I remember playing a computer game in the 1980’s called Lost Ruins. You played as a robot whose job it was to clean up the ruins of a long-forgotten civilization, making their planet liveable again. The catch was that if you didn’t return to base regularly, you ran out of fuel … and the game would be over.
This is one way to understand the third commandment, Remember to keep holy the Sabbath (the Lord’s Day). The sabbath exists as a sign of God’s care for us, His desire to make sure that we are refueled and ready to go. Human beings are simply not capable of working forever without rest, so a weekly day to rest and be refreshed is a simple way to take care of ourselves. But our call to Sabbath is also something more – a sign of His covenant with us. For Israel, the rest on the seventh day in commemoration of God’s work in creation (Genesis 2:2-3) and the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 20:8-11). The Sabbath is a day to remember the rich history of the faith:
“The Sabbath recalls in the first place the seven days of creation, when God ‘rested, and was refreshed’ (Exodus 31:17), this, so to speak, authorizes all men to interrupt their work and replenish their energies. Even slaves were supposed to be allowed to observe the sabbath.” -YouCat 362
The Jewish observation of the Sabbath begins on Friday evening and ends on Sunday evening. Those who practise Orthodox Judaism follow many rules to stay faithful to God’s command to rest – a devotion many of us Christians might learn from.
You might wonder why we celebrate on Sunday when the Jewish Sabbath was (and still is) celebrated on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. The answer is that “…Christians replaced the celebration of the Sabbath with the celebration of Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. The ‘Lord’s day,’ however, does include elements of the Sabbath” (YouCat 364).
We, too, are invited to recall the creation of the world in Genesis 1, and God’s presence with us throughout all of time. We also recall what is known as the eighth day of creation, “when the world was made new in Christ (thus a prayer from the Easter Vigil says: ‘You have wonderfully created man and even more wonderfully restored him’)” (YouCat 364).
Finally, in both Judaism and Christianity, we look to the future: “In traditional Judaism this day of freedom and rest is also a sort of foretaste of the world to come” (YouCat 362). In other words, our rest here reminds us that our lives are oriented towards an eternal rest in God.
Knowing all this background about God’s command that we take a day to rest, the question remains what should WE do on the Lord’s Day? How can we keep it sacred and holy? Part of the answer is quite simple:
“A Catholic Christian attends Holy Mass on Sunday or on the vigil of Sunday. On that day he refrains from all work that would prevent him from worshipping God or disturb the festive, joyful, restful, and restorative character of the day.” -YouCat 365
The Jewish commitment to Sabbath puts most Catholics to shame. They stop everything, visit the synagogue, and have a beautiful family meal. They spend the day savoring one another’s company. We too, are invited to stop everything and to embrace the joyful, restful, and restorative, character of the day, and we are only exempted from this “…by urgent family duties and important responsibilities in society” (YouCat 364). For us, the call to rest starts by getting to Mass. This is a bare minimum, so making space for the Sunday Eucharist with your parish community should be one of the most important parts of your week. This is the place where we return to refuel and carry on whatever other missions we have been given.
And although getting to Mass is the priority, we can do more with our day of rest than just going to Church. Here’s a few ideas to get you started with family or with friends:
- Make Sunday brunch or dinner a can’t-miss event for the family.
- Spend time together: go outdoors, watch a movie, read a book, or have family game night together.
- Welcome over some other friends and/or family.
- Pray together as a family. You might read from Scripture, pray the Rosary (or even a decade), or look at the Liturgy of the Hours.
Whatever you do, do it together. Enjoy the time just as two spouses savor date night while the kids are with a babysitter, God calls us to honour Sunday as a day to treasure time with Him and with our loved ones.
-Mike Landry is Catholic Youth Camps director for the Archdiocese of Edmonton. He is also chaplain for Evergreen Catholic Schools, serving 10 schools west of Edmonton. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain with their five children.