Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever. (John 6:58)
Holy days of obligation are now few and far between - with the exception of Sunday that is. As I'm sure you know, in this country there are now only four which may fall on weekdays, and these are St Peter and St Paul (June 29th), the Assumption (August 15th), All Saints' Day (November 1st), and of course Christmas Day. Even the first three occur on weekdays only about half the time - because if their dates fall on a Saturday or a Monday then they are transferred to the Sunday.
Holy Days can be an especial challenge when we are on holiday - two of the four fall in the summer, and of course if we are not in England and Wales we might find what is a holy day at home is not where we are, or even more confusing we could be completely unaware that a day of obligation is taking place in our holiday location while we are sat by the pool.
Now, no doubt many Catholics today sit light to this particular precept of the Church, especially when it affects weekday obligations, and also, sad to say, the Sunday obligation too. It is not just the obligation of course, other important holy days ansd holy seasons such as holy week, Easter and Christmas are becoming times not for worship with the parish community, but occasions for family holidays, perhaps by force of circumstance but often also by choice.
To many of us, no doubt, the requirement to love our neighbour as ourself, to treat others with respect, to be honest and generous - these seem far more important values to guide our conduct at home and on holiday than whether or not we manage to get to Church.
Yet just because one value is more important than another doesn't make the lesser of no importance at all. And many Catholics, not just younger ones, still see it important when going on holiday to find out where the Church is and what time mass is offered.
It is worth reflecting why we have the Obligation, and what it is for.
First, why have an obligation at all?
The Church, through the Bishops, teaches us what we need to do in order to practice the faith. It is as if we ask "What do we need to do to be a practicing Catholic, a faithful member of the Church and a follower of Christ". It is like the Young Man who came to Jesus and said "What must I do to have eternal life?" In addition to the commandments, the Church gives us six simple rules - or precepts - the Mass Obligation is one of these.
In setting before us the obligation the Church is saying to us "This is what you need to do, the basic minimum, to practice the Faith". In other words - if you want to be a Catholic, if you want to be counted a follower of Christ, then this is one of the basic requirements of membership.
Secondly, lets be clear, the obligation is not to go to Church. Neither is it an obligation to receive communion. It is an obligation to hear mass, to be present at the celebration of Mass, on Sundays and other given days, if it is possible for us to do so. (The obligation is to do what is possible, never what is not possible).
Thirdly, and here is the nub, the obligation answers that fundamental question - what must I do to have eternal life? Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever, Jesus says.
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you, he tells us. ... He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him ... whoever eats me will draw life from me, he explains.
We can say prayers, and read the Scriptures at home, on a bus or a plane, of course, and sometimes we may have to. We can receive communion in our homes or in hospital, and at some times in our lives that may be necesssary. But none of these are substitutes for the Mass, which the Church calls "the source and summit of the Christian life". At Mass we come together with other Christians, normally gather in a Church or Chapel, and celebrate this most holy sacrament, the bread of life, the blood of salvation, the food for the journey of life.
If we wish to live as the Body of Christ, then we must share in that Body, drink that Blood, live that life, and live for ever.