Q. In the Bible, Jesus says: “Do this in memory of me.” But he doesn’t say that it has to be done every Sunday and holy day. So many young people are falling away from the church because of its rigidity.
Please explain why we are obligated. (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
A. The responsibility to gather on Sundays for the Eucharist has been recognized by Christians since the earliest days of the church, although it was not specifically written into law until the fourth century. That obligation is codified in the current Code of Canon Law (in No. 1246), which says that “Sunday … must be observed in the universal church as the primordial holy day of obligation.”
Sunday is singled out as sacred, of course, because it was the day of Christ’s resurrection. In the Didache, which was the compendium of Christian teaching written in the second half of the first century, believers were directed as follows: “On Sundays, get together and break the bread and give thanks, confessing your sins in order that your sacrifice may be pure.”
It is true, as you say, that the Sunday Mass obligation is a precept of the church rather than a verbatim command of Jesus, and therefore it could be modified by competent church authority. But it doesn’t seem to me that removing the obligation would serve to bring young people back to more regular eucharistic practice.
The solution, I think, has more to do with liturgies that celebrate joyfully what Jesus has done, with homilies that are well-prepared and directed to the challenges people face daily, and — most of all — with parents who show their children, by example, the importance of the Mass in their lives.
Q. Recently we celebrated the feast of the Epiphany, and I was reminded what an important feast it is. (Jesus and Mary were present, and in some parts of the world, the feast is called “Little Christmas.”)
My question is this: Why isn’t the Epiphany one of the mysteries of the rosary? When St. John Paul II introduced the “luminous mysteries,” the Epiphany could have been the third of these mysteries — instead of “the spread of the kingdom,” which is still a mystery to me! I feel presumptuous second-guessing JPII, but would you please comment? (Dublin, Ohio)
A. When Pope John Paul II in 2002 proposed a new set of mysteries, he did so because he wanted to make the rosary more of an overview of the entire life of Christ. He felt that there was a gap between the childhood of Jesus, which we meditate on in the joyful mysteries, and Christ’s passion and death, reflected on in the sorrowful mysteries. (The glorious mysteries celebrate the triumph over sin and death of Christ and the Virgin Mary.)
The pope pointed out that it is during his three years of public ministry that Jesus reveals his identity to us and invites us to share in his vision of God’s plan. (If the Epiphany were to be added, as you suggest, it would properly belong to the joyful mysteries — but that would make six of those, and our present rosary beads would be out of date!)
I agree with you that the third of these luminous mysteries (the proclamation of the kingdom) is rather generic and a bit harder to grasp than the other four, which highlight specific events (the baptism in the Jordan, the miracle at Cana, the Transfiguration and the institution of the Eucharist). That third mystery refers to the various parables, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, in which Jesus teaches us the great value of the kingdom of God (a treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great price, the leaven in the flour, a mustard seed, etc.)
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, N.Y. 12208.