Preparing the way of the Lord
By Rev. Scott Settimo, Pastor of Holy Name Parish, Ketchikan, AK
How do we best heed the call of the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord”? Principally by doing just what most of us already do – assisting at Holy Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation. To do this is to fulfill the most basic obligation (as the first of the Precepts of the Church) and highest privilege of every Catholic.
Even so, far too many of our friends and even close family members have lapsed in the practice of their faith, to the detriment of their state-of-soul, by absenting themselves from Holy Mass for less-than-adequate reasons. As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, adjures his readers, “We should not stay away from the assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another . . .” (10:25). Particularly during this Year of Faith we would do well to realize our responsibilityto encourage our wayward friends and family to return to the practice of the true faith.
How important is our Sunday worship? Just consider: the early Christians were regularly persecuted by the Roman authorities for doing just what we so take for granted. In Abitene (modern-day Tunisia) in 303 A.D., forty-nine Christians suffered torture and martyrdom because they defied the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s order not to celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday. When asked why they had disobeyed, one of them said, “Sine dominico non possumus” — “Without Sunday, we cannot live.”
In fact, for nearly 2,000 years Christians have risked their lives to participate in Sunday Mass. During the Reformation in England, priests were martyred when caught offering Holy Mass for English Catholics. Courageous lay people who gave their homes over as places of Catholic worship, and who harbored priests, suffered torture and death.
Would centuries of Christians undergo such suffering and adversity if our Sunday gathering were simply a convivial, even inspirational, gathering of like-minded people? Of course not. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is infinitely more.
At Holy Mass time and eternity intersect. At Mass, we are truly, though mystically, present at Our Lord’s self-sacrifice on Calvary. We share the wonder of the holy women at the open tomb. We are given, in all actuality, the same Body of Blood of the Lord that He gave His first priests at the Last Supper, perpetuating His unique sacrifice throughout all time, a foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet.
Yet, despite this great gift that we are given every Sunday, many stay away. Some feel that they have been hurt by the Church. To these we must be very compassionate. Others place other priorities ahead of God. Still others act out of apathy.
Those who do so are in grave spiritual danger. Speaking of those whose absence is habitual, who reject the faith, scripture says, “If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:26). And the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation [to assist at Sunday Mass] commit a grave sin” (2181). This – the welfare of souls – is why we must reach out and “encourage one another.”
We come to Sunday Mass, not to be entertained nor necessarily to “get” something out of it. We come because the Son of God gave His life for our salvation; asking us, the day before he died, to do one thing for Him: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). We come because we, too, realize that, “sine dominico non possumus” — “without Sunday we cannot live!”