Becoming Episcopalian: Sunday Obligations

Becoming Episcopalian after growing up Catholic has been a bit of a journey. Some things that come naturally to born-Episcopal (or even born-Protestant) people don't come all that easily to someone who was born Catholic.

Well, I technically was born a Protestant, having been a Lutheran before I became Catholic around 2 years old, but I guess that's another story. (Maybe I told it already? I honestly don't remember.)

(I so am going to be that crazy old lady telling the same stories over and over again to people while they smile politely and pretend the story is a new one, every single time.)

One thing I was so used to as a Catholic is the Sunday obligation: you have to go to Roman Catholic Mass on Saturday night or Sunday morning or else you're doomed. Exceptions are made if you're very sick or if you're in the boondocks and truly can't get to a Catholic church. Something like that. Even then, debates can rage on about the exceptions--how sick counts as truly sick? If you can pry your aching body off the bed and get to the bathroom to pee, surely you can get to church...right? What counts as truly being unable to get to church? Surely there's a Catholic church within 500 miles of this remote area of Africa--what's a 1000 mile round trip just to make your Sunday obligation?

It also has to be a Catholic church--you can't go to, say, a Lutheran one and call it good enough. It's got to be Catholic.

I'm only sort of exaggerating. There are, in fact, threads on the internet that explode with people arguing with and guilt-tripping each other over the Sunday obligation. Threats of eternal damnation lies just under the surface of the digital words, since purposefully not going to church counts as a mortal sin. Meaning, you'd have to try to find time to go to confession before you can receive communion the following Sunday. On the other hand, many Catholics don't really worry about it. If you're sick, you're sick. If you're far away from a Catholic church, you're far away. If you work the entire weekend, and services don't fit your schedule, it happens. Life happens. God forgives.

I've been on many sides regarding the obligation. I've been almost OCD about my scrupulosity about Mass attendance even when I'm dreadfully sick. I've also made excuses not to go, even when I had the mildest of colds or allergies. Most of the time, I was somewhere in the middle. I attended every Sunday, and if I was sick enough, I stayed home so not to get other people sick.

I've maintained the more moderate view of Sunday obligations even as an Episcopalian. I go every Sunday morning...sometimes to the earlier Mass, sometimes the later one, depending on what was happening that day. When I worked on Sundays, I made the trek to a different Episcopal church that had Masses on Saturday mornings. Attendance isn't an obligation in the Episcopal church, although it's always good if you can attend regularly.

I go weekly because I recognize the refreshing, recharging power of communal worship to sustain me in the week ahead. Nothing is obliging me to go, except the desire to reconnect with God, even on Sundays when I feel as dry as Chicago has been the last several weeks.

However, I haven't gone on vacation that included a Sunday for a long time. Not since I was received into the Episcopal Church. What will I do when I am gone over a Sunday? Just skip church? Or is going to another Protestant denominational church "good enough"?

Does it count? my inner scrupulosity asks. Does it count even if it's not high or moderate churchmanship?

Officially--it probably does count. Personally--I don't know. It's probably my bias from growing up Catholic, but I rather love the smells and bells and the rituals of a honest-to-goodness Mass. Anything "lower" than that in terms of worship style leaves me feeling like I just went to a lecture hall that happens to read the Bible and sing hymns, instead of feeling like I went to church. I get the church feeling from the Episcopal church. I don't get it as much from the other denominations.

So, it seems that the Episcopal and the Catholic churches count for me, but not the other Protestant churches. Which is admittedly odd of me to say.

On the other hand, wouldn't this be good for me to step outside of my comfort zone for a little bit? I've been to a couple of different kinds of denominations' services, but it was always on top of my Mass attendance. Doing just one denomination's services, one that wasn't Episcopalian, would be strange, but it could very well bolster my faith by expanding my horizons.

I suppose I will deal with it when I get to that point. And that's not even touching on the subject of communion, as celebrated by other Protestants denominations.

Filed under: Becoming Episcopalian


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  • In our parish (I live in Georgia), our priest asks us to bring the service bulletin from the church we go to if we are on vacation. Most of us go to other Episcopal churches, but sometimes people go to other denominations. We have made a collage out of the bulletins so all who would like can look at the different bulletins. It's pretty neat to see the different places people have gone to church while away from home!

  • In reply to Amygreeson:

    Amy, I love that idea of making a collage of all the different bulletins! Thanks for reading and commenting :)

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