Written by Kathy Kuczka
Sunday – Our First Feast
What are your childhood memories of Sunday? Was it a day that began with worship? Was it a time set aside to spend with family and friends? Were there special meals or other family rituals? Sunday for my family meant going to Mass first thing in the morning. Sunday was the day we ate pasta. I can still smell the aroma of homemade tomato sauce which filled the house on Sundays. In the afternoon, we would sit out on the front porch, or we would visit relatives or visit our loved ones at the cemetery. It was a special day because we did things on Sunday we didn’t normally do during the rest of the week. Whatever your childhood memories of Sunday are, chances are that your current experience of Sunday is different. Times have changed but the meaning and purpose of Sunday are the same as they were from the beginning of creation.
Sunday: Rooted in Sabbath
Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy, 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. . . your male and female slave should rest as you do. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
The word for sabbath in Hebrew is Shabbat, which is a name for God. The Sabbath is a day to praise God for all his goodness and to make the day holy as God himself did when he created it.
When God created the seventh day, he blessed it, and he rested from all the work he had done. (Genesis 2:3)
Scholars of the Talmud say that the reason the sabbath was created was not because God needed rest, but, in order to make rest holy, to demand rest of us so that by regularly resting in God, we could become new people. Unlike the other six days, which are filled with the movement of work, the sabbath mandates that all be still so that peace and harmony might prevail.
The History of Sunday
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought perfumed oils with which they intended to go and anoint Jesus. Very early, just after sunrise, on the first day of the week they came to the tomb. (Mark 16:1,2)
Much of early Christianity was tied to Jewish practices. So, it’s likely that the early Christian communities continued to gather in their synagogues for the celebration of the sabbath, which began at sunset on Friday and ended at sundown on Saturday. They would also gather on various days for the “breaking of the bread.” Numerous factors led to Sunday being the day when Christians gathered to worship. The primary reason was that Jesus, according to all the gospel writers, rose on the first day of the week, Sunday. Many of Jesus’ appearances after his resurrection, when he encountered the disciples, also took place on the first day of the week. (Luke 24:1; John 20:19) We too, like the early church, gather not only to celebrate the good news of the resurrection, but to encounter the living Lord, risen and present among us. The first day of the week is also, in biblical tradition, the first day of creation. (Genesis 1-5) On that first day, God began his creative work by rolling back the darkness from the universe and giving birth to light. In Christ, God has undertaken a new work of creation in which the darkness is once again overcome by light, the light of Christ. For this reason, Christians eventually adopted the name Sunday (die solis), the day of the sun, which comes from the Greco-Roman week in which the days were named after the planets.
Today, the Church calls Sunday the first holy day of all because the first time Christians began to gather on a regular basis happened on Sunday. In fact, Sunday is so important that The Second Vatican Council said that only feasts of the Lord can override the Sunday celebration.
Rest is something sacred, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God. Dies Domini (65)
Sunday is an opportunity to free ourselves from the ties that bind our identity to what we do to and reflect on who we are and whose we are—to reflect on the freedom we have been given by God in Jesus. It’s a time to set aside weekly routines and give permission to our flesh and spirit to relax and be still. Our work, after all, will never be complete. We are called to partake in whatever refreshes our spirits, visiting family and friends, reading for the sake of knowledge or enjoyment, playing or watching sports, participating in the arts, hobbies, games. But Sunday is not meant to serve merely our own renewal. It frees us up to fulfill the Lord’s command to “love one another” in ways we normally pass up during a busy week. Our celebration of the Sunday eucharist calls us to this service. As Pope John Paul II exhorts in Dies Domini, “The Sunday eucharist commits the faithful even more to all the works of charity, of mercy, of apostolic outreach.”