Sunday, 5 July 2009

Obligation or Love?

In a response to a recent post of mine on Holydays of Obligation, a reader has suggested that obligation is the wrong idea, as we should go to Mass out of love for Our Lord.

It seems unanswerable, but in fact I believe it to be profoundly misguided - and the reason is this:

The Catholic Church is a Church for sinners; for would-be saints who are very much 'work in progress;' and sometimes that progress is rather slow...

In her wisdom, Holy Mother Church has laid down certain minimum obligations to help us. Of these the Sunday (and Holyday) obligation is the most obvious.

Of course we should want to go out of love; but some of us don't always feel that way - and if we drift, we deprive ourselves of grace and others of our presence and support, and it is easier - far easier - to drift into sin almost unnoticed as we see things in an ever more worldly light.

I compare it to my marriage vows: of course I love my wife, and in my better moments would do nothing to hurt and everything to support her. But the reality is that there are times when I would gladly bean her with a frying pan or simply walk away. The vows help: they help me to stay true to what I really want, long-term, even when in the short term I might prefer something - or God forbid, someone - else. Yes, I should stay faithful out of love; and indeed, measured over the long term that is what I have done. But in the short term it has been the dreadful prospect of breaking the vows and shattering the marriage that has sometimes helped me walk away from temptation - and I don't think I'm unique in this.

By the same token, there have certainly been periods in my life when I have gone to Mass out of obligation - but that has kept me within reach of the Church - and led to reconciliation and further outpourings of grace to help me on my slow progress...

3 comments:

Athanasius said...

I think you make an excellent point, although if I may be so bold as to speak for another, I think your commenter (was it mulier fortis?) might have been suggesting that the name 'obligation' as much as anything detracts from the purpose of the midweek celebration. To this extent I agree, but I can't see what alternatives there are (i.e. Saints Day of the 1st Class doesn't quite have the same ring to it.... :-)).

Going back to the point you are making in the post, which I entirely agree with - I think we can extend this observation to other areas of our Church life. It's there in the Act of Contrition, of course, that we are sorry for our sins because we dread the punishment... that fear draws us into the love by which we are truly repentant for offending God.

I also find this in my prayer life. The rosary has sustained me a great deal in recent months, but there are many days when I can't face it, or it seems very tedious - the same with the Office. But I force myself through it anyway, and while such prayer will often seem to be lacking, perhaps even to some meaningless, I see it as a way in which God draws me back to Him so that next time I can make a deeper and more sincere offering.

Simon Platt said...

Quite right!

At a Sunday mass once I had to sit through a sermon from an idiot deacon who proclaimed "no-one comes to mass out of obligation any more". I wish I'd had the nerve to point out to him that at least one of his suffering auditors proved him wrong.

Mac McLernon said...

BTW, it wasn't me that objected to the term "obligation."

I think the term is useful. Yes, I go out of love, but there is the understanding that, on an off day (and we all have them) I will go because it is my duty to do so...

...and given that the "off" day is usually a result of Old Nick trying to get me to slack off, it is actually rather helpful to know that I am obliged to do a certain minimum...