Keeping Holy the Sabbath
What is the meaning of the word sabbath in the third commandment?
“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day” means, literally, to keep holy Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Faithful Jewish people today observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
The Sabbath has rich connections with events in the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures. It recalls the creation of the world. It recalls the deliverance of the Chosen People from pagan slavery in Egypt and the obligation of the liberated covenant that God made with us as we observe a day of praise and gratitude for the Lord’s saving actions. It recalls the fact that God rested on the seventh day as a model for us to imitate.
Why, then, do most Christians keep the sabbath on Sunday?
At the very beginning of the Christian era, the Church shifted this observance from Saturday to Sunday, basically for two reasons: Jesus rose on Easter Sunday, and the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles fifty days later, also a Sunday. It also sees in the celebration an understanding that Christ ushered in the new creation and fulfills the sabbath.
Is Mass central to keeping Sunday holy?
Yes. There is a double dimension to the Sunday obligation—praising our God and resting from work. The Church, also from ancient times, has stated that the “Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and His Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life (CCC-2177). Sunday is the feast day, the foremost holy day of obligation, and was for years the only celebration of the Church year. Every Sunday, therefore, is a little Easter.
Do Catholics have an obligation to be present for Mass every Sunday?
Yes, or at an anticipated Mass on Saturday evening. Over the past thirty years, there has been some unclear teaching about the serious responsibility of Catholics to attend Sunday Mass each week and a generally lax approach among many Catholics in that regard. The Catechism gives clear teaching on this topic.
The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin (CCC-2181).
How do we observe Sunday as a day of rest?
By avoiding unnecessary work and engaging in activities that will “recreate” us and all those with whom we are connected.
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From Through the Catechism with Father Champlin—A Question-and-Answer Guide.