The Importance of Sunday
As we have announced, this weekend marks a new thing for our Cathedral: there will no longer be a vigil Mass on Saturday evenings. This is to emphasize the importance of worshiping the Lord on His Day, which is Sunday. To help in our common understanding, here are some paragraphs from Sacramentum caritatis by Pope Benedict XVI.
Iuxta dominicam viventes – living in accordance with the Lord’s Day
From the beginning Christians were clearly conscious of this radical newness which the Eucharist brings to human life. The faithful immediately perceived the profound influence of the Eucharistic celebration on their manner of life. Saint Ignatius of Antioch expressed this truth when he called Christians “those who have attained a new hope,” and described them as “those living in accordance with the Lord’s Day” (iuxta dominicam viventes). This phrase of the great Antiochene martyr highlights the connection between the reality of the Eucharist and everyday Christian life. The Christians’ customary practice of gathering on the first day after the Sabbath to celebrate the resurrection of Christ–according to the account of Saint Justin Martyr–is also what defines the form of a life renewed by an encounter with Christ. Saint Ignatius’ phrase–“living in accordance with the Lord’s Day”–also emphasizes that this holy day becomes paradigmatic for every other day of the week. Indeed, it is defined by something more than the simple suspension of one’s ordinary activities, a sort of parenthesis in one’s usual daily rhythm. Christians have always experienced this day as the first day of the week, since it commemorates the radical newness brought by Christ. Sunday is thus the day when Christians rediscover the eucharistic form which their lives are meant to have. “Living in accordance with the Lord’s Day” means living in the awareness of the liberation brought by Christ and making our lives a constant self-offering to God, so that his victory may be fully revealed to all humanity through a profoundly renewed existence.
Living the Sunday obligation
Conscious of this new vital principle which the Eucharist imparts to the Christian, the Synod Fathers reaffirmed the importance of the Sunday obligation for all the faithful, viewing it as a wellspring of authentic freedom enabling them to live each day in accordance with what they celebrated on “the Lord’s Day.” The life of faith is endangered when we lose the desire to share in the celebration of the Eucharist and its commemoration of the paschal victory. Participating in the Sunday liturgical assembly with all our brothers and sisters, with whom we form one body in Jesus Christ, is demanded by our Christian conscience and at the same time it forms that conscience. To lose a sense of Sunday as the Lord’s Day, a day to be sanctified, is symptomatic of the loss of an authentic sense of Christian freedom, the freedom of the children of God. Here some observations made by my venerable predecessor John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Dies Domini continue to have great value. Speaking of the various dimensions of the Christian celebration of Sunday, he said that it is Dies Domini [Day of the Lord] with regard to the work of creation, Dies Christi [Day of Christ] as the day of the new creation and the Risen Lord’s gift of the Holy Spirit, Dies Ecclesiae [Day of the Church] as the day on which the Christian community gathers for the celebration, and Dies hominis [Day of mankind] as the day of joy, rest and fraternal charity.
Sunday thus appears as the primordial holy day, when all believers, wherever they are found, can become heralds and guardians of the true meaning of time. It gives rise to the Christian meaning of life and a new way of experiencing time, relationships, work, life and death. On the Lord’s Day, then, it is fitting that Church groups should organize, around Sunday Mass, the activities of the Christian community: social gatherings, programs for the faith formation of children, young people and adults, pilgrimages, charitable works, and different moments of prayer. For the sake of these important values–while recognizing that Saturday evening, beginning with First Vespers, is already a part of Sunday and a time when the Sunday obligation can be fulfilled–we need to remember that it is Sunday itself that is meant to be kept holy, lest it end up as a day “empty of God.”
The meaning of rest and of work
Finally, it is particularly urgent nowadays to remember that the day of the Lord is also a day of rest from work. It is greatly to be hoped that this fact will also be recognized by civil society, so that individuals can be permitted to refrain from work without being penalized. Christians, not without reference to the meaning of the Sabbath in the Jewish tradition, have seen in the Lord’s Day a day of rest from their daily exertions. This is highly significant, for it relativizes work and directs it to the person: work is for man and not man for work. It is easy to see how this actually protects men and women, emancipating them from a possible form of enslavement. As I have had occasion to say, “work is of fundamental importance to the fulfillment of the human being and to the development of society. Thus, it must always be organized and carried out with full respect for human dignity and must always serve the common good. At the same time, it is indispensable that people not allow themselves to be enslaved by work or to idolize it, claiming to find in it the ultimate and definitive meaning of life.” It is on the day consecrated to God that men and women come to understand the meaning of their lives and also of their work.