I recently had the opportunity to read Nicholas Wolterstorff, The God We Worship: An Exploration of Liturgical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015). I offer here some excerpts from the book followed by some comments.
“The church enacts liturgy not to satisfy the needs and desire of individual congregants but to worship God.” (p. 11)
“It is surely too weak to say that it is a good and joyful thing for the church to assemble to enact the liturgy. Assembling to enact the liturgy is something the church ought to do; it is its bounden duty. Should it fail to do so, it would be guilty of wrongdoing.” (p. 42)
“It’s true, indeed, that we typically say to someone that he is obligated to do so-and-so only when it appears that he is inclined not to do it. But from this it does not follow that when he is inclined to do it, he is not obligated to do so.” (p. 43)
Exhortations to gather on the Day of the Lord go back at least as far as chapter 14 of the Didache. Later, chapter 13 of the Didascalia Apostolorum memorably directs readers: “Be not then neglectful of yourselves, and deprive not our Saviour of His members, and do not rend and scatter His body. And make not your worldly affairs of more account than the word of God; but on the Lord’s day leave every thing and run eagerly to your Church; for she is your glory.”* For Catholics, the obligation to participate in Mass on Sundays and days of obligation is spelled out in no. 2180 of the Catechism, quoting no. 1247 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law.
Given these encouragements / directives, it seems to me that part of what Wolterstorff is pointing to is captured in Preface IV of weekdays, presented here in the 1975 and the 2011 translations.
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God,
we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.
You have no need of our praise,
yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift.
Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness,
but makes us grow in your grace,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In our joy we sing to your glory
with all the choirs of angels . . .
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God.
For, although you have no need of our praise,
yet our thanksgiving is itself your gift,
since our praises add nothing to your greatness
but profit us for our salvation,
through Christ our Lord.
And so, in company with the choirs of Angels,
we praise you, and with joy we proclaim . . .
The texts give voice to the sense that praising and thanking God is an obligation. At the same time, God in Godself has “no need” for this praise and thanksgiving. Rather, offering praise and thanks to God “makes us grow” in God’s grace.
I wonder if our parishes might emphasize the idea that Christians gather on Sunday in response to what God has already done / what God is doing. Assembling on Sunday is not something Christians undertake entirely on their own initiative. At the risk of complicating things, I wonder whether announcers at the beginning of Mass might say something like this: “Welcome to the parish of St. ____. In response to God’s summons, we celebrate today the (number) Sunday of Ordinary Time / Lent / Easter / Advent / Christmas. We gather in song by singing _____. Please stand.” My suggestion here is simply a template and I am by no means attached to this particular phrasing.