I recently had the occasion to reread Pope John Paul II’s magnificent apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come.
I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of football (gasp) this Sunday to soak up some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place. If you’re willing to take this challenge, here is a link to the official text of the document: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_05071998_dies-domini_en.html
In the meantime, I’d like to comment briefly on a few insights from the Holy Father based on my own reading of the apostolic letter.
First, this passage really struck me: “The Sabbath precept, which in the first Covenant prepares for the Sunday of the new and eternal Covenant, is . . . rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (no. 13).
Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, our Sunday obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which He took His rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us. This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock in all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As Our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.
Second, in numbers 19 and following, Pope John Paul II gives a brief but important historic and theological overview of the movement of the ”Lord’s Day” from the Sabbath or seventh day (Saturday) to the first or eighth day (Sunday). This points to the connection not only with creation, but with redemption through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:
“In the light of this constant and universal tradition, it is clear that, although the Lord’s Day is rooted in the very work of creation and even more in the mystery of the biblical “rest” of God, it is nonetheless to the Resurrection of Christ that we must look in order to understand fully the Lord’s day. This is what the Christian Sunday does, leading the faithful each week to ponder and live the event of Easter, true source of the world’s salvation” (no. 19).
The Holy Father also points out that Sunday is the day of the gift of the Spirit, noting that the Lord appeared to the Apostles on Easter Sunday to give them the Holy Spirit. Then weeks later they received a powerful outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. For this reason, the Holy Father says that our “weekly Easter” is also a “weekly Pentecost, when Christians relive the Apostles’ joyful encounter with the Risen Lord and receive the life-giving breath of His Spirit” (no. 28).
Third in the Holy Father’s discussion of the Sunday Eucharist, which he calls “an epiphany of the Church” (no. 34), his comment on the proclamation of God’s Word really resonated with me. He said:
”At the level of personal appropriation, the hearing of the Word of God proclaimed must be well prepared in the souls of the faithful by an apt knowledge of Scripture and, where pastorally possible, by special initiatives designed to deepen understanding of the biblical readings, particularly those used on Sundays and holy days” (no. 40).
This is something we’ve really taken seriously at CUF. In terms of the “apt knowledge of Scripture,” we launched Emmaus Road Publishing as a means not only of teaching the Scriptures with the mind of the Church, but doing so in such a way that today’s men and women, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, may be drawn more fully into the sacramental life of the Church. For more information on some life-changing Bible studies, visit www.emmausroad.org.
As for special initiatives, for over a year we’ve been posting Sunday homilies at www.cuf.org by some of the finest teachers and homilists in the Church. In the next day or so we will be posting a dynamic homily by Bishop Victor Galeone of the Diocese of St. Augustine, Florida for this coming Sunday on the Sacrament of Penance. Many people have told me that this service has helped them “deepen their understanding of the biblical readings.” Not surprisingly, this has become one of the most popular features on our website.
“Let all who thirst come to the water.” May this quote from Isaiah describe our own yearning for the refreshment that comes from our faithful observance of the Lord’s Day.