Once a Roman Catholic colleague mentioned to me that she recently played “hooky” on a Holy Day of Obligation (a non-Sunday Holy Day, like Christmas or Good Friday). She said this was the first time she had missed a Sunday Mass or Day of Obligation without a compelling reason – such as illness or injury. I wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or appalled, but she explained to me that in Roman Catholic teaching, attendance at the Divine Liturgy each week is considered an obligation. Indeed, missing it voluntarily used to be considered a "mortal" sin—meaning you were supposed to confess it to a priest before receiving communion.
The Catholic church has always been softer in practice than theory regarding church attendance – my friend assured me there were lots of pastoral loopholes - but the idea that we have an obligation to worship is different than most 21st century mainline Protestant thinking. Most of us think of church attendance as voluntary: something we do to be spiritually fed or inspired, but if we choose to do something else – a walk in the woods, brunch with friends, time in the office – there’s nothing sinful or irresponsible about it, as long as we haven’t signed up to be a greeter.
There are many historical and cultural reasons for this American Protestant shift, some of them theologically sound. God is not keeping an attendance chart, planning to send us to Hell if we sleep in one too many Sundays. But we also have something to learn from our Roman Catholic neighbors, who remind us that worship is communal, public testimony, part of the commitment we make to God and to each other when we affirm our baptism. From the Catholic Catechism:
 Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. Together they testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation. They strengthen one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
What a lovely theological statement. Of course, many people at Summit do come each Sunday. Some of you have spoken eloquently at the Renewal potlucks on the importance of worship attendance for the life of the church and as a witness to those seeking to be faithful. I also realize that work keeps some of you away involuntarily, and as someone paid to come to worship I have no soapbox to stand on! But in this season of Lent, I encourage all of us to keep the Sabbath holy by renewing a commitment to weekly attendance, and to continue into the Easter season . . . and beyond. We will find many blessings in store.
Grace and Peace,