Keep holy…the Sabbath?

“May your people exult for ever, O God, in renewed youthfulness of spirit.” That is how we prayed this morning at the beginning of Mass: yes, God wants to renew our tired spirits! He wants to fill us with youthfulness.

This is why He commands us to set apart one day a week to Him.

This day that the disciples encounter our Lord was the “first day of the week”—Sunday. The Old Testament mandate to gather on the Sabbath, Saturday, has been replaced with Sunday because this is the day we celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. Our Lord loved the Sabbath as that was when He performed many of His miracles. The Sabbath always culminated in the offering of a sacrifice, and in our Lord we have the true priest who offers the true sacrifice, Himself. The very first Christians had their gatherings of prayer and offered the Mass on Sunday, the “day of the Lord”. This shows us the importance of not simply staying at home and praying, but actually coming together in public worship of God.

Saint Justin Martyr, a Christian philosopher from the 2nd century, wrote: “We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.”

Sunday Mass, and the setting apart of the Lord’s day for God is how we experience eternal life with God even here and now. This is why if we skip Sunday Mass we refuse this life, and we must go to confession before we receive Holy Communion again. Sunday Mass is not supposed to simply be one more thing onto a long list of activities, and it’s not optional if we want to share in the joy of the resurrection. Sunday is meant to be given entirely to God, who uses the day to give us rest, to re-create us. Catholics from Abitene, an early Roman province, were martyred by Diocletian in 303 AD for being Catholic and attending Mass on Sundays. They simply said, “without Sunday we cannot live”. So off they went to their death rather than ceasing to gather together to attend Mass on Sunday. Without Sunday we cannot live. This should give us pause when we are tempted to rush out of Mass right after Communion without even waiting until the end, as if it Mass a burden simply to get through. Or to visit our homebound brothers and sisters and see the tears in their eyes as they tell me they would give anything to be able to attend Sunday Mass. What a sad and lukewarm way of living the faith, and of limiting God working in our lives if we see Sunday Mass and Holy Day Masses as a burden.Yes, it is often a sacrifice to make it to Mass, especially for families, but what better way to show God how much we love Him. No, God calls us to live with more heart, with more faith, with more generosity.

Saint Josemaria Escriva has a good quote for us: “’The Mass is long’, you say, and I add: ‘Because your love is short.’” May our love never be short, but may we give generously, and if we cannot give ourselves generously to God, we cannot give ourselves generously to others.

It is not simply a day to do “nothing” since that is often not very refreshing. In attending Mass, we are giving the day its focus, and we are participating in the heavenly liturgy, no matter how distracted we feel at Mass.

We live in a hyper active environment. We are always on the go either physically or constantly being pulled in to the temptation to “be connected” with phones, the internet, the 24 hour news cycle. Yet we feel tired out, and so often family life is like ships passing in the night. Sunday is a perfect time to put all this aside and give the day to God. God is never outdone in generosity!

Our Lord comes to us in the Eucharist, and the most intimate time in prayer is after we have received our Lord in the Eucharist—spending a few minutes after Mass to thank Him, to adore Him, to ask him for whatever graces we need. What is more important than our Lord? To where are we rushing? If we really wish to live Sunday, Mass is the highlight of the day. It is truly the day of rest, and not simply part of the weekend.

“This is precisely why it is also the day of rest. Speaking vividly as it does of “renewal” and “detachment”, the interruption of the often oppressive rhythm of work expresses the dependence of man and the cosmos upon God. Everything belongs to God! The Lord’s Day returns again and again to declare this principle within the weekly reckoning of time.” John Paul II, Dies Domini 15.

We have to do our best to make Sunday “a day of adoration and glorification of God, the Holy Sacrifice [of the Mass], of prayer, of rest, of recollection, of cheerful meetings in the family” (Pius XII, Address 7 September 1947). We have to take back Sunday for God, because He wants to renew our spirits on this great holy day. It seems as if our culture is trying its very best to steamroll Sunday into just another frenzied day of the week. What a great day to remove the clutter from our daily lives and focus on the truly important things. Start small. Returning to the custom of the family dinner on Sundays. Inviting those who are alone, either due to old age or other reasons, over to join. It is a great day to visit the sick and to bring them friendship. In addition to Sunday Mass with the family, praying the rosary together is a very simple and very powerful way to grow closer to God, to invite God through the Blessed Mother’s intercession into your home. The family that prays together stays together.

“The spiritual and pastoral riches of Sunday, as it has been handed on to us by tradition, are truly great. When its significance and implications are understood in their entirety, Sunday in a way becomes a synthesis of the Christian life and a condition for living it well. It is clear therefore why the observance of the Lord’s Day is so close to the Church’s heart, and why in the Church’s discipline it remains a real obligation. Yet more than as a precept, the observance should be seen as a need rising from the depths of Christian life. It is crucially important that all the faithful should be convinced that they cannot live their faith or share fully in the life of the Christian community unless they take part regularly in the Sunday Eucharistic assembly.” John Paul II, Dies Domini 81

Mary, help of Christians, pray for us.

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