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In order that amid the many cares and anxieties of life man may not forget God, his final end and high calling, God has enjoined upon him to keep one day in the week holy. As we have certain times set apart for the satisfaction of our bodily necessities, sleeping, eating and drinking, so we have appointed times for meditation upon the eternal truths whereby we may obtain fresh strength for our souls. On holy-days we have the opportunity of expiating by prayer what we have done amiss, and of rendering to God the thanks due to Him for the benefits He has conferred on us during the week.
1. God commands us to sanctify the seventh day, because on the seventh day He rested from the work of creation.
In his account of the creation Moses says: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He had rested from all His work” (Gen. ii. 3). Man, who is made after the image of God, ought to follow the example of the Lord his God; as God ceased from work on the seventh day, so man ought to rest after six days labor. Man needs this rest after working for six days. Just as one is obliged to sleep for six or seven hours after the work of the day is done, in order to recruit one’s bodily powers, so one needs a longer period of rest after six days of labor. At the time of the French revolution, the observance of the seventh day was done away with and the tenth day appointed for the day of rest; but it was soon found indispensable to return to the old order of things. The number seven belongs to the natural order. God, Who set the lights in the firmament of heaven for signs and for seasons and for days and for years (Gen. i. 14), intended the changes of the moon, which occur every seven days, to point out to us the division of time into periods of seven days, of which one was to be a day of rest. Bishop Theophilus of Antioch, writing about the year 150 A.D., mentions the observance of the seventh day as a universal custom. We who are Christians keep the Sunday, the Jews keep Saturday, the Mohammedans keep Friday, the Mongols keep Thursday, the black population of Guinea and Goa keep Tuesday and Monday respectively. The cessation from labor every seventh day foreshadows our eternal rest in heaven (Heb. iv. 9). By solemnizing the day of the Lord we renew and quicken our longing for the unending festival of joy above. The very fact that we wear our best apparel on that day serves to remind us of the celestial happiness that we hope will one day be our portion.
2. God commanded the Jews to keep holy the Sabbath day.
The Sabbath was a joyous festival for the Jewish people, because on that day they were delivered from Egyptian bondage. In addition to this, when God gave the law from Mount Sinai, He enjoined upon them to sanctify the day by cessation from work: “The seventh day is the Sabbath; thou shalt do no work on it” (Exod. xx. 10). The Sabbath was specially suited to be set apart for the public worship of God, because more than any other day it recalled God’s benefits to His people (Ezech. xx. 12). It was, moreover, typical of the rest in the sepulchre of the future Messias. The Jews were extremely strict in their observance of the Sabbath; any profanation of the day was punished with death, no work of any kind might be done on it. A man found gathering a few sticks on the Sabbath day was stoned (Numb. xv. 36). The Pharisees would not allow that it was lawful to do a good deed on the Sabbath (Matt. xii. 12). No manna fell in the desert on that day.
3. Sunday was appointed by the apostles as the day of rest Instead of the Sabbath, because Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday.
Sunday is a festival of the Holy Trinity; for on the first day of the week God the Father began the work of creation, God the Son rose from the dead, and God the Holy Ghost descended upon the apostles. The apostles were authorized to transfer the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, because it was not so much the observance of the Sabbath, as the observance of a fixed day in each week upon which God insisted in the commandment. They were all the more at liberty to change the day, as the Old Law was but a shadow of the New. Sunday is called the Lord’s Day, because it ought to be devoted to His service, because on it He rose from the dead. St. Justin (139 A.D.) is the first to make use of the word Sunday: it is a name befit ting the day whereon the Lord, like the rising sun, rose from the grave in the brilliance of His glorified humanity. On this day also God made the light; the Holy Ghost came down in tongues of fire, and on this day we receive spiritual enlightenment. The Emperor Constantine the Great enjoined the observance of Sunday as a day of rest throughout the .Roman empire; and Charlemagne caused those who violated it to be fined.
4. We are bound on Sunday to abstain from servile work and to assist at the public Mass; we ought, moreover, to employ this day in providing for the salvation of our soul, that is to say by approaching the sacraments, by prayer, hearing sermons, reading spiritual books, and performing works of mercy.
Servile work is that which entails severe physical exertion, and is exhausting to the bodily strength. It is the work generally done by servants, menials, artisans, and laborers; in a word the work belong ing to the class that serves, hence the name. Markets and all commercial transactions are included in the prohibition; yet in deference to local customs, the rule is relaxed in some countries. However, buying and selling must not be carried on during the hours of divine worship. As God rested on the seventh day, so we ought to rest. As Christ on Easter Sunday left the grave-clothes in the sepulchre and rose triumphant, so we ought to lay aside our earthly business, and on the pinions of prayer soar aloft to God. Physical repose is necessary, because it is impossible for one who is greatly fatigued to pray well. Public worship is the holy sacrifice of the Mass, generally accompanied by a sermon. In the first centuries of Christianity the Christians were accustomed to assemble on Sundays to hear Mass, and a short exhortation was delivered after the Gospel, as is usual in the present day. There is no act of Christian worship that can compare in dignity and value with the holy sacrifice of the Mass. On Sunday we ought to provide for the interests of our soul; physical rest is ordained in order that we may labor more diligently for our spiritual welfare; and we must not content ourselves with putting on better clothes, but must cleanse and adorn our hearts. The cessation from the work of the week gives an opportunity to the faithful, in compliance with the mind of the Church, to approach the sacraments. They are encouraged to receive holy communion on Sundays and holy-days, and to give themselves to prayer; for this reason afternoon services are held, and the churches stand open for private devotions. Our forefathers used to read spiritual books, homilies on the Gospel for the day, and the lives of the saints. Many of Our Lord’s miracles of healing were wrought on the Sabbath day witness the man whose hand was withered (Matt. xii. 10); the man born blind (John ix.); the man that had dropsy (Luke xiv. 2) although by doing so He gave great offense to the Jews. He intended to teach us to do good work on Sundays.
The work permitted on holy-days of obligation is (1), Servile work which is absolutely necessary, especially works of mercy; (2), Light and trifling work; (3), Occupations of an intellectual nature; (4), Reasonable recreation.
We are not forbidden to do work that is absolutely necessary. Our Lord does not desire man to suffer on account of the Sunday rest, for He says: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark ii. 27). All work may be done which is required for the support of life; we may have our food prepared, and are allowed to gather in our crops if the weather threatens their destruction. All work that is indispensable for the public service may be carried on: e.g., the postal service, the railroad, telegraph, and police service. Ecclesiastical authorities have the power to grant special permission for servile work to be done on Sunday, if there is sufficient reason. Christ says: “The Son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath also,” and the Church, His representative, can say the same. And as the chief and primary object for which Sunday is instituted is to promote the spiritual welfare and eternal salvation of mankind, all works tending to this end are enjoined upon us. Our Lord says: “The priests in the Temple break the Sabbath and are without blame” (Matt. xii. 5). Works of mercy are also enjoined; nothing is more profitable to salvation than these, for on them our eternal fate depends (Matt. xxv. 35). We have Christ’s example and precept also for the performance of charitable works on Sunday: “It is lawful to do a good deed on the Sabbath day” (Luke xii. 12). Some of the saints used to visit the hospitals after Mass, and spend the remainder of Sunday in serving the sick. Yet it must be remembered that only such servile work as is absolutely necessary is permitted, although its object be a charitable one. For if it is lawful to do all servile work without distinction which was for the benefit of the poor, all artisans and laborers might go on with their work, and that would be by no means permissible (Suarez). Necessary works of mercy exempt from the obligation of attendance at public worship; they are in themselves an act of worship (Jas. i. 27). Our Lord says: “I will have mercy and not sacrifice” (Matt. ix. 13). But if it is in any way possible public worship should not be omitted. “These things you ought to have done, and not leave those undone” (Matt. xxiii. 23). What is it right to do if a conflagration breaks out just before the time of Mass, or if there is an inundation? Occupations of an unimportant kind may be engaged in, God does not require us to sit idle on Sundays; besides writing, music, and all mental employments are lawful. Sunday is also instituted as a day of rest; on it we may freely enjoy innocent diversions.
This article, 1. THE PRECEPT TO SANCTIFY SUNDAYS AND HOLYDAYS is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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