Attending church on Sunday – Is it a must?

Attending church on Sunday – Is it a must?

Empty church benches, poorly attended Sunday services… One has often heard that it symbolises the shrinking of piety and even religion.[1] However, as a late riser myself, I wonder whether it is possible that some Christians simply want to get more sleep on the weekend. And if so, is it moral for Christians to hit the snooze button, go back to sleep, and consequently miss church?

Is there a Sunday duty for Christians?
According to Canon Law, every Catholic is obligated to attend the Eucharist on Sunday and holidays. Anyone who intentionally skips Church commits a grave sin, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.[2] Nevertheless, this does not necessarily mean that millions of Catholics are living in sin by missing church. After all, the majority of Christians in Western Europe are not enthusiastic churchgoers anyway. [3] The Catechism also points out that there are weighty reasons for missing church, such as the personal state of health or family matters. And more important: it is not the church’s business to judge whether the case is justified or not. One must decide with one’s own conscience in front of God.[4]

The step before: between God and the believer
Now we know the potential consequences of missing church, but what about the step before? Are there any requirements for attending church services? In the Catholic Church, children under 7 are free from Sunday duty, because the Church believes they cannot comprehend the services or a belief in God.[5] They can only participate in Sunday Mass when it is clear that they understand the significance of the services.[6] Therefore, the basic precondition is the understanding of God and belief in God. Three elements are required for attending church: (rational) believers, God, and place of worship.

Between religious textbooks and the reality: is the God my God?
So the first question is, do all Christians believe in God? The idea that church membership and a Christian identity are not synonymous to a belief in God might sound self-contradictory, but it is not uncommon. According to a survey conducted in 2019, 25% of German Catholics and 30% of German Protestants do not believe in the God in the Bible.[7] Moreover, this opinion also meets with the approval of Christians in other Western European countries. [8]

As we have said, the belief in God comes first, then the matter of church duty and celebrating encounters with God. Not the other way around.

The different rhythm of life: is the Church my church?
From a historical perspective, the traditional time of worship comes from an agricultural world: the farmers had to feed their cattle on Sundays too, thus the service was held at half past nine or ten in the morning.[9] For many of us today, feeding livestock and farming are likely not to be part of our morning routine. And unlike the generation of our grandparents, we do not work for six days to be at rest on Sunday anymore. Moreover, due to urbanisation, mobilisation, and the transformation of our modern society, people frequently move from place to place and have to leave their home church sometimes.[10] The rhythm of our life has been sharply diversified, which makes the physical presence of believers on Sunday services much harder. [11]

So here comes the second question: am I a part of the church? Is the church willing to consider my situation? What can be observed, for instance in the German Protestant Church, is the popularity of evening services on Sunday and the tendency: “the earlier the service is, the older the visitors are, the later the service, the younger the audience.”[12] 

One-man-show in front of God
However, one thing is quite clear: we are not dealing with a simple yes/no question here. Believers must decide themselves whether to be or not to be at Sunday services, not for the sake of any person or any religious institution.  

Han Chang

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[1] Exodus from the Catholic Church
[2] Sonntags in die Kirche – ein Muss? – katholisch.de
[3] Being Christian in Western EuropeKirchganghäufigkeit in Deutschland 1980-2016
[4] Sonntags in die Kirche – ein Muss?
[5] Sonntags in die Kirche – ein Muss? – katholisch.de
[6] Codex des Kanonischen Rechts: Can. 913-914
[7] Christlicher Glaube in Deutschland, 2019
[8] Attitudes of Christians in Western Europe | Pew Research Center
[9] Der Sonntagmorgen: Lieber ausschlafen als Gottesdienst
[10] Religionsmonitor
[11] Religionsmonitor
[12] Der Sonntagmorgen: Lieber ausschlafen als Gottesdienst