Today I read a short story by Megan Cherkezian, in Guideposts, that began like this: “How does my big Armenian family celebrate Easter? We get together—four generations—for church, then a festive meal afterward.”
Wow! I thought how wonderful that this family of four generations is able to coordinate such an event, where all attend church to celebrate spiritually together. They live in New Jersey, and perhaps the family members have not dispersed too far away from their roots. Or maybe they just arrive from long distances a day or two early so they can preserve that ritual. The remainder of the story does not say.
Easter always falls on Sunday, the first Sunday, after the first full moon, after the vernal equinox, to be exact. Make a note of that piece of trivia in case you ever get to appear on Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? 🙂
I got to thinking about the many old family photos I have scanned, many of which I posted on Facebook. A lot of them were taken on Easter Sunday. Men and boys are dressed up in white shirts with ties and dress pants with sport coats or suits. The ladies and girls have on new Easter dresses with “bonnets.” Hats were a must back in those days, because women wore them in church without exception. And men didn’t wear hats in church, without exception! At our church there were gadgets screwed to all the pews where men could clip and hang their hats during Mass. They were fun for kids to play with too.
Although the photos don’t show it, in all likelihood everyone in those photos attended Mass on Easter morning. And that meant for those old enough to receive communion there was no munching on your Easter basket candy or eggs until after Mass. Why? Because we had to observe a fast from midnight until after communion. No wonder early morning Masses were so popular!
In general, Easter or not, churches were full, I mean brimming full on Sundays. Why? I think that people felt a strong sense of obligation to attend Mass. Why? Well, I think there were a few reasons. First, there was more piety in the practice of the faith. Secularism? Never heard of it. So, people took the third commandment of the Decalogue quite to heart. Second, there were the precepts or laws of the Church, which still exist, by the way. These are the minimal behaviors expected of members of the Church. The number one precept: “To assist at Mass on all Sunday and holydays of obligation.” And, third, a Catholic who missed Mass on Sunday through their own fault committed a mortal sin. No one wanted to do that!
There are Catholics today who are unaware of the seriousness of missing Sunday Mass (or Saturday Vigil as an alternative). Ask a Catholic if he or she knows the Precepts. There are six of them last time I checked. If you want to know all of them, try Google.
Some Catholic don’t like that idea of being obligated to go to church, so they don’t for various reasons. One, I’ve heard is that, “I don’t get anything out of it. It’s boring.” I know I have felt that way at times. In fact I can point to a period of 17 years when I felt that way. I toyed with the idea of skipping my Sunday obligation and going to Lake Michigan to pray and be close to God. It was a strong temptation. But, in the end I stayed faithful to my obligation. Why? I always had this thought, “God wants me here.” And who was I to snub God?
One final thought. I have heard people say, and this includes people who regularly go to church, that this idea of going to Mass out of a sense of obligation is terrible, and that “you should go because you want to go.” All I can say is that’s great, but if I had followed that precept, instead of the church precept, I would have missed around 900 Masses and all the graces that I derived from making that sacrifice.
What do you think?