Sunday, January 5, 2014

Obligation

Today it occurred to me that obligation doesn't necessarily equal grace, even though the Church tells me that I receive grace by fulfilling my obligation to attend Mass each Sunday. The Church tells me I receive the grace of absolution by confessing my "mortal" sins to a priest. Under pain of sacrilege, I can't partake of the Eucharist until I fulfill this obligation. The Church tells me the Eucharist brings grace & is the source & summit of my faith, but I'm only obligated to partake once a year, during the Easter season (after having confessed my "mortal sins" of course).

I don't want to be obliged to go to Mass every Sunday. It feels like blackmail. You do this, you get that. While my failure to fulfill my obligation as a Catholic "legally" bars me from the Eucharist, I don't feel the need to stand in line on a Saturday afternoon & "confess". Logically, I can't bring myself to believe its a sin. But it seems missing Mass is likened to betrayal. Christ the King sends His invitation to come & celebrate His presence with His people. To refuse is to reject Him, like the subjects of His parables did. Yet how can the Sunday obligation truly be equal to grace? I look across the proverbial fence line of my Church's restrictions & see Christians of all denominations engaging in communion with Christ & each other... most, it seems, have open communion where all are welcome, regardless of sin or piety. Why aren't all welcome to partake at the Catholic Mass when they choose? The Church says its because we're to celebrate the memorial of Christ's sacrifice together on the Lord's Day, Sunday. They say the Eucharist is the actual Body & Blood of Christ. To eat & drink unworthily (that is, with sin on one's soul) brings condemnation. To reject obligation (confession to a priest, attending Sunday Mass, etc.) is to reject grace. To reject grace is to reject Christ & thus, to sin, which brings condemnation.

Why does Paul say there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus? The Church seems to say if you are not baptised, instructed & confirmed as a Catholic, you are NOT in fact, in Christ. If you have unconfessed sin in your heart, if you have not fulfilled your obligation, you are also apparently not in Christ because one can't abide in Christ & also in sin. They say Protestants, Evangelicals & even Muslims are our brothers & sisters "in Christ", yet they're barred from partaking of the Eucharist with us. Is there a double standard here?!

The Church uses John 20:21-23 to substantiate the requirements of forgiveness. It says Jesus commissioned the Apostles, "sending" them into the world as God had sent Him. 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (NRSVCE)  But was He speaking only to the Apostles & their successors? Or was He speaking to us all, with a nod toward the prayer He Himself taught us: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us..."? Why would anyone retain the sin of another & refuse to forgive them? Why, indeed. People do it all the time. Was Christ teaching that in order to be forgiven of our sins, we need to confess to a priest? Did He teach that the Church is the sole gatekeeper of grace, of what is sin & what is not? Is it true that forgiveness can only be doled out by an authorized human representative of the faith? Frankly, it sounds a little absurd...

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