Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy god: thou shalt do no work on it... For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it. - Exodus 20:8-11
The third commandment finishes out the section that deals primarily with our relationship with God, while the fourth through tenth commandments deal primarily with our relationship with our neighbor. Love of God and love of neighbor always go together; they’re inseparable. The sabbath is the seventh day, Saturday, which is when Jews and certain Christian groups like the Seventh Day Adventists observe this commandment. Catholics and most other Christians observe the sabbath on the first day of the week, Sunday. Sunday is the day that the Lord rose from the dead, all of the Lord’s appearances after His Resurrection took place on Sundays, and the early Christian community always gathered for Mass on Sundays, which they called the Lord’s Day, or the eighth day. The Jewish Sabbath was on Saturday because that was the seventh day of creation, when the Lord rested, so they rested on the seventh day to give thanks to God for the creation of the world and for their lives. We celebrate on the eighth day, Sunday, to show that God did something new when Jesus rose from the dead, a new creation, if you will, and to give thanks to God for bringing us to life in Christ.
On the Christian Sabbath, Sunday, we are required to do two things, go to Mass and refrain from servile labor. This is the time for us to turn our attention away from the way we make a living, our jobs, and towards the things that make life worth living, our relationships with God and with our families. It’s a day of renewal for our bodies and for our souls. We’re required, if possible, to avoid work, or servile labor, on Sundays. The rule of thumb is to abstain from work that hinders you from fulfilling the purpose of the day, worshipping God and true recreation. For example, if gardening is your job, then don’t garden on Sundays, but if it’s your hobby then it’s okay. Fulfilling family obligations or important services, like healthcare professionals and other necessary jobs, are excused from the day of rest. Some people may have jobs that require them to work on Sundays; in that case it’s not a sin to work on Sunday, but don’t let it become a habit of ignoring the Sabbath, but do whatever you can to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Remember that everyone has a right to their day of rest, so avoid things that require others to work on Sundays.
There are at least three reasons that God commands us to rest on the Sabbath. As the Lord said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” After all, God doesn’t get tired, so He didn’t need to rest on the Sabbath, but He also knows that we do need time to rest, recuperate, and refocus on what matters in life. Second, the Sabbath rest requires us to put our faith in God. We could work seven days instead of six and make more money and get more done. Instead, we give one day a week to God. On that day we serve God (the Hebrew word for worship also means serve) instead of ourselves or other people. By taking one day off we’re telling God that we trust Him to provide enough for ourselves and our families. Finally, in respecting the Lord’s Day we give everyone a public witness to our faith in God and show that our faith should affect our lives in a real and demonstrable way.
St. Justin Martyr’s First Apology was written in the second century AD, about 100 years after Christ, to explain Christianity to the non-Christians. Talking about the Mass, it says, “But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. And this food is called among us Eucharistia, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”
Fr. Bryan became pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes on July 3, 2017. Read his bio here.