Yesterday Pope Benedict said, "Sunday is the Lord’s day and man’s day, a day when everyone should be able to be free, free for family and free for God. In defending Sunday, we defend man’s freedom!". I wonder if he had just read this story of 16-year-old Margeaux Graham who was selected to attend the American Legion Girls' State event in Florida. After inquiring as to where she would be able to attend Sunday Mass during the nine day event she was told by organization officials that she would not be allowed to attend Mass, rather she could attend the "non-offensive" and non-denominational service offered to everyone at the conference - even though there is a Cathedral right across the street. In inspiring fashion, she therefore declined the invitation to the event if it meant missing the most important aspect of the Catholic faith: Sunday Mass & Eucharist. Her letter correspondence with officials regarding the situation is quite impressive actually. Read her first letter in which she informs them that she will not be attending Girls' State followed by the shocking response here. After being told in the response that if she wants to attend Girls' State she would have to make the "sacrifice" of missing Mass (that's ironic, huh?), she responded by providing a wonderful catechetical instruction on the importance and obligation of attending Mass which you can read here.
When I was younger I didn't understand what the Mass really was or it's true importance. Like most young Catholics in the Americas and Europe I went to Mass because that's what we do on Sunday, but I didn't know the fullness of why and if I was travelling or something out of the ordinary was going on that weekend, then no big deal, we'll just skip it this week - I mean, it's just one day right? And what's so special about the Mass anyway? Why not just go to any other Christian service? Mass is pretty boring most of the time anyway. Those are statements I remember saying to myself back in the day. I just didn't get it. And the reality is that those are the same statements that most youth and young adults and, frankly, adults say to themselves quite often. So the questions would get asked (mostly just in my head) but I wasn't getting any real answers.
Then years later, by the grace of God, I met some people who knew the answers and shared them with me - but the thing is they didn't just share facts and rules, they shared the 'why behind the what' with excitement, joy and love - and they led me to an authentic encounter. It wasn't like there was one single moment, rather it was a gradual process of scales falling away; a movement from seeing the same things I had seen all my life in the Church like the Eucharist on the surface to slowly coming to see it with new eyes; of seeing behind the veil of the appearance of bread and wine to the reality that this is truly Jesus; of recognizing him 'in the breaking of the bread'. These people introduced me to Jesus and His Bride, the Church, whereas before I had kinda just been in the same room but never really knew him or his bride - and you can't have the fullness of one without the other.
It was during this time that I started to appreciate and understand the beauty of the Mass. I started seeing the Mass not as an obligation of boring rules, but as an obligation of happiness. If I want to be truly happy, I need the Mass. Why? Because I was made to love and be loved - that is my purpose, and yours, as a human being made in God's image. And the Mass is where the greatest exchange of love between God and humanity is made present to each of us personally and communally. God who is Love itself and who loves you perfectly comes to prove his love for you and beseeches you to love him back because your heart was made for nothing less. The human heart longs for an infinite love and the only one who can fulfill that longing is the Infinite One. He loves you so much that he wanted to always give you a way to remember his love for you - "do this in remembrance of me" - not just as a thing of the past, but in the here and now. Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross for love of you. In the Mass Jesus says, "I love you" and he simply wants you to say, "Thank you. I love you too". The Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Risen Jesus - God himself coming to commune with you - what could possibly be more important than that? Certainly not Girls' State, as Margeaux clearly understands.