Is it true that it is a requirement to go to Mass, a sin to not?
It does not seem like a sin, especially not a "mortal sin".It would seem like a bad idea to not go at all, but it seems my conscience cannot accept that it is a requirement calling such judgement.And where did Paul make THIS mortal sin clear? Where did he say "Those who do not attend to services weekly will not enter the kingdom of heaven"? Is the week then a Holy thing? Is it not acceptable for men to think of all days as the same?
I really like this guy, because he takes questions of the faith very seriously, as we all should.
Here's my answer.
First, if we give St. Paul and his epistles any authority at all, it is, again, because of the Catholic Church. The Church tells us Paul's epistles are inspired and a portion of the Deposit of Faith. Paul himself never makes that explicit claim in any of his writing. So either the Church acted by the prompting of the Holy Spirit in determining what books to include in the canon of Scripture, or she did not.
You, dear friend, must accept that she did; otherwise you - and almost all Protestants - would not accept Paul's epistles as inspired utterances of the Word of God.
So if the Church has the authority to represent the Holy Spirit and act with His authority in one way (by setting the canon of Scripture), she has so in others.
Remember in Acts 15:28, when the Church makes the first list of do's and don'ts for early Christians? Remember what Peter and the other apostles said in their epistle to the Christians of Antioch, Syria and Cilicia?
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements ...
They then proceed to list the requirements they were to place on all Christians, not rules of behavior they came up with arbitrarily and pulled out of thin air, but behavior fitting to Christians which they had discerned were implicit in the Word of God, the Deposit of Faith - the fullness of Divine Revelation that was passed on to them and us.
And note how they phrase it - "It seemed good to the HOLY SPIRIT AND TO US ..."! The Church - indeed what we would call the Magisterium - is claiming at the beginning that the apostles have the authority of God, the Holy Spirit, in so far as they cooperate with Him.
And the bishops are simply the successors to the apostles.
However, not every sin has been enumerated in Scripture. When Paul gives his list of "mortal sins", or sins that keep Christians from the Kingdom of Heaven, he never claims he is covering every single serious sin.
Now certainly missing Mass on a Sunday does not seem to be a serious sin, nor does Paul list it; and unless a Catholic misses Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation deliberately, willfully, and knowingly, he is not sinning. Nor is a Catholic sinning if he misses Mass for a good reason - sickness or travel to an area where he cannot find a Mass, etc.
But in any event you are on to something when you say that this does not seem like a sin.
It certainly doesn't! Especially considering how most suburban Masses do more to prevent a person from worshiping than facilitate it.
But missing Mass does not rise to the level of something that is intrinsically evil, or even that is a serious sin (though it violates the Third Commandment); it is not sinful in and of itself (generally speaking - see my caveats that follow). It's one of those things that becomes a serious sin because of the disobedience it offers to God's representatives on earth.
It is (as I understand it, and I could be wrong), like deliberately eating meat on a Friday during Lent. It is a matter of disobedience to precept, not really to the Law written in our hearts - though it is a precept that springs from the Law.
You see, much of what the Church teaches us is a matter of discipline, not a matter of Faith or Morals. Abstaining from meat on Fridays in Lent is a question of discipline. Priests in the Latin rite generally not being allowed to marry is a question of discipline. Going to Mass when the Church tells you to go to Mass is (generally speaking, without considering the question of the Third Commandment), a question of discipline.
And questions of discipline are man made. They may be based upon principles that come from God, but they express these principles in an imperfect and provisional way, a worldly way, and therefore these precepts are subject to a certain degree of change, while the principles that inform them are not.
They are our means of applying the Law of God formally to our lives.
Therefore, bishops can tell Catholics it's OK to eat meat on Fridays (which they did, telling us we could eat meat on Fridays outside of Lent, thereby changing a long standing discipline). This was a change in the discipline of the Church, but not of the Law that informs the discipline. The Church cannot tell us that sacrifice and penance have no meaning and can be ignored at all times in the life of any Christian, for that would entail more than a change of discipline, it would entail a denial of the atonement and the value of the cross; it would be a change of the Law that informs the discipline, which the apostles have not the power to do.
And while the new pope could allow all Latin rite priests to marry, that would be a mere change of discipline; while to say that two men could marry, or to say that divorce and remarriage were henceforth allowable would be a change of the Deposit of Faith, a change of the Revelation that informs the Discipline. The apostles have the authority to do the former, not the latter.
In a similar manner, it would be a grave sin for me to miss Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, Aug. 15, unless the bishops tell me not to worry about that particular discipline (which they do in the United States if Aug. 15 falls on a Saturday or Monday). However, to allow Catholics to miss Mass at will any time, or to refuse to honor God by gathering on the Sabbath or on solemn feast days in general would be beyond the scope of mere discipline.
That's why I say the precept concerning Mass attendance is both disciplinary and a bit more than that at the same time.
But even if only disciplinary, the point remains.
Let's say, for example, that I say, "To hell with this nonsense. It may be a Friday in Lent, but I'm having a Porterhouse steak!"
There's nothing inherently sinful about eating a Porterhouse steak - despite what the vegetarians say - but to willfully disobey God's authority, exercised by the apostles and their successors in the Church Christ established - this is sinful. To thumb my nose at Church discipline is therefore an act of disobedience - nor merely to men, but to God, for God has given his authority and His Spirit to these men (sinners though they be).
It is therefore the authority of the Holy Spirit that gives the Catholic Church not only its ability to teach infallibly on matters of Faith and Morals, but also to promulgate precepts which are based upon divinely revealed Faith and Morals.
All Catholics are therefore bound, on pain of sin, to accept and follow not merely Church teaching, but also Church discipline, in the form of the following precepts (click here for more detail)
- Attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation and refrain from servile labor on these days.
- Confess at least once a year.
- Receive communion at least once a year - during the Easter Season
- Observe days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church
- Provide for the needs of the Church.
These are all, strictly speaking, disciplinary - matters of adjustable discipline and not foundational dogma (though they're all based on the Rock which is Christ and on what He has revealed to us) - but to willfully and knowingly violate any of these would be a serious sin of disobedience or neglect.
OK, guys, if you want to support my role of part-time volunteer apologist, give five bucks a month to Theater of the Word Incorporated!
After all, I worked on this answer.
I could have just said, I DUNNO.