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Bishop Strickland . . . On Sunday, The Lord’s Day, And Our Day

August 3, 2020 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By MOST REV. JOSEPH STRICKLAND

In an inspiring apostolic letter entitled The Lord’s Day (Dies Domini), issued on Pentecost Sunday 1998, Pope St. John Paul II gave a masterful summary of the Christian understanding of Sunday, and underscored our obligation to honor the Lord’s Day. The letter began with these words:
“The Lord’s Day — as Sunday was called from apostolic times — has always been accorded special attention in the history of the Church because of its close connection with the very core of the Christian mystery. In fact, in the weekly reckoning of time, Sunday recalls the day of Christ’s Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week, celebrating Christ’s victory over sin and death, the fulfilment in him of the first creation and the dawn of ‘the new creation’ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). It is the day which recalls in grateful adoration the world’s first day and looks forward in active hope to ‘the last day,’ when Christ will come in glory (cf. Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 4:13-17) and all things will be made new (cf. Rev. 21:5).”
Sometimes, Catholics and other Christians refer to Sunday as a “Christian Sabbath.” Though well intentioned, this is incorrect. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. This apostolic letter does a particularly good job of explaining this important distinction. It cites the biblical sources and the writings of the early Church manuals, and the early Church Fathers. This distinction is a part of the unbroken Christian tradition. This apostolic letter by Pope St. John Paul II should be read and studied by everyone who wants to really understand the Christian understanding of Sunday.

The Day After The Sabbath

In the eighteenth paragraph of this wonderful letter, Pope John Paul summarized this teaching in these words:
“Because the Third Commandment depends upon the remembrance of God’s saving works and because Christians saw the definitive time inaugurated by Christ as a new beginning, they made the first day after the Sabbath a festive day, for that was the day on which the Lord rose from the dead. The Paschal Mystery of Christ is the full revelation of the mystery of the world’s origin, the climax of the history of salvation and the anticipation of the eschatological fulfillment of the world.
“What God accomplished in Creation and wrought for His People in the Exodus has found its fullest expression in Christ’s Death and Resurrection, though its definitive fulfillment will not come until the Parousia, when Christ returns in glory. In Him, the ‘spiritual’ meaning of the Sabbath is fully realized, as St. Gregory the Great declares: ‘For us, the true Sabbath is the person of our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ.’
“This is why the joy with which God, on humanity’s first Sabbath, contemplates all that was created from nothing, is now expressed in the joy with which Christ, on Easter Sunday, appeared to His disciples, bringing the gift of peace and the gift of the Spirit (cf. John 20:19-23). It was in the Paschal Mystery that humanity, and with it the whole creation, ‘groaning in birth-pangs until now’ (Romans 8:22), came to know its new ‘exodus’ into the freedom of God’s children who can cry out with Christ, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Romans 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
“In the light of this mystery, the meaning of the Old Testament precept concerning the Lord’s Day is recovered, perfected, and fully revealed in the glory which shines on the face of the Risen Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6). We move from the ‘Sabbath’ to the ‘first day after the Sabbath,’ from the seventh day to the first day: the dies Domini becomes the dies Christi!”
As we continue in the liturgical season of Ordinary Time, a large portion of which falls during the summer months, it is appropriate for us to briefly reflect on our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sundays, and the Christian duty that each of us has to offer praise to God on this day by attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Having instituted the Sabbath Day at the creation of the world, the Lord commanded the people of the Old Covenant to keep the day holy by resting from labor (Exodus 20:8-11). The Chosen People rested in Him, on His day — the Lord’s Day — as a sign of the covenant He had made with them. This was a day to remember and praise the Lord for the many blessings He had given to the Israelites, from creation through the exodus from slavery in Egypt.
When Jesus Christ, the long-awaited Messiah and the Word of God Incarnate, dwelling amongst us, rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples on Easter Sunday, the day after the Sabbath and the first day of the week, this became the day for His followers to mark the new beginning, the New Covenant formed by Christ’s victory over sin, darkness, and death. Christ fulfilled the promises of the Old Covenant, thus Jesus became the true place of rest, the true Sabbath (Dies Domini, n. 18). In time, and by the authority of the Church, the followers of Christ began to celebrate the day of the Resurrection as the preeminent day while continuing to honor the moral and spiritual command of the Sabbath (Dies Domini, n. 30).
Sunday distinguishes Christians from the world around us and is an indispensable element of our Christian identity. In the words of St. Jerome, “Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day.” It is “our day” because it is when we participate in Jesus’ saving action, by celebrating and living His Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension (Dies Domini, n. 19).
How then do we participate in this work of Christ and offer God worship in the manner most pleasing to Him? We do so by following the command of our Lord who, on the night before He died, divinely instituted the Holy Eucharist as a living memorial of His sacrifice and instructed those present to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19).
When the priest, acting in the person of Christ by virtue of his Ordination, does as the Lord commanded, the once-for-all sacrifice on Calvary is made present; through our participation in it, we are filled with “every grace and heavenly blessing” (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer 1).
This re-presentation, which we call the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, is the true and perfect means of worship established by Christ, given to the apostles and handed down to us today through their successors, the bishops, so that we can abide in Christ, and Him in us (John 6:56). The Mass is the only worship a Christian can offer that is truly worthy of God, because it is a participation in the Son’s worship of the Father, in the Holy Spirit. All other worship flows from this.
Out of justice for all that He has given us, we have the privilege and responsibility to worship our Creator. Because there is no other way to adequately give thanks and praise to the Father than by joining our worship to Christ’s, and because the sacraments, most especially the Eucharist, are the source of the grace we need for our salvation (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1129), the Church obliges us in conscience to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice on Sundays and other holy days (CIC, n. 1247). The obligation is fulfilled by assisting at (attending) Mass offered any time after 4 p.m. on the preceding evening, or anytime on the Sunday or holy day (CIC, n. 1248). This also necessitates that we avoid any activities that would prevent the worship that is due to God or the rest of mind and body that is proper to Sunday.
While attending Mass should always be considered a great privilege and gift, the Church knows that in our human weakness, we may be tempted to put other things before God. In light of this, the Church has established that Catholics who willfully miss Mass on a Sunday or holy day without being excused for a serious reason (like illness, the care of infants or the sick, or obligatory work to support one’s family) commit a grave sin (CCC, n. 2181). By divine law, anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not receive the Body of the Lord without having previously been to sacramental Confession (CIC, n. 916).
It should be noted that even though an individual may be in a situation which prevents him from worthily receiving the Eucharist, the obligation to attend Mass remains.
Despite the pressures which can make our Sunday obligation difficult, none of us should be “deprived of the rich outpouring of grace with the celebration of the Lord’s Day brings” (Dies Domini, n. 30). It is important for us to understand that Sunday worship is not merely a matter of discipline, but an expression of our relationship with God which is inscribed on the human heart (Exodus 20:8) (Dies Domini, n. 13). While this relationship calls us to praise and thanksgiving at all times, it demands of us a special time of renewal and detachment when our prayers become explicit (Dies Domini, n. 15).
Many who profess faith in Jesus reject the idea that formal, communal worship of God is necessary. They would offer that the Sunday can be honored, and God can be worshiped in nature, or in private prayer or by reading Scripture from the comfort of one’s home. In part, this is true: God can, and should, be given worship — always — and from all places. Also, there are many ways to offer worship to the Lord.
But we worship “in spirit and truth” most perfectly in the way that Christ handed on to us through the apostles. Further, we do not worship alone because we are not saved alone, but as members of the Mystical Body of Christ — the Church — of which we are all members through Baptism. We are one in Christ and we share at the one table (Gal. 3:28), the holy altar of sacrifice where Jesus Christ is made truly present.
So important was the gathering of the early Church on the Lord’s Day, that some of the most beautiful reflections of the early Church Fathers are dedicated to it. I strongly suggest that every Catholic, indeed every Christian concerned with offering fitting and proper worship to the Lord on His Day, read Pope St. John Paul’s wonderful letter.
In paragraph 26, he explains a phrase beloved by the Early Fathers of the Church when referring to Sunday, the Lord’s Day. That phrase places Sunday outside of temporal time, a participation in eternity.

The Eighth Day

Pope St. John Paul II writes: “By contrast, the Sabbath’s position as the seventh day of the week suggests for the Lord’s Day a complementary symbolism, much loved by the Fathers. Sunday is not only the first day, it is also ‘the eighth day,’ set within the sevenfold succession of days in a unique and transcendent position which evokes not only the beginning of time but also its end in ‘the age to come.’
“St. Basil explains that Sunday symbolizes that truly singular day which will follow the present time, the day without end which will know neither evening nor morning, the imperishable age which will never grow old; Sunday is the ceaseless foretelling of life without end which renews the hope of Christians and encourages them on their way.
“Looking toward the last day, which fulfills completely the eschatological symbolism of the Sabbath, St. Augustine concludes the Confessions describing the Eschaton as ‘the peace of quietness, the peace of the Sabbath, a peace with no evening.’ In celebrating Sunday, both the ‘first’ and the ‘eighth’ day, the Christian is led towards the goal of eternal life.”
I conclude this reflection with two requests which I made to the priests and the families of the Diocese of Tyler several years ago. I released an apostolic letter on the Lord’s Day. I offer the same exhortation to all who read this column:
“To the pastors and priest-administrators of the Diocese of Tyler, I exhort you to ensure that the faithful, reverent, and beautiful celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is and remains the central and most important activity of your parishes and missions! Never must the Mass be treated casually or as anything less than the moment when heaven and earth meet.
“Every liturgy we celebrate must be given the very best we have to offer. Everything in the life of your parish or mission must be ordered to it, and all of your other important works should flow from it. In the liturgy, God’s grace is poured on us so that He can be glorified and we can be made holy (SC, n. 10). As an alter Christus, may the Holy Mass also be your source of strength and constant renewal as you bring God’s loving mercy to His holy people.
“To the mothers and fathers, commitment to weekly participation at Holy Mass, especially in our world today, is the most important thing you can do for your family. You must teach your children to understand and participate in the Sunday Mass. By your example, Mass should not be presented as a burden or something to be done before the fun can begin, but rather as a true source of joy and unity for your family. Further, flowing from your encounter with Christ as a family at Holy Mass, I encourage you to use Sundays as an opportunity for true recreation to build up your family relationships; perhaps this can be done by taking the opportunity to practice the Works of Mercy as a family.
“For all of us, may Sunday — the Lord’s Day and Our Day — always be a time when we celebrate the work of the Creator, remember our Baptism, enter into the rest of God, renew our relationship with Him, profess our faith, and offer back in sacrifice what God has given to us by celebrating the Paschal Mystery of Christ and receiving Him in the Eucharist that feeds us.”

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