Sunday should be day of reflection, pope says 'Grave obligation' to attend Mass exists

July 08, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

In a message welcomed not just by Catholics but by other Maryland religious leaders, Pope John Paul II yesterday urged that Sunday be reserved as a day for spiritual rest, reflection and renewal.

Concerned about declining church attendance and the increasing secularization of the Christian Sabbath, Pope John Paul warned in a 100-page letter, "Dies Domini" (the Day of the Lord), that "when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes part of a 'weekend,' it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see 'the heavens.' "

The pope reminded Catholics that they have a "grave obligation" to attend Mass on Sunday. Church attendance in some parts of the world "is strikingly low," he said. He mentioned no specifics, but Vatican officials yesterday singled out Austria, the country Pope John Paul visited last month, where 17 percent of Catholics attend Sunday Mass, and Rome, where the attendance figure is 28 percent.

According to studies, between one-quarter and one-third of Catholics in the United States attend Sunday Mass.

Although Pope John Paul wrote that cultural and recreational activities on Sunday can be a good thing, they should not detract from the focus of the day. "Christians today must face the enticements of a culture which has accepted the benefits of rest and free time, but which often uses them frivolously and is at times attracted by morally questionable forms of entertainment," he wrote.

Pope John Paul's letter echoes the concerns voiced by New York Cardinal John J. O'Connor, who in a May column in the newspaper Catholic New York, asked, "Why must Little League and soccer league games be scheduled on Sunday mornings? Why create that conflict for kids or for their parents?"

"This is the constant erosion, the constant secularization of our culture, that I strongly believe to be a serious mistake," O'Connor wrote.

Cardinal William H. Keeler, Baltimore's archbishop, singled out Pope John Paul's point that Sunday Mass is "a defining moment for the Catholic Christian. It's the visible glue that helps not only define, but helps hold our faith community together."

Keeler pointed out that although John Paul referred in a general way to cultural pressures, he did not single out any particular pursuit. "Some things have to happen. People have to work -- nurses, doctors. Parents have to stay at home with sick or very small children," he said. "The important thing is that faithful members of the church plan their day so that they can participate in the Eucharist and be in touch with God in ways that will help them, not only on the weekend, but all through the week."

Other religious leaders, concerned about the infringement of secular activities on sacred time, welcomed the pope's statement.

"I think that the secularization of the Sabbath must be slowed down and even stopped," said Bishop Edwin Felton May of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. "It takes time to be holy and one out of seven days to address the needs to the 'inner net' as opposed to the Internet will facilitate wholeness and health and healing."

The Right Rev. Donald Hart, assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, said he has heard the same message in his church. "You can see the same plea being made in some of our parish newsletters and in the religious press," he said. "You have sports practices for kids, shopping malls are opening earlier, there are some school activities like play rehearsals and band practices. The schools are running out of time, too."

Pub Date: 7/08/98

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