Why a special day?
The First Commandment which God gave to his people was to ‘have no other gods before me’ (Ex 20:3). The third says ‘Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy’ (Dt 5:12). As Christians we are called to give God first place in every aspect of our lives. We are given a special day each week to help us to do this, and to help us to keep all our worries and troubles in their true perspective: the perspective of our life with God.
Why keep Sunday special?
For many people today, Sunday is no different from any other day. As Catholics, however, we try to keep Sunday as a day set aside for the Lord for several good reasons.
- It is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection Ever since the earliest times Christians have understood Sunday to be the day on which Jesus rose from the dead, named in John’s Gospel as ‘the first day of the week’ (Jn 20:1). It is because of this that we call Sunday the `Lord’s Day’ and set aside time for Him.
- It reminds us of God’s gift of creation and our New Creation through baptism Because Sunday (not Monday!) is the First Day of the week, it reminds us of the very beginning when God created everything out of nothing. It is a special day for us to give thanks to God for this gift. We also give thanks for our being made a ‘New Creation’ through baptism; through baptism we share in Christ’s victory over death and in his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
- It is the day when we look towards the Second Coming of Christ Sunday is not only the first day of the new week, but also the ‘Eighth Day’ of the previous week! In the book of Genesis, God created the world in seven days. So on Sunday, the eighth day, we look beyond creation to the end of time when we hope to share fully in the new life of Christ, victorious over sin, fear and death.
How do Catholics keep Sunday special?
Practically speaking how can Catholics go about living Sunday in a way that serves its true purpose?
- By going to Mass
`On the first day of the week we met to break bread’ (Ac 20:7). The best way to proclaim the Lord’s Resurrection, to thank God for His gift of creation and look are made present for us — as though we were present at Calvary, or in the garden on Easter morning. We meet the Risen Christ. We receive Him in Holy Communion and we have a glimpse of the eternal banquet of Heaven. The word ‘Eucharist’ means “to give thanks”.
- Through rest and prayer
Life today is often very busy and it can be difficult to make time for rest and prayer on Sunday. This is, however, a very important part of keeping Sunday special. In Genesis ‘God rested on the seventh day’ after His work of creation (Gn 2:2). We give thanks to God for his gift of creation especially by setting aside the Lord’s day at the end of the week for rest and prayer. We remind ourselves that our union with God, both now and in Heaven, is the reason for which He created us.
This means we should, wherever possible, refrain from paid work on a Sunday. For some people, this is impossible. Doctors and nurses, for example, may have to work on a Sunday. Indeed, in our increasingly secular society it may be very hard for Christians in many walks of life to insist on their right to keep Sunday as a free day. Even if this is the case, we should at least be careful to attend Sunday Mass — the Church allows us to attend the Saturday evening Vigil Mass, which fulfills the Sunday Obligation.
Similarly, we should be thoughtful in our choice of recreation on a Sunday. While shopping (now a popular outing for many) on a Sunday is not necessarily a sin (particularly, say, if buying food for our family) it is not really the best way to celebrate our faith and to rest in the risen Lord. (It also deprives those who work in the shops of the opportunity to keep Sunday special). Sport is another popular activity on Sundays, particularly for young people. This is certainly not sinful in itself, but one does hear of youngsters regularly missing Sunday Mass, simply because they belong to a football or netball club. This is wrong. Although it may be hard (especially for children) to stand out from our peers, Christians are sometimes called to be different, and keeping the true focus of the Lord’s Day, is one way in which we do this.
- Through love and charity
When Jesus was criticized for doing good works on the Sabbath day he responded that ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath’ (Mk 2:27-28). And the same can be said of the Lord’s Day. Our rest and prayer on Sunday do not cut us off from other people. Rather, they make us more open to the needs of our family and friends and people in our community. By keeping the Lord’s Day, we have this special time in the week to give to them, through hospitality, for example, which is an important expression of Christian charity and love.
Why go to church on Sunday when I can pray at home?
As baptized Catholics we are members of the Body of Christ: ‘Therefore … we are members one of another’ (Ep 4:25). Keeping Sunday special by going to Mass, shows not only that we want to put God first in our lives and express that we belong to Christ, it also says that we belong to each other. By worshiping together on Sunday as the family of God we help each other on the way of holiness and our spiritual journey to Him. Of course, as Catholics we also pray at home, but this flows from and feeds into Sunday Mass.
Why do I have to go to Mass on Sunday?
The instruction to keep holy the Lord’s Day comes, not only from the Church, but from God Himself – in the Third Commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Because Sunday is the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, the Sunday Mass, when we celebrate his death and resurrection, is at the heart of the Church’s life. This is why the Church has always said that attending Sunday Mass is central to Catholics living their baptismal promises. Living this ‘Sunday obligation’ gives us the freedom to spend time with the Lord in church and at home and to have a day of rest without worrying.
A day for rejoicing Sunday is a day of great joy, a gift from God. It is a gift which Catholics today are called to receive in the same way as Catholics down the ages have treasured it, even in the face of persecution: ‘This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it’ (Ps 118).