“‘Take care to keep holy the sabbath day as the LORD, your God, commanded you. Six days you may labor and do all your work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then, whether by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or ass or any of your beasts, or the alien who lives with you. Your male and female slave should rest as you do ” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14).
These are words from scripture. These are God’s own instruction giving through Moses for the third of the Ten Commandments. What does keeping the Sabbath holy mean for you?
This is a topic I reflect on myself from time to time. It began formally with an article I wrote, “Keeping the Lord’s Day: What Does It Mean to Me?” in 2007. In that article, I wrote about the “technical” understanding of what it means to keep the Sabbath holy, including frequent use of Pope John Paul II’s document, Dies Domini.
Today I will likely repeat some of what I wrote then. However, my goal is more reflective, with some discussion of the Sabbath in the context of the shutdown from the context of the Coronavirus. First, some quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that I used in my presentation on the Eucharist.
While some people think that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass was relaxed (some even seem to think it was eliminated) after the Second Vatican Council, it was not. What did change was our understanding that if we are sick, confined by severe weather (where I live that means major snow), or otherwise unable to attend Mass, it is not a sin (no – sports, play practice, or golf do not count as “unable”). God understands.
We are currently under an example of what it means to not be able to attend Mass that I never imagined, the Coronavirus pandemic. It is a matter of public health that we have not been able to attend Mass in person.
I stress “in person” because most people have the option to watch Mass on TV or livestreaming. It is not the same as coming to church but it is making your best effort. God always wants us to make our best effort. I encourage those watching Mass from home to make sure you make it your focus. Watching from home, it can be tempting to work on something else while Mass is going on. Please don’t do that. How do you feel when you are talking to someone who is doing something else? Do you wonder if they are really paying attention to you? During Mass, let us keep our focus on God.
What about the community aspect of Mass? When we come to church, we see other people. We interact with them. When we watch from home, we can’t see those other people. That’s does not mean we are alone. There are other people watching the same Mass. Even beyond that, when we celebrate Mass, we need to look beyond that one Mass. When we celebrate Mass on Sunday in the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, every Latin Rite church is hearing the same readings and same prayers. We are united through the Holy Spirit into one body.
What about before and after Mass? What do you do before Mass? Whether you watch on TV, livestreaming, or are able to attend Mass in person do you take time to prepare yourself by praying and/or looking at the readings?
After Mass do you discuss what you heard in the readings and homily if you are with others? Do you live out what you heard and received at Mass?
Now, perhaps the more difficult question in a normally busy world. What do you do the rest of the day on the Sunday Sabbath? Do you take it as a day of rest? Are you lazy or do you honor God with what you do, taking time to appreciate what God has given you? How has the Coronavirus affected what you do on the Sabbath?
Are you just as busy on Sunday as other days, just with something other than work? What does it mean to rest or relax? For some people working in the flower garden might seem like work. For others, it is in the garden that they encounter God.
What about shopping? I am one of those people who don’t like to shop. I am in and out of the store as fast as practical. Because it seems like a chore to me, I avoid it on the Sabbath. Of course, for some working people, it might seem like your only chance to get your shopping down. How do you do it in a way that honors God?
What about health care workers? In Matthew 12:1-14, Jesus speaks of rescuing the animal trapped in a pit and healing the sick as good things to do on the Sabbath. God wants us to help others. Still, please find a way to give some time to the Lord. One example would be to pray for those you are helping. For those who work on Sunday, you might also think about making some time for God whenever it is your day off.
For those who aren’t working, whether it be in retirement or out of work, sometimes the days of the week just run together. This might seem especially true when we are “stuck home” because of the Coronavirus. Make Sunday special. Do something extra special to acknowledge it as the Lord’s Day.
I end below with a “Prayer for the Sanctification of Sunday” taken from The Catholic Prayer Book.