One day during a childhood summer vacation, a friend invited me to pass the day with her on their Iowa farm. Her mother was a member of my dad's congregation (Presbyterian), and while I was there, I joined her family at the table for a meal. My friend's mom stated quite adamantly that she didn't think she needed to go to church on Sunday. “You can worship God anywhere . . . just go outside and see the beauty all around. You can worship God without church,” she stated her position flatly and then asked me what I thought about that.
I remember feeling uncomfortable. I’d lost my appetite. I had the distinct feeling that she had targeted me for a couple of reasons. I was young enough that I wasn't prepared to refute her argument. And, as the preacher's daughter, if I couldn't "win" the argument, then she could walk away justified in skipping church.
All I could come up with was a lame defense of my dad’s sermons. I always thought they were pretty good. Obviously, other people didn’t like them as much as I did. What else could I use to defend church attendance? She could turn a radio on and get some Christian music. She could read the Bible at home. I felt the burden of proof on my end, and it seemed like I didn’t have much to work with.
What I would have given to be able to pull out a quote by St. John Chrysostom about then. "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” (CCC 2179).
Okay, so we didn’t have priests, but the rest of it would have sounded great.
As a Catholic, it is much easier to support the requirement of Mass attendance. We don't subscribe to a simplistic Jesus-and-me faith, for starters. We know that our faith is ecclesial and universal. We believe in unity and communion with one another. The prayers we pray, the Scriptures we read at Mass, they are the same the world over. We are quite literally all on the same page. Catholics in every country, regardless of language and culture, are united in word and praise and prayer. We are one.
But we also believe in Communion - union - with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Again, we have a reason to go to Mass that many Protestants cannot understand. They don't have Communion every Sunday, and most think Holy Communion is merely a symbol. One might even be able to replicate the Protestant kind of Communion at the dining room table. We know that the Liturgy of the Eucharist requires God's ordained priest, and that the priest has been given the special grace, an indelible mark, to pray the prayer of Consecration and bring to us the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
One might disregard Sunday Mass obligation (though it is a serious sin and a desire to be obedient to God should draw us to the Mass even if we can think of no other reason to go), but the greater question is why would you want to skip Mass? What do I get out of Mass? We receive Jesus Christ! The Eucharist changes us. Renews and perfects us. With the entire people that Christ has claimed as His own, I can pray the Mass . . . and then be sent out as one who is changed and changing.
Besides, the world is waiting for me once Mass is over. I can always go into that beautiful world and continue to praise Him after the final amen. Strangely enough, not only is the world waiting for me to bring the song of praise to it following Mass, but the world itself seems more beautiful and the song inside of me more demanding than ever after I pray the Holy Mass with the faithful.
Just because I can worship God anywhere, that isn't a case for missing the greatest gift we have been given. Our Lord's gift of Himself. It is a case for worshipping as one and then taking that gift into the world.