Eucharist and Mass/My Faith/Sacraments/Teen Faith

Sunday Mass Obligation: A Gift not a Rule

I was the homily critic and the cute girl police, the philosopher and the daydreamer.

In high school, I found ways to “get through” Mass, but as I left my home church and went off to college, I realized that it was now my choice to go to Mass. This is when the questions surfaced:

Do I need the Mass? Can’t I just be a good person, say my prayers, and be fine?

As I looked to learn more about “the faith,” I got involved at my college Catholic center. For the first time in my life, I was going to Mass on weekdays and working on really living like a Christian (whatever that meant).

A Question

Then this summer, after two years of college, I went to work at a non-denominational Christian summer camp and some old questions returned.

My summer church camp was awesome. We did so many great things for the poor, gave food to homeless, helped rehabilitate drug addicts, and emphasized the importance of building community.

My weeks were spent at the church camp, and on the weekend I would go back home, which meant going to Catholic Mass at my home parish. I believed that without the Eucharist I would be missing out on something truly special.

But each time I went back to camp during the week, I was hit with confusion. Was the wonderful church camp really missing out, or was my Catholic church back home the one missing out?

At the church camp, I was surrounded by people who loved and served their neighbors — the weak, the poor, and the lonely. They didn’t have the same Eucharist as Catholics, but they sure had God’s love.

So I started wondering: if they, as non-Catholics, can do God’s will, do I even need to go to Mass? Why do I need to go to Mass when they seem to be living better Christian lives than I, as a Catholic, am?

A Better Question

I prayed about this, talked to priests and other people, and finally started making sense of some of it. But the answer was not what I expected for it seemed I had been asking the wrong question.

Instead of wondering whether I needed to go to Mass, I began wondering whether I wanted to go to Mass. In other words, did God give us the Mass because it truly makes our lives better? Because if He did, then it should be one of my highest priorities.


After some more time, I found some guidance from my own experiences.

I thought of a time I was moved to tears during Communion, where my heart was filled with thanks for a God that actually cared about me. I thought of the wonderful changes in my life that occurred from going to daily Mass, such as an increased willingness to give up my time for other people. It was clear that when I sought out and fully participated in the Mass, I truly found “good fruit” from the Mass.

The Mass is a gift to receive, not an obligation to avoid.

Yes, there are parts of the Mass I may never be able to understand. Yes, I may sometimes be tempted to believe there is something better I could be doing. But, like any freely given gift from God, it’s when we choose to accept that we receive.

If you’re interested in diving further into the Mass every week, check out Ascend.

About the Author

Luke Heffernan

My favorite philosopher is Winnie the Pooh, and my favorite quote of his is: "Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart." Right now, my heart's full of quality time with friends and playing piano with my eyes closed. Trying to let go of pondering my future and live with God in the now.

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