An uplifting story of World War Two concerns a group of British and American prisoners of war, who limped, barefooted and ragged, into a British camp in the Pacific after a march of 60 miles from a Japanese prison camp. Can you guess their first request? What did they want first of all? Was it food - clothing - a shave - a shower? Was it bandages for their sore and bleeding feet?
Their first request, expressed by an American officer, Lieutenant Whiley, was that Mass be said for the group. Without their breakfast, without clean clothes, without a shower or shave or any other comfort, those bedraggled boys knelt around the altar and attended Holy Mass. Every single one received Holy Communion.
One of the colonels, a non-Catholic, remarked that it was the most wonderful and touching thing he had ever witnessed. Some of those men had not been to Mass and the sacraments for three years.
Love of the Mass is ever the distinguishing mark of the true Catholic. No matter what the cost, a true Catholic attends Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, not only because it is a law of the Church, but because he knows what the Mass really means. What it means is made clear for us by one of the keenest minds of history, that brilliant convert, Cardinal Newman. He is speaking of the death of Christ on Calvary:
"Such a sacrifice was not to be forgotten. It was not to be - it could not be a mere event in the world's history, which was to be done and over, and was to pass away except in its obscure, unrecognized effects. If that great deed was what we believe it to be, what we know it is, it must be present though past; it must be a standing fact for all times."And a standing fact it is. Mass is offered every minute of every day of every week of every year - all over God's earth. Because of what the Mass really is, rather than as discipline, Mother Church has made the law that every Catholic must hear Holy Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation. In the United States the following are holy days of obligation: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8; Christmas; New Year's; Ascension; the Feast of the Assumption, August 15; and the Feast of All Saints, November 1. To miss Mass on Sunday or on one of these days through one's own fault is a mortal sin.
This first law of the Church is an explanation of the Third Commandment of God: Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. The very least a Catholic can do is attend Mass. How much time and attention do we give God during the week? At least on His own day we should pay some attention to God. We Catholics do that in a perfect way - by attending Holy Mass.
There are other ways of keeping Sunday holy:
1. By prayer. Free from work-a-day cares, one should do more praying, or at least some praying on the Lord's day.
2. By hearing instructions. For the average Catholic that means listening attentatively to the sermon. We try to give you some food for serious thought each Sunday. Take it home. Make it part of your thinking and living.
3. By spiritual reading. Spend some Sunday time with your Bible, or with good, solid Catholic magazines, papers or books.
4. By attending special services. There should be at least one member from each family at every service, so that your family will share in the blessings.
5. The prescribed and best way of keeping Sunday holy is by hearing Holy Mass:
A. It is the continuation of the Last Supper and the death of Christ on Calvary, the most perfect act of homage and attention we can give to God.Look at the Mass as did that group of British and American soldiers, who had been imprisoned for three years, who had been deprived of Holy Mass and Communion during that long and trying time. How they longed for God. How they longed for the Holy Sacrifice. Go to Mass every Sunday with that same longing and eagerness.
B. You fulfil your obligation by attending any Mass in any Catholic church. If possible, attend Mass in your parish church.
C. One must attend a complete Mass. Be on time. Punctuality is the courtesy of kings, especially of the King of kings. To come late to Mass is an insult to God, to the priest, and to the congregation. Don't be stingy with God.
D. It is enough to attend one Mass, should a holy day of obligation fall on a Sunday.
E. Most important, you must attend Mass with the right dispositions of mind and body. Take your nap some other place. Pick your teeth and trim your fingernails some other place. So, too, plan your work and dinner and your picnic anywhere, but not in church during Mass. Give God a respectful and attentive service of your body. Give Him your full attention of mind by using a missal.
F. A further Sunday obligation is to rest from manual labor or servile work, unless excused by necessity, charity or piety.
Christ is right there in the midst of you, in your town, in your community, in your church. Some of you know Him not. But you do want to know Him. You meet Him, you adore Him, you receive Him right there in your church. Amen.
Adapted from Prayers, Precepts and Virtues
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1949)