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MONDAY HOMILY: Keeping Holy the Sabbath Day

By Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds
September 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

For the Christian, Sunday replaces the sabbath as the preeminent day of the week, in honor of Christ's resurrection.  According to St. Jerome, "Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day" (In Die Dominica Paschae II, 52: CCL 78, 550).  Just as faithful Jews observe the Sabbath with great care, Christians ought to see Sunday as a time of privileged encounter with God.

SUGAR LAND, TX (Catholic Online) -  Reverence for the sabbath as a holy day dedicated to the worship of God was - and remains - an essential part of Jewish identity and a mark of fidelity to the covenant.  From the first moment of their calling as the holy people of God, the Israelites freely bound themselves to the Commandments, including the third:  "Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Deuteronomy 5:12).  The scriptures testify that fidelity to the sabbath is regarded as essential for the faithful Jew.

Over time, Jewish teachers delineated a complex system of rules that were meant to guide the faithful in their sabbath observance.  Certain practices were prohibited as violating the spirit of the holy day, while others were allowed.  To the outsider, these restrictions could seem capricious, and there was always the danger of reducing an obligation of love to a mere legal formality.

Even today, Orthodox Jews exercise great care to revere the sabbath and the restrictions that flow from its faithful observance.  For example, according to some ancient scholars, the sabbath rest prohibits Jews from carrying certain objects outside of the home.  In order to ease the burden of this restriction, Orthodox Jews designate certain areas as an eruv, which is a ritual enclosure - sometimes delineated only by a wire that is strung between buildings, along roads, or on utility poles.  Everything within that wire is considered part of the enclosure - the eruv.  As long as one remains within that area, certain sabbath restrictions do not apply.

To the outsider, this might seem to be carrying things too far, but we ought to understand it as an effort to help people keep the sabbath holy.  Until fairly recently, most places in our country had "blue laws" which prohibited the buying or selling of certain items on Sunday.  Most stores and other commercial establishments were also closed on that day - all as a means of helping people keep Sunday as a holy day and a day of rest.  Are we really better off now that these customs have fallen by the wayside?

The distinctiveness of Sunday has been lost in Western society.  Formerly, it was for many people the only day off each week, and was always set-aside for God, family and recreation.  As Pope John Paul II wrote in Dies Domini, "Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a "weekend", it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see 'the heavens.' Hence, though ready to celebrate, they are really incapable of doing so" (DD, no. 4).

When Jesus appears to the Pharisees to be violating the sabbath rest, he is really restoring the fundamental meaning of that day.  What better catalyst to rejoice is there than the healing of the sick, the strengthening of the crippled, and granting forgiveness to sinners?  When Jesus heals the man with the withered hand on the sabbath day (cf. Luke 6:6-11), he shows the true meaning of recreation: "re-creation;" to be made again.  The sabbath is a day for re-making, for being re-energized in the service of God and neighbor.

For the Christian, Sunday replaces the sabbath as the preeminent day of the week, in honor of Christ's resurrection.  According to St. Jerome, "Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day" (In Die Dominica Paschae II, 52: CCL 78, 550).  Just as faithful Jews observe the Sabbath with great care, Christians ought to see Sunday as a time of privileged encounter with God.

What can we do to reclaim the meaning of Sunday as the Lord's Day?  Together with our participation in the Holy Mass - the indispensable heart of Sunday - there ought to be time for our families, recreation that involves more than just watching a football game on TV, and perhaps the offer of hospitality who would otherwise spend the day alone. 

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Fr. Stephen B. Reynolds is the Pastor of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Sugar Land, Texas. You are invited to visit them on the Web at: www.SugarLandCatholic.com.

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