In the Gospels our Lord takes bread and wine and establishes this act as a memorial. However, the text gives no indication as to how often we should celebrate this feast. The immediate interpretation would be that we should just have it once a year at Passover time. However, from the very beginning the Apostles understood that this celebration was to have a far more regular frequency.
In the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we read that “Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes.” In Acts 20:7 it states “On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread,” which indicates that from very early on Sunday Mass was established as a reoccurring event.
While the celebration of daily Mass, as we know it, did not become a custom until the 7th century; the celebration of the Eucharist was never an exclusively Sunday event. It was the normal Liturgical event for whenever there was a special occasion. The celebration of the feast days of Martyrs was among the first forms. It was also celebrated in times of stress, illustrated by Acts 27:35 and the story of St. Felicity and Perpetua. These celebrations would become the frame work for daily Mass.
When we speak of vocation we speak of moral imperatives and personal callings. “You shall not kill” is a moral imperative, but “How should I give of myself” is a personal discernment. When speaking about the call to come and celebrate Mass we begin with those two categories. Sunday Mass is a moral imperative and Daily Mass is a possibility for those who are able. However, this approach is not the full picture. It is a little bit more nuanced than that.
A calling does not simply fit into the two categories of necessary or optional, as we know from every personal relationship. If our mother called us up and said, “You need to come home now, your dad is dying.” we all understand that as a very powerful imperative, and we might compare that to the call to attend Sunday Mass. However, on other occasions she might say “It would mean so much to me if you could come to this event, but I understand if you can’t come” while in other situations she might say “Don’t feel in any way you have to come to this event, It is just available if you want to.” Both of these expressions create the space for us to excuse ourselves, but on two different sides of the spectrum.
These are subtle nuances; but they give texture to the relationship. It is through this lens that we should interpret the liturgical calendar. The different events on the liturgical calendar have different degrees of imperative. For example, the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul we might compare to “It would mean the world if you all could come to Mass, but we understand if you can’t” while the celebration of the ordinary weekday Mass communicates, “It would be great if you came, but we completely understand if you can’t.”
However, it’s not only the celebration of the feast days that are emphasized, but also the celebration of Marriages, Funerals, and any of the other Sacraments. When these events are celebrated they have a special imperative. They rise to the level of, “Please make an effort to come to these events, if you can.”
Beyond the celebration of sacraments and feast days, there are also the celebration of what we might call ministerial or missionary Masses. These are celebrations in nursing homes, prisons, or other “outside of sacred space” events. These are also special invitations and noticing when and where these are and prioritizing them can also enrich your experience of daily Mass.
Understanding gradation in the calling to serve at daily Mass can help us enter more fully into the celebration and discern which Mass we should prioritize. For example, if I can’t go to daily Mass every day perhaps I can place a priority on high feast days, funerals, and weddings. If I have the availability to choose between a funeral or the regularly scheduled daily Mass, then I should choose the funeral. If the possibility exists for me to attend the Mass at the nursing home, then I should make that a priority. Even in the celebration of Sunday Mass, being attentive to when the Sacraments are being celebrated. If Baptisms, Confirmations, or even Ordinations are being celebrated; I should try and make them a priority.
Through all of this we refine our ability to hear the nuances in the call and enrich our relationship with the Church and the local Parish.