Does attending Mass on Christmas Day this year fulfill one’s Sunday obligation?

| Father John Paul Erickson | December 16, 2010 | 7 Comments

The short answer is no — attending Mass on Christmas Day this year, which happens to be a Saturday, does not fulfill one’s obligation to attend Mass on Sunday, any more than attending a wedding on a Saturday afternoon fulfills one’s Sunday obligation.  But the reason behind this answer requires some explanation.

Sunday is a day of deep theological significance. It is, for the Christian, “The Lord’s Day,” a day in which we remember that great Sunday of Sundays, Easter Sunday. But this resonance with Easter Sunday that Sundays throughout the year are meant to have goes beyond the liturgy, as absolutely central as it is.

Attending Mass on Sunday, or at a Saturday Vigil for those unable to attend on Sunday itself, is meant to be but the source and summit of one’s remembrance of the Lord’s Day, a day that should also ideally include very deliberate family time, devotions, rest, meditation and real leisure, just as it should ideally be devoid of work that could be accomplished at other times during the week. The beautiful tradition of Sunday dinner is one way that the Lord’s Day is commemorated in some households, and how important this is!

The point is that Sunday is not just about fulfilling an onerous burden, a sacrifice of one hour of our time to assuage the guilty Catholic conscience. It is rather a full day of remembering — a day to remember the resurrection of Jesus Christ and its radical implications, and a day to remember that one day we will rest forever in the presence of the Father on the eternal Sabbath that is heaven.

The startling fact is that those who do not make a concerted effort to remember will forget; we will forget for whom we have been made and the promise of the mansions of the Father. Without exaggeration, despair is sure to follow the sacrifice of Sunday as a day of authentic rest, rest that must begin with the Mass, that great act of Christian remembering.

The Church therefore maintains the importance of attending Mass on Sunday so that this special day might be protected, even when we have attended Mass during the prior day.

But by upholding the necessity of attending Mass on Sunday, the Church is not simply imposing a taxing duty. Rather, she is ultimately seeking to protect the dignity and destiny of the human person, a creature who has an unavoidable need for that rest that God alone can grant.

Father Erickson is director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship.

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Category: The Lesson Plan