Sunday Mass is the family meal for Catholics, cardinal says


BOSTON — Describing Sunday Mass as the “family meal” for Catholics, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston called Catholics in his archdiocese to more frequent and more enthusiastic participation in weekly services.

“Jesus’ eager desire is to celebrate this thanksgiving meal with every one of us each Sunday,” the cardinal said in a 12-page pastoral letter dated Nov. 20, the feast of Christ the King. “We pray in many good and helpful ways but none equals the prayer that is the Sunday Mass.”

Titled “Jesus’ Eager Desire: Our Participation in the Sunday Mass,” the letter was published in the Nov. 18 issue of The Pilot, Boston archdiocesan newspaper; made available in Spanish and Portuguese translations; and offered for download to the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch and Amazon Kindle.

Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley has written a pastoral letter telling parishioners of his sadness that so many Catholics choose to be absent from Mass. "Jesus' eager desire is to celebrate this thanksgiving meal with every one of us each Sunday," he writes. (CNS file)

Cardinal O’Malley said it was “a great sadness to me as spiritual leader of the Archdiocese of Boston to note that, on any given Sunday, so many Catholics choose to be absent from Mass.”

He said that throughout history and even today in many parts of the world, Catholics have risked their lives or suffered great inconvenience in order to participate in Sunday Mass.

But he said that rather than becoming “fixated on the reasons Catholics give for skipping Sunday Mass,” it is better to focus on “the many reasons why Catholics throughout the church’s history have come, and continue to come, with eager anticipation.”

Among the nine reasons he offered were a desire “to encounter Christ in the most profound way possible” — through the community of the faithful, in his word, in the priest and in the Eucharist; a desire to gather with the parish family and to strengthen one’s immediate family; a desire to experience a foretaste of heaven; and a desire to provide “a living legacy to our children and grandchildren.”

“Children who hear from their parents how much, and why, they love Mass will be less inclined to compare Mass to television and consider it ‘boring,'” Cardinal O’Malley said. “The way we celebrate Sunday will affect the way we live the remainder of the week and is a mark of Christian identity from generation to generation.”

The cardinal had special messages for a variety of groups, including priests, parish councils and parish staffs, Catholic school and religious education teachers, parents, young Catholics and those who have been away from Sunday Mass and “waiting for a good time to return.”

Some have stayed away “because you have been hurt by the actions of someone in the church or because of a difficulty with a church teaching,” he said.

Noting that he would continue to ask forgiveness “of all those who have been hurt by the actions, or inaction, of people and leaders in the church,” Cardinal O’Malley said, “Please do not let those experiences and memories separate you from the love of Christ and of our Catholic family and prevent you from receiving the grace of the sacraments.”

To those who disagree with or question a church teaching, the cardinal said although “our faith comes from Christ’s own teaching in the Scriptures and through the teaching authority of the church throughout the ages, … we want to engage in a meaningful conversation with” those who “struggle to reconcile church teaching with social norms in American society today.”

“We want to assure you that God loves you and waits for you at Sunday Mass,” he said. “The best place to begin a conversation is by gathering with the family of believers in the worshipping community.”

He said those who “consider themselves unwelcome at Mass because of some irregularity or moral struggle” should not stay away.

“An inability to fulfill all aspects of Christian worship or to receive Communion should not keep you away from Mass,” he said. “In fact, the habit of being faithful to the Sunday obligation can provide the actual grace, if you cooperate with it, to give you the strength to overcome current obstacles and find paths of reconciliation.”

Cardinal O’Malley urged parish staff members and volunteers to “focus your energy on evangelization and efforts to encourage participation in the Sunday Eucharist throughout the year.” He said all Catholics should “make one-on-on invitations for others to join us at Mass” and said parishes should keep in contact with those who brought their children for baptism, first Communion or religious education and those who were married or attended funeral liturgies at the church.

He urged formation of a newcomers ministry at each parish, as well as a major neighborhood outreach, ride-sharing programs and coffee receptions after Mass to make parishes more welcoming.

Cardinal O’Malley said the new English translation of the Roman Missal, which goes into use in U.S. parishes Nov. 27, provides “a great opportunity to enhance our worship” by looking at “elements of the current celebration that need improving,” including our own participation.

“The most beautiful liturgies … are those in which everyone sings,” he said. “Regardless of how good or not-so-good you consider your voice, it is the one that God gave you and your best effort will be beautiful to your heavenly Father — so please sing.”

The new English translation also prompted a pastoral letter from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia to Catholics in his archdiocese.

The new missal translation “gives us — clergy and the faithful — many new opportunities to reconsider the centrality of the Mass in our lives, to learn more about our faith from the Mass prayers, to evaluate our preparation and our manner of celebration,” he said in the Nov. 20 letter.

“I hope that this historic event … will also signal a renewed commitment to the Sunday Eucharist, to celebrate it with greater beauty and dignity and to live from it more profoundly and intently,” he added.