Being very much obliged

What does it mean to be obliged, especially regarding prayer and worship? Where and how can longing and love interplay with duty? These are questions I've seen some Catholics discussing over the past couple of weeks, regarding our 'Sunday obligation'. In March 2020, as we went into lockdown and churches had to close, the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales removed the 'obligation': now, as from Pentecost it is being restored. The statement by the Bishops is called an invitation; it is positive and encouraging in tone, speaking of privilege, witness, deep gratitude and joy... but always underpinned by frequent reminders that all this gift and joy is our 'Sunday Obligation.'

Obligation... I've been mulling over that word. Its root lies in tying, in being bound. But it is also bound up with gratitude. The Portuguese word for thank you is obrigado/a - obliged. And there was a time when a formal, old-fashioned expression of gratitude in English would use that word: Much obliged, someone might say instead of thank you, or even I'd be very much obliged if you could do... So, via very different social and etymological roots, Eucharist and obligation are both about the same thing - giving thanks!

There is, of course, a sense in which gratitude binds us - we feel bound, or beholden to someone who renders service or does us a great favour. And with God we will always be beholden - always be much obliged. Maybe there is a call here, for me, for you, to see 'obligation' as part of our never-ending thanksgiving...?

Certainly, with something as central as the Eucharist, there is a conversation and reflection to be had, at depth, around why we go to Mass. Why did I, returning to a relationship with God after some years as a semi-lapsed Catholic, return to Mass? Partly it was the call of my upbringing; of something atavistic and ineradicable, as unconsciously strong and natural as holding out my left hand, or looking right before crossing a road. But more than that, when I returned to the Eucharist I had a profound sense of returning to the Body of Christ - both what I was now receiving, and the parish community I had now joined. Returning to this Body, to Communion and community, was a central aspect of my journey back into the fullness of Love's embrace. I never felt a sense of duty or obligation, but I did feel immense gratitude - I was very much obliged.

May we all be, and remain, very much obliged to God, however we live our love and thanksgiving, and through this, may Jesus' promise be fulfilled, so that his own joy may be in us, and our joy be complete... 


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