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A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith
Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: July 18, 2020
By Father Erik Pohlmeier
Director of Faith Formation
What does obligation mean in a time of pandemic? As Catholics we quickly associate this word with participating in Mass on Sundays. People have often debated such things as how late you can arrive and it still “count.” What does this concept mean during an extended period when the obligation has been lifted? Is it simply a matter of not needing to confess missing Mass right now?
These strange days offer a chance to think more deeply about the place of Mass in our lives and the connection between Catholic practice and personal spirituality.
Part of maturity in faith during this moment is to move away from our thinking of obligation toward a hunger for the things of God. To satisfy our hunger and meet the needs that Mass fulfills is not simply a rule, but the path to heaven itself.
Catholic practice is designed to deepen our relationship with God and yet, the rules that surround our practice lend themselves to a focus on the external work rather than interior conversion.
Let’s consider why there has been an obligation for Mass in the first place. It starts with the fact that worshipping God is good for us. The act of worship given to God elevates our lives, it turns our attention to the greatest reality of a transcendent God who gives life and sustains it. It reminds us of heaven and fuels our aspiration to live for something bigger than this moment in time.
The Eucharist provides heavenly nourishment that offers grace for our daily lives. The living Word of God is proclaimed so that the voice of God can echo through our days and remind us of the kingdom of heaven. We celebrate the fact that we are part of a community that is the family of God. We step aside to rest and enjoy the values of family that we cherish.
Which of these needs goes away during the time of pandemic? The dispensation from Mass has been given because the Church is careful with the good of her children, and rightly considers justice in our need to protect the vulnerable from the hidden threat of virus. Here lies the conflict in these days for our faith.
It would help us now, and when everyone returns to Mass, to think in terms of need rather than obligation. Like most rules of parents for their children, the deeper truth is a good that we might neglect without the rule. But, as we mature we understand the good and embrace the responsibility as part of a better life. Part of maturity in faith during this moment is to move away from our thinking of obligation toward a hunger for the things of God. To satisfy our hunger and meet the needs that Mass fulfills is not simply a rule, but the path to heaven itself.
While there is no substitute for participating fully in Mass, in person, this is not an option for everyone at the moment. Those with greater vulnerability should proceed with caution, but this is not an all or nothing situation. Some of the needs met by participation in Mass in person can be met from a distance. The availability of technology can be a great benefit and does allow the engaging of your heart and mind in the sacrifice of salvation being offered. Your life of prayer at home can also tap into the graces that God gives through the Church. Pause and reflect on the hunger for God deep in your soul. Our God, who is a loving Father, can still feed this hunger.
Let this time when the obligation is lifted be a time to deepen your sense of obligation. Ask the Holy Spirit to shift your sense of obligation away from rules to follow, and toward the God who knows what is best for you and calls you closer to himself. Pray for the grace to commit to fully sharing God’s life.