Many of us do not take our Sabbath rest seriously. When planning out our Sundays, we may not place attendance – physical and mental – at Mass as the first and most important thing, fitting everything else on our agenda around that one event. Rather Mass and giving the Lord His due may be something that we squeeze in between in-season sports, brunch, and getting ready for work or school the following day. I would wager that many of us also do not have a deeply rooted understanding of the theology of the Sabbath that would help to make the importance of rest on this day known and so better dispose us to make attendance at Mass our first and foremost priority of the entire week.
Speaking of personal experience, prior to my own conversion to the Catholic Faith in 2018, my impressions of Sundays were met with a shrug or an eye roll. I didn’t understand what the big deal over Sunday was, why some businesses were closed and why people would “waste” a Sunday at church. When I converted to the Faith, I still didn’t fully understand it. I struggled to believe that to miss Mass because, as a mother of many young children, I was overtired and too busy to go, could be counted as a mortal sin. Yet, my ignorance was pushed aside in favor of the obligation to Church teachings that I was eager to fulfill. Over time and through purposeful study, that has changed: Sundays have become the culmination of the week prior and taking the Sabbath seriously has become the best way for me to start the next week, as well.
So what is the big deal about Sundays? Why keep the Sabbath holy? Let’s take a look.
The Sabbath can be described as a blending of God’s day of rest in creation with our eternal rest with Him in heaven. It serves as a combination of our hope in the life of the world to come, the fading away of this world, and our participation of this reality while still members of the Church Militant. As Jean Danilou writes, “We see why [the Sabbath] is at once ‘one’ and ‘the eighth’: ‘one’ inasmuch as the future life is ‘one’ without succession of time, without decline; and ‘eighth’ inasmuch as the world to come is to follow this world, the future of which is the seven days.” It is in our eternal home with God that we will worship Him without end.
And as we read in the Book of Revelation Chapter 5, verse 8: “The twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones.” The saints in Heaven spend eternity in worshipping God. The Sabbath, then, serves as both a memorial of God’s rest, as well as a foretaste of what heaven will be like for us: Eternal refreshment and eternal worship.
In light of this, God has set aside particular ways in which He would like us to spend our Sabbath. It would seem He, as our Creator and knowing what is best for us, would want us to spend our Sunday in fulfilling the meaning of the Sabbath, as a memorial of eons ago and a foretaste of eternity, to both rest and to anticipate our future with hope, faith, and charity.
We look to Jesus to help us understand how best to fulfill God’s desires. After all, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27). And we look again to the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus reveals the Greatest Commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). While we ought to do as Jesus instructed us on each day of the week, it is especially meaningful and appropriate that we do so on the Sabbath, first by honoring and loving God in the way that He has shown us, both through Scripture and Tradition, and by loving and caring for our neighbor, in a variety of ways, including intercessory prayer, physical closeness, undistracted conversations…an overall slower pace of life for the day that puts the focus on the timelessness of God and the eternity He gives us a glimpse of during our prescribed Sabbath rest.
The Sabbath, then, is not an excuse for directionless laziness but directed holiness and recreation. We must set the day apart so that it is unlike any others of the week, because it is unlike any other days of the week. It is when, as St. Augustine writes, we are called to “rest and see, see and love, love and praise.” We certainly cannot construe that line of the great saint to mean to use Sundays as a day, not of rest and refreshment in the Lord, to give Him our burdens and swap them out for His easier, lighter one, but as one to catch up on laundry and house projects or skip out of Mass after communion to make it to the soccer tournament on time. In honoring the Sabbath as God desires, we are getting a taste of heaven this side of the veil.
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