not to be misunderstood I am not attacking Bishop Barron. I don’t know his history. My contempt (not hatred) is directed at the Quislings who failed to show courage and leadership when it was most needed. Respect the office, yes. Respect a Quisling in that office? Absolutely not.

  11. “But Catholics know in their bones that such virtual presentations are absolutely no substitute for the real thing.” Yes, Catholics do know in there bones—and by and large Catholics have not seen their Generals stepping up to take charge in encouraging their priests to double down on spiritual care for their charges.

    Those bishops kowtowing to extreme lockdown demands from some governors, rather than, prioritizing the spiritual needs of their flock, have abdicated their duty as is demanded by their ordination. While these prelates were hiding in their foxholes(possibly binge-watching TV) the foot-soldiers were left without firm, consistent encouragement, direction and aerial(spiritual) support.

    However, these clergy did take time to write pleas for financial support, which method does not require personal presence or contact with the suffering masses.

    Only now, coming from their retreats the prelates see the dead and wounded, the bedraggled, cold, hungry and battle worn—yes, now, do they write encouraging letters which were absent when they were most needed.

    The fathers now want their children to return home? These children surely must be a gracious and forgiving set, saying: “Oh yes, we’re all in this together, aren’t we? I almost forgot—it’s been a long haul.”

    Where were the modern day saints, who take charge—courage in the Lord, those who really believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is our strength, our health and our salvation —-and how well did they exercise the graces of their priestly vocation? To whom will they be answerable?

  12. I found his comments as to folk grown accustomed to watching Mass from the ease of their own homes out of touch with reality, where half the population does not have the data plan available to do so in the first place.

    Such streaming video is only for the wealthier half of the population or for those fortunate enough to have employers/dioceses provide them with unlimited internet.

    As always, the wealthier and more fortunate always think everyone is just like them, and still are forever saying, “Then let them eat cake.”

    I shall not even begin to deal with the idea of how many found video feed worth doing in the first place.

  13. “But a key feature of the Mass is precisely our coming together as a community.”

    And, this “community” is a consequence of something more, as said St. Augustine: “I am the food of the fully grown. Grow and you will feed on me. And you will not change Me into you, like the food of flesh eats. But you will be changed into Me.”

    Yes, with Bishop Barron, this Ultimate Reality is infinitely more than a virtual host seen on an eyeball-candy electronic screen, or even as compared to real toast, sausage and eggs ingested Sunday morning on a recliner.

  14. Let me tell you about my return to Mass, keeping in mind local infection numbers are the same or higher than when Mass was suspended.

    Back to normal, singing, gift bearers, basket passing. The priest made a show of using a squirt of hand sanitizer before consecration, but immediately after the hand sanitizer, went to a seated deacon and coached him on duties, with hand on deacon’s shoulder at nape of neck the entire time, on multi-wearer infrequently cleaned vestments, then went straight back to altar handling everything. I received Communion from the deacon who never sanitized his hands even once, and who made a point of pressing flesh with every parishoner who presented themselves, and there were many there with minor coughs who were coughing into their hands.

    It will be a while before I return, my abstaining from vaccination until a more conventional vaccine perhaps becomes available, and zero confidence in their ability to follow even the most basic of infection control hygiene.

    • In retrospect, most “preventative measures” have been empty show, such as the current priest-only hand sanitizing.

      What good does it do when 5 gift bearers with unsanitized hands from the coughing congregation bring up the gifts which the priest then handles both before and after his little squirt of hand sanitizer?

      Does anyone know of a consistant method of handling the wafers from arrival to distribution? Does anyone know of any precautions at all, such as sanitized hands before handling the wafers to place in the ciborium? Any mandatory hold time for any virus to die off if wafers handled with bare unsanitized hands?

      Bishops want us back, but their various measures have been an inconsistant hodgepodge all along, and those of us with health problems are not amused. I watched the deacon yesterday do a lot of last minute rearranging of the sanctuary, the tabernacle had been left wide open, some book on some stand had been left out, etc etc, all of that was handled immediately before Mass, and he never cleaned his hands, and then touched everybody’s hands distributing communion, including those who were coughing in hands.

      Yep, it’ll be a while before I return. Based totally on local infection numbers since I cannot trust a church to safely distribute communion.

      • Alf, you ask “Does anyone know of a consistent method of handling the wafers from arrival to distribution?”

        Oh that’s easy. It’s called the Latin Mass. There you will find no bringing up of gifts, no Communion in the hand, no shaking of hands and none of that perfectly unsanitary communal cup.

      • You’re right, there’s no good, standardized way to limit the possible chance of infection nor implement policies to protect the vulnerable. It’s a virus, after all. Ever heard the term “going viral?” There’s not much we can do to guarantee zero infection.

        It’s not the bishop’s job, nor the pastor’s, nor anyone’s responsibilty to make sure we’re all 100 percent physically safe. They are guardianso of our spiritual health, not bodily health.

        God gives us free will. If you feel vulnerable then don’t attend/receive. But I think it’s pretty shallow and revealing of a rather weak faith to be afraid of the Eucharist. It’s JESUS! Do you really think He’s gonna make you sick? And if he does, wouldn’t that be because He wants you to suffer now instead of in the afterlife? Maybe He would strengthen your health, the way many have overcome illness after receiving the last rites!

      • Jesus cannot coexist with evil, Alf. You are a faithless man at risk. More concerned about his health then his soul. The Body Of Christ does not allow and can not allow evil to be present as a virus is evil the two can not be together as one. God and the devil aren’t together. Your faith is fear and if you go on in life considering the what if’s then you are void of joy.
        God help you to overcome fear.
        Confraternity Of St. Michael The Archangel

  15. Great piece overall. But I disagree with this line:

    “I understand that this language makes many people today uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t, for it is perfectly congruent with everything we have said about the Mass to this point.”

    Does Barron really believe missing Mass is a mortal sin, but also believe most will be saved? The math there doesn’t work. The idea of mortal sin as taught to day seems congruent with nothing. Aside from the proverbial Hitlers and Stalins, who deliberately turns away God? According to the Church’s constant messaging today, Mass is God chasing after us without reservation. It will be hard to get lots of Catholics back if the Church is seen as just one or the best “option,” versus the only way, especially if God gets us and understands all our complexities as basically decent people. A First Things tribute to AB Chaput had this line : “I once asked the archbishop why he thought the Catholic Church had so rapidly declined in North America and was surprised (and again instructed) by his answer. He told me that even though his generation was the best-catechized in the Catholic Church’s history, nobody had ever told him that he needed to trust in Christ for his salvation. There was no existential urgency or personal imperative attached to the dogmas he was taught.” Without an existential urgency, the return to Mass will be slow. But with it, we will sound like Fundamentalists. I doubt we have the stomach for that.

  16. CATHOLIC’S MAIN PURPOSE
    By Deacon John Lorenzo
    The main purpose of being Catholic is to achieve eternal life with God in Heaven.
    Since God loves all His children, He does not make it difficult to get from this life on earth to be with Him in paradise when we die. The following statement might sound too easy or simple to believe its truth, but it contains providential wisdom in doing God’s will.
    The Catholic path to Heaven and eternal life
    is attending Sunday Mass every week and receiving the Eucharist.
    When Jesus came into our world as our Savior, He made two statements in announcing the good news of attaining God’s heavenly kingdom:
    1. If you love me, obey my commandments.
    2. Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have no life in you.
    God knew His children would need spiritual guidance and wisdom to survive this world and stay close to Him. After recognizing the need of loving God and neighbor, God’s 3rd commandment “To keep holy the Sabbath Day” was critical for man’s destiny.
    God knew that life on Earth for most of His children would be, at times, difficult. He also knew that the more we choose to live our lives separated from Him, the more difficult life will be and gaining our inheritance would be difficult.
    Because of God’s love for His creation, HE sent His Son into our world with the long-awaited Good News. The message of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, to proclaim the coming Kingdom of God, His death on the cross and resurrection to restore people’s relationship with God. The descent of the Holy Spirit to help and guide with the forgiveness of our sins. His gift of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist for man to consume made possible at the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
    Less than fifteen percent (15%) of registered parishioners attend Mass every Sunday. With the attendance steadily declining over the past years. Because of the Pandemic, Sunday Mass attendance amounted to approximately eight percent (8%). Sunday Mass attendance, after the Pandemic, must still be determined.

    Since not attending Sunday Mass is a serious sin many souls could be lost. Why, because many believe that not attending Sunday Mass is not a serious sin and God’s mercy will save them.

    My dear Catholic brothers and sisters, when it comes to who will be saved and who will not be saved, no one knows. Any assumption, by anyone, concerning who goes to Heaven or who goes to Hell is contrary to God’s strategy that this knowledge is not given to anyone.

    So, what does this tell us who were baptized Catholic? It tells us that any deviation from or self-interpretations from what we are taught by Jesus and His Church will jeopardize our chances of going to Heaven and gaining our inheritance of eternal life with our Creator.

    My dear brothers and sisters, be wise and be saved, put Jesus Christ into your life throughout your years in this life and follow His commandments. When committing mortal sins, go to your priest, who represents Christ, for forgiveness. Never use your judgement to decide if a sin is mortal or venial. The priest is there to forgive all sins no matter how serious, or the number of times committed. He is there representing Jesus Christ to help and guide you. Do not risk losing your soul because you believe you are a good person or believe God will forgive you because He is merciful.

  17. In the UK the Catholic bishops have suspended the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and the other days of obligation. Haven’t the US bishops done so? I am a little puzzled by all these references to committing mortal sin by staying away during the pandemic.

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