Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jatte by George Seurat (1884)
Today we don’t celebrate the feast of one of the greatest minds of the Church, Saint Augustine. In the life and calendar of the Church, Sundays trump all other feast days, and all those important saints get bumped. I must admit, I sometimes feel a little gypped. Because those feasts only happen once a year, I really look forward to reflecting on the saints’ lives as a way to bolster my walk with God. Boy have I got it backwards! It’s really all about Jesus!
Today we celebrate the twenty-second Sunday in ordinary time. Sounds so bland, “Just another ordinary Sunday.” Because Sunday Mass is something we “do” regularly, we can easily lose sight of its significance. It is the Lord’s Day, the day we celebrate the Resurrection. This day is different from all days because on that first of first days of the week, the gates of Heaven opened up, and we celebrate the gift of that restoration.
As “the first day of the week” (Mark 16:2) it recalls the first creation; and as the “eighth day”, which follows the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation ushered in by the Resurrection of Christ. Thus, it has become for Christians the first of all days and of all feasts. It is the day of the Lord in which he with his Passover fulfilled the spiritual truth of the Jewish Sabbath and proclaimed man’s eternal rest in God. (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no 452.)
God commands us to keep holy the Sabbath (Ex 20:8-10), and Jesus tells us, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mk 2:27) It is to be a day of worship and rest.
The principal way keep the Sabbath holy is by worshipping God as a community on His day, the Lord’s day, by celebrating Sunday Mass. Catholics are different in this way from our Protestant brothers and sisters. The Church, under penalty of serious sin, obliges us to gather and worship. I find it interesting to note that the fourth century Doctor of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, addressed objections to this obligation 16 centuries ago (from CCC 2178-2179):
This practice of the Christian assembly dates from the beginnings of the apostolic age (Acts 2:42-46; 1Cor 11:17). The Letter to the Hebrews reminds the faithful “not to neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but to encourage one another.” (Heb 10:25)
Tradition preserves the memory of an ever-timely exhortation: Come to Church early, approach the Lord, and confess your sins, repent in prayer…. Be present at the sacred and divine liturgy, conclude its prayer and do not leave before the dismissal…. We have often said: “This day is given to you for prayer and rest. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Sermo de Die dominica 2 et 6: pf 86/1, 416C & 421C)
“A parish is a definite community of the Christian faithful established on a stable basis within a particular church; the pastoral care of the parish is entrusted to a pastor as its own shepherd under the authority of the diocesan bishop.” It is the place where all the faithful can be gathered together for the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. the parish initiates the Christian people into the ordinary expression of the liturgical life: it gathers them together in this celebration; it teaches Christ’s saving doctrine; it practices the charity of the Lord in good works and brotherly love:
You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests. (St. John Chrysostom, De incomprehensibili 3, 4: pg 48, 725)
Indeed, God made us for union and communion, and this includes worship.
The Sabbath is also supposed to be a day of rest. God knows we need to rest, and many of us only do so if commanded, especially in our 24/7 culture. We are to refrain “from those activities which impede the worship of God and disturb the joy proper to the day of the Lord or the necessary relaxation of mind and body. Activities are allowed on the Sabbath which are bound up with family needs or with important social service, provided that they do not lead to habits prejudicial to the holiness of Sunday, to family life and to health.” (Compendium, no. 453) Hmmm…now that’s something to chew on.
As a homeschooling mom, I struggled with really having a Sabbath, balancing between resting on Sunday and preparing for the week ahead. If my lesson plans weren’t solidly in place on Monday morning, the week would not go well. Where’s the line? Can I do it all during the week? Can I get it done on Saturday, when all I want to do on Saturday is exhale? I grappled with feelings of failure. Finally, I gave to the Lord. “I’m doing the best I can. All I can do is worship at Mass and aim to worship You throughout the day and to keep You in the proper order of things on Sunday. You have to do the rest.” Sometimes, “the rest” was true rest; other times it was lesson planning. I guess I’ll know how it worked out when I get to Heaven!
Whatever it is that hinders your observing the Sabbath – whether it is the “ordinariness” of Sunday mass or the demands of your family or job, turn to Him for guidance. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to rest for Him and in Him. The Holy Spirit will not let you down. He will reveal it to you. For your part, you must comply. Pray for strength to resist temptation to do otherwise.
So today, on this ordinary Sunday, worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24), and rest in Him.
St. Augustine, pray for us! Anne