Remember to Keep Holy the Lord’s Day

Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord your God. No work may be done … In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8-11)

Jesus was accused of being a sabbath breaker, but he came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it. (cf. Mt 5:17-19) The healing work he accomplished on the sabbath was not ‘his’ work, but his Father’s work. My Father is at work until now, so I am at work. (Jn 5:17) This ‘work’ was made necessary because the purity of the original creation was broken by Adam’s sin. So Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law of Moses first by completing the work of redemption on the sixth day, Good Friday, when he gave his life upon the Cross, saying, It is finished. (Jn 19:30) Next he perfectly fulfilled the sabbath by resting in the tomb on the seventh day, while his Mother, the Virgin Mary, kept alive the light of faith, awaiting the dawn of the resurrection and the new creation.

Now, the sabbath has not disappeared, but it has rather been transformed in Christ; it has been moved to the first day of the week, Sunday, and has become ‘the Lord’s Day’.

If we were to be so bold as to rephrase the commandment to reflect the way this transformation in Christ, we would say something like: “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day for it is the beginning of the new creation in Christ. On that day you must rest in him so as to receive new life, the life of grace, from him. Let everything that you think, do, or say proceed from him and return to God the Father through him. Begin the week with this rest in Christ and then complete the work of the remaining six days, living from the life of grace he has given you. Complete the work of the remaining days of this passing world with your eye always on the day of the resurrection, the day of judgment, the day of the new heavens and earth, when God will make all things new.” (cf. Rev 21:1, 5)

The observance of the Lord’s Day is a commandment of God that is specified by a precept of the Church, the requirement to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. The Church makes this specification in virtue of the authority granted her by Christ himself, Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. (Mt 16:19)

Now, the first requirement of Christians on Sunday is to attend Mass. This is right and just.

It is right and just because the Mass brings us into the very heart of the Lord’s Day. In the Mass we remember and proclaim the work of redemption, the work of re-creation, in Christ, which was brought about by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even more, that work is made effective and operative here and now. When we are nourished by the sacrifice and sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, the new creation begins in us.

To profess faith in Jesus Christ and deny the need to attend Mass on Sunday effectively declares that we have no need of Christ’s people the Church and effectively denies the very faith we profess by refusing to be re-created in him.

Note, further, that in the original commandment God told the people, six days you may labor and do your work. That means the seventh day the people were supposed put aside their own work, their own needs, and dedicate the day to God, to God’s work.

Often we might look forward to Sunday thinking, “Now it is a day for me to do what I want.” Our thinking is backwards. Sunday rather is the one day in the week, above all dedicated to God’s work, to doing his will. His will is that we love God above all things and love our neighbor as ourselves for love of God. From Sunday, we carry God’s will into the rest of the week.

On Sunday we practice the love of God by attending Mass, by giving extra time to prayer, and by study of the word of God and the teaching of the Church.

On Sunday we practice love of neighbor by spending time with our families, the first ‘neighbors’ God has put in our life, and by works of mercy in service those in need.

What about rest? It is God who will give us true rest. If on Sundays we generously give ourselves to God, we will find that he restores our energies, giving us light and strength for the week.

Contrariwise, very often when we first seek rest and relaxation, we find some physical and mental rest perhaps, but we often do so in a way that leaves us feeling empty inside. We do not return to our weekday activities with a renewed sense of purpose, but with a feeling of weariness, of being ‘burnt out’.

When, however, we learn to put God first on Sundays, then we will learn how to find rest and relaxation that will truly restore our energies.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.