Do I have to go to Mass twice on Christmas Eve this year? Christmas Eve falls on the 4th Sunday of Advent this year. What does that mean for Mass attendance? Christmas Eve this year falls on a Sunday. We already know that Catholics are obliged under penalty of serious sin to attend Mass on a Sunday. But, the next day (Christmas) is also a Holyday of Obligation, and the obligation is the same, isn’t it? Well, there are several ways you can fulfill the obligations that weekend. This may seem to be a “no-brainer,” to most. However, there’s a complication: Vigil Masses.
These let you fulfill your obligation the evening before the feast day. They’re especially popular at Christmas. Many families with young children, for example, treat the Christmas Eve 5:30 p.m. Mass as an annual tradition, thereby keeping the following day free for all the other activities associated with Christmas. However, if you go to a Christmas Eve Vigil Mass this year, have you also fulfilled your Sunday obligation? The answer is: No. The Liturgy Office of the U.S. Bishops Conference says that you cannot fulfill both the Sunday and Christmas obligations in just one Mass.
The primary purpose of a Holyday of Obligation is to call the faithful to celebrate particular dimensions of the mysteries of Christ and His Church. Since an obligation is attached to the specific mysteries being celebrated, it is not possible to fulfill two obligations in one celebration. So, those who usually go to Mass on Sunday evening take note: If the Sunday evening Mass is for Christmas rather than the 4th Sunday of Advent, you have to go to a different Mass earlier in the day, or on Saturday evening. This brings us to a related problem that plagues our priests in the confessional.
When little children come to confess that they did not attend Sunday Mass, whose sin is it really? Is it theirs, or that of the parent who neglects to bring them? Who are the first teachers of them in the Faith? It is supposed to be the parents. But what kind of teaching are they giving their children by their poor example about Mass?
Recently, Pope Francis said that a Christian can’t just be a good person and skip Mass on Sundays, because it is the Eucharist that provides the nourishment needed to truly live the Gospel well in our daily lives. He stated, “How can we respond to those who say that there is no need to go to Mass, not even on Sundays, because what is important is to live well, to love our neighbors?” “It is true that the quality of the Christian life is measured by the capacity to love, but how can we practice the Gospel without drawing the necessary strength to do it, one Sunday after another, from the inexhaustible spring of the Eucharist?”
The Pope continued his weekly catechesis on the Mass and Eucharist, focusing on the reasons why we must go to Mass every Sunday, besides the fact that it is a law of the Church (which he said is important, but not enough alone). “Instead we must go deeper. We Christians need to participate in Sunday Mass because only with the grace of Jesus, with his living presence in us and among us, can we put into practice his commandment, and thus be his credible witnesses,” he said.
“The Eucharist and Mass are where we find our strength for daily life. Without it, Christians ‘are condemned to be dominated by the fatigue of everyday life.’ Often consumed by worries and fears, this weekly meeting is where Christ gives us the strength to live each day with courage and with hope.”
He explained how participating in the Eucharistic communion with Jesus here on earth helps us to anticipate heaven, where it will be “Sunday without sunset: no more tears, grief, or pain, but only the joy of living fully and forever with the Lord.”
“At Sunday Mass we rest from the busyness and work of the week, which teaches us to place our trust in the Father, not in earthly things. In the same way, abstaining from unnecessary labor on Sundays helps us to live out our identity as sons and daughters of God, and not slaves.”
The Pope also noted an important distinction about Mass. “Christians do not go in order to give something to God, but to receive from Him what we really need. This teaching is evoked in a prayer from the Roman Missal, which addresses God, saying: ‘You do not need our praise, but for a gift of your love You call us to give You thanks; our hymns of blessing do not increase your greatness, but they obtain for us the grace that saves us’,” Francis said. He then noted that there are many secularized societies, which have entirely lost the Christian sense of an “illuminated Sunday.” “In this case we must help revive and recover the meaning of the day, which should be celebrated with joy, with community, and with solidarity; as a day of rest that restores the soul and the body,” he said.