I was recently engaged in a debate with another Catholic regarding the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. His point of view was that he was only required to attend Mass once a year during Easter. I disagreed with him, saying that he was only obliged to receive Holy Communion once a year, but that he was obliged to attend Mass on every Sunday and every Feast Day.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that:
“The Church obliges the faithful "to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days" and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season. But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily.”
I think there is a misunderstanding that exists regarding this teaching. My opinion is that some Catholics are confusing the obligation to attend Mass with the obligation to receive Holy Communion. Attending Mass should not be automatically linked to also receiving Holy Communion. One can attend Mass and not receive Holy Communion.
Take careful note of the words used in the Catechism, which read: “take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days”. This is completely different from the words later in the same paragraph, which read: “to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season.”
There can be no doubt, from the above passage in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that Catholics are obliged to attend Mass on each and every Sunday and Feast day. This however does not mean that they are obliged to receive Holy Communion on each of these occasions.
Receiving Holy Communion is not to be taken lightly and I am sure that this is why the Church differentiates between the obligation to attend Mass and the obligation to receive Holy Communion. Listen to these words of St Paul:
“Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup, because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died.”
In order to receive Holy Communion Catholics “must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment” and “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.” So, even if we attend Mass, we must first go to confession, if we are aware of any mortal sin, before we can receive Holy Communion.
We should also be aware that praying the Confiteor, during the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass, does not absolve us of mortal sin. We must still go to confession and confess our mortal sins before we may receive Holy Communion.
Although the Church only obliges us to receive Holy Communion once a year, the Church actually “strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily.”