Most nights, our family of six eats dinner together. It’s rarely a Norman Rockwell scene. Jamie, 6, sometimes chews with her mouth open just to get a rise out of her sister Teenasia, 7. Fourteen-year-old Jacob too often acts as the fact-checker for 11-year-old Liam’s stories.
Almost once a week we run out of salad dressing, and lately I’ve been forgetting to set the timer for the dinner rolls, and we’ve had to cut off the blackened, Frisbee-like bottoms.
Despite our nonperfect dinners, we come together each night anyway. While I may routinely ruin dinner rolls, I’m pretty good at spinach fettuccini. And when Jacob can hold back from correcting Liam, he finds his brother tells an entertaining tale. Bill and I recognize that a meal doesn’t need to be perfect to be nourishing.
So it is with Sunday Mass. The Eucharist is a family meal. And even when the Mass isn’t perfect, it still nourishes us. Like the family meals around our own kitchen table, we go to church because we know it’s good for us—we come because it will fill us and keep us spiritually healthy.
Take a look at the common excuses we may find not to attend Sunday Mass regularly, and watch what happens when we apply them to family dinners.
I can pray anywhere. Yes, you can. And you should. We can eat anywhere too. But gulping a burger on the way to a soccer game feels very different from sitting down with the family for an organized meal.
A bowl of popcorn on the couch, a popsicle on a porch swing, a crisp apple while walking in the woods—all these are wonderful experiences of food, but we would never mistake a snack for a meal. In the same way, praying on our own, no matter how meaningful, is not a substitute for coming together for Mass.
No one notices if I’m not there. You’d be surprised. Twice in my 14-year history as a parent one of my children behaved so terribly that I sent them to eat dinner in their bedroom rather than at the kitchen table. As the rest of us ate, I was amazed at how empty the table felt without that one child.
Each family’s attendance at a Mass means something to others who are there. Whether it’s a child in another family who likes to say peace to your son, or an elderly woman who looks forward to your baby’s smile, we notice each other’s presence—and feel the absence as well.
We don’t get anything out of it. Before you claim this excuse, check if it’s really true. Even the worst family meal is rarely all bad. On the same night that Teenasia makes a face at the broccoli, Liam has seconds on the mashed potatoes.
So, yes, maybe the homily did lack focus, but the Communion song was beautiful. Maybe you didn’t really understand the first reading, but your daughter recognized the second one from something she learned in religious ed. While spectacular Masses exist (four-star dinner at a fine restaurant), most Masses are more like a normal family dinner—not everyone likes everything, and that’s OK.
I should go because I want to—not because I’m obligated. True enough. Jacob loves tomatoes and eats them because he wants to. Five years ago, though, when Jacob was 9, he ate the tomatoes in his salad only because he was “obligated” to before he could have dessert.
Eating tomatoes regularly—even though he didn’t always want to—helped him to acquire a taste for them. The church’s obligatory Sunday Mass can work similarly. At times in our lives, we go simply out of obligation. From our obligation, God graces us with a true desire to attend.
–by Annemarie Scobey, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. Winner of the General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.
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Filed under: Family spirituality, Handing on the faith Tagged: | Don't skip Sunday Mass, Excuses not to attend Sunday Mass, families and Mass, family meals and Mass, Sunday obligation, Why go to Mass, why should families go to Mass