Recently somebody asked me, “Father, is it enough to watch Mass on TV?”
My response was: “If one is sick, cannot get a ride to church or is at great distance from church, perhaps, yes. However, one should make a very good effort to attend Mass because we participate fully at Mass when we attend — especially in receiving Holy Communion.”
No television broadcast or internet stream can replace fully participating in Mass or church devotions. The beauty of Catholic worship is that it is more than hearing and responding; it is participating with all our bodily senses: see, taste (speaking), smell, touch, and hear. Our entire person – both body and soul – participate in the church’s liturgy.
Also, attending and participating at Mass or other sacramental/devotional celebrations of the church unites one with the faith community. It is the community that sustains us in faith and friendship.
God reveals himself fully to a people, a community: consider God revealing himself and leading the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land; think of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early Christian community and upon the peoples of various nations at Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-11).
The aspect of participating with all our bodily senses and with the faith community reaches its apex during this week — Holy Week. The church’s use of symbols, gestures and Scriptural reading reaches its highest expression during Holy Week and Easter: palms, consecrated and blessed oils, the washing of the feet of the faithful, the veneration of the cross, lighted candles, blessed water, and, of course, the Eucharistic bread and wine express a faith that is celebrated in both body and soul. This is the beauty of our Catholic worship: faith is not just about “soul salvation,” but “whole salvation” — salvation of body and soul, the person and the community.
Take advantage of the liturgical celebrations this week. Participate as much as possible, even making sacrifices to do so. Holy Week can be a time of great graces, conversion of heart, and a deepening of faith. If you cannot participate in all the different liturgies/devotions this week, participate in other ways: watch the Mass or devotions on TV or the internet, light a candle on Good Friday between noon and 3 p.m. (the hours of Jesus on the cross), share with the needy, or pray at home with your family. Of course, don’t forget to participate at Mass on Palm Sunday or Easter Sunday if you are able – the parish family is poorer without your presence.
Father Matthew Weber is pastor of Saint Bridget Parish, Glassboro.