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Making Sunday Special The Lordâ€™s Day
by Charlotte Ostermann
All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society
CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY publishers to the holy see
Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 What is the Sabbath? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 Itâ€™s your Sabbath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Dwelling in Sabbath life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22 Planning your Sabbath . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33 Questionnaire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Further reading . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Appendix . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
All rights reserved. First published 2013 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road London SE11 5AY Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0046. Copyright ÂŠ 2013 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society.
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ISBN 978 1 86082 854 6
Introduction Life in the twenty-first century is fast-paced, noisy, complex. Taking every seventh day as a day of rest and contemplation may seem impossible. How can we reconcile the realities of our busy lives with an invitation to keep one day open, still, uncluttered, holy? But this is what God invites us to do. And this is a day that will change your life. Christ came not to abolish but to fulfil the commandment of the Jewish law to keep the Sabbath holy. In every way, small and large, interiorly or perceptibly, that we enter into the Sabbath rest of Christ, we honour the sacrifice that has made this day of peace accessible to us from within every other moment of our lives. The Sunday Sabbath was created just for you by the Author of Life himself, and corresponds perfectly to your unique personality, needs and situation in life. So far from being a legal obligation, a requirement, a demand, Sunday is like a holy servant created just for you by God, who knows you to a hair. May God bless you as you consider the thoughts ahead and make the Christian Sabbath your own.
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What is the Sabbath? God created the whole idea of weekly rest when he taught the Jews to take every seventh day (Saturday, counting forwards from Sunday) as a day of rest. Any human being has to rest regularly, but this cyclical, seven-day approach was designed for the Jews, and given to the world through God’s people. It mirrored the story of God’s own rest after the six days of Creation in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis. Calling himself Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus directs us to the profound Jewish understanding of Shabbat as a basis for comprehending his own identity. The Sabbath helped form the Jews to receive Christ. Mary was prepared by it to ponder, wonder, contemplate, and to remember the works, words and wonders of God. By the time of the Incarnation, she had developed an ‘immaculate receptivity’ to the words of God which Sabbath still cultivates in us today. Mary had an interior spaciousness, full of peace and calm…and full of Christ! For thousands of years, Jewish scholars have explored the symbolism and meaning of the gift of Sabbath. A Christian ‘day of worship’ disconnected from these riches is a pale, weak thing indeed. Originating in God’s own example of taking a day of rest at the culmination of the
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world’s creation, Sabbath-keeping is first and foremost an act of worship, of glorifying God. The day has a character and significance that sets it apart from work days, and from the modern ‘weekend’. In the Genesis account, each element of Creation is called ‘good’ by the Lord, but only this day of rest is called ‘holy’. This rest - in Hebrew, menuha - possessed qualities of holiness, happiness, stillness and harmony. As, each week, the Jews followed Lord Sabaoth to the ‘waters of menuhot’, laying down the cares and duties of this world to honour and encounter the Lord of eternity, menuha became synonymous with eternal life. By celebrating the Sabbath we are able to experience eternity every week. We find ourselves in accord with the heartbeat of all time, as conceived in the Judaic vision of the universe. The Jews took the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy very seriously. To protect the rules given by God, though, they created a hedge of many prescriptions and proscriptions for Sabbath-keeping. In light of the freedom we now experience in the Eucharistic Sabbath, their practice seems too legalistic. But the commandment was never revoked, only fulfilled in Christ. We ignore it at our peril. The specific activities designated by the rabbis as forbidden were derived from the thirty-nine categories of work involved in making the desert Sanctuary of God. Though we are likely to feel overly constrained by long
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lists of such work as cooking, sewing, tilling fields and repairing equipment, the Jew was freed by these rules for the perfect ‘fortieth work’ of cultivating his soul for heaven. The Sabbath prohibitions against the use of speeding vehicles and productive machinery derive from the scriptural injunction to kindle no flame upon the Sabbath. Signs restore your soul The Sabbath was both ‘remembered’ (by restraint from activity) and ‘kept’ (by symbolic activities). Like the positive image and the negative space composing a work of art, the remembrance and observance of Shabbat recreated within the people of Israel the tabernacle of the very Presence of God. In prayers and traditional practices, Jewish families recalled the Creation, their Exodus from slavery in Egypt, and their hope of ultimate salvation in the person of the Messiah. Jewish tradition holds that by the Sabbath the world is en-souled, receives anew in the pause that will become eternity, the fullness God intended for it from the beginning. As each Sabbath entered the world, believers were given a respite from their endless longing for redemption - an experience of eternity in the Presence of the Lord. Though you may not adopt each aspect of the Hebrew practice, your own design of Sabbath can be informed and enriched by this heritage of signs.
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Sabbath is a holy guest to be greeted, a bride to be praised and loved. Israel was told by God that Sabbath would be its spouse. The Hebrew word le-kadesh, to sanctify, also refers to the consecration or betrothal of a woman. The association of Sabbath with womanhood corresponds to womanâ€™s role as the place (womb, matrix) for the development of people. Marital intimacy was considered a particularly fitting Sabbath practice, signifying as it does this spousal unity of God with his people. By lighting the Sabbath candles each Friday evening, the Israelite woman sanctified herself and her home, and prayed for the blessings of Shabbat Shalom (peace) upon her family and the world. At the Jewish Sabbath meal, two loaves of bread recall the double portion of manna collected in the wilderness by the people of Israel on the sixth day in preparation for rest from labour on the holy seventh day. The connection of Sabbath with manna reminds us that both Divine Providence and our obedience sustain us, and that our own hearts affect what we can receive from God. Each person gathered only as much as he could eat. None could be retained for the next day - a reminder that grace is not available to us now for an imaginary future moment. The Sabbath prohibition even against gathering for the day reminds us that God most fully fills the empty vessel that humbly waits upon him. The Jews reserved the finest foods for Shabbat. Wine in overflowing cups was passed around for a sharing that
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presages the Eucharist, our daily bread, and the crowning feast of our day of feasting. A place is left empty for Elijah, who is said to arrive at the dining table at Sabbath’s end to announce the Messiah’s arrival. The coming of the New Elijah, the Saviour, is expected to usher in the era of eternal Shabbat Shalom. Creation, liberation from slavery, marriage, homemaking, God’s faithfulness and sovereignty, and unity among the chosen people are all celebrated and cultivated by Jewish Sabbath prayers and Scripture readings. The signs of Sabbath are so much more than symbols - so full of meaning and so powerful to convey that meaning. How much greater are the Sacraments by which actual realities are conveyed by signs full of these high ideas! Whatever activities you choose to engage in on the Sabbath, you have the opportunity to transform them into gifts given freely to others, or into prayers of willing suffering. Such transformation is a high calling of the fully human life, and both honours the holiness of the Sabbath and prevents you from ruining your rest with grudging. Sabbath refills the human person with dignity and small gestures with meaning. Each woman, each candle, each humble loaf of bread, each smell, each act of self-restraint, each moment of silence becomes pregnant with the Shekinah, the glory of God, and gives birth to his Spirit in the world of men.
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Christ is at home in the Sabbath The hope of the Messiah is central to the Jewish sense of the Sabbath. In the kingdom of the Saviour, Israel would finally be wed to its beloved Shabbat, and the people of God would enter his own restful, joyful, eternal peace. Calling himself Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus directs us to the profound Jewish understanding of Shabbat as a basis for comprehending his own identity. Mary is the bridge between Old Covenant and New, the spring in the desert, the place where eternity entered time in the person of Christ. Sabbath corresponds to her in a special way, as a vessel of heaven on earth. The first Christians chose to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ not on Saturdays, but on Sundays in honour of the Resurrection, an ‘Eighth Day’ within the first day which fulfilled all time. By making the first day of the Jewish week (Sunday) into their Sabbath, the Christians were saying that with the Resurrection the whole Creation had been made new. A new light had come into the world. This new Creation made it possible for man to enter into God’s rest - something of which he had been deprived by the Fall. Thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: ‘Sunday is expressly distinguished from the Sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the Sabbath. In Christ’s Passover, Sunday fulfils the spiritual
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truth of the Jewish Sabbath and announces man’s eternal rest in God’ (CCC 2175). In this way the Christians sought to differentiate themselves from the Jews, and to demonstrate Christ’s fulfilment of Jewish law and Messianic prophecy. The Christian Sabbath, while released from the Talmudic prescriptions and proscriptions, was yet a day set apart as ‘holy, holy, holy’ by a people destined for eternity. For the Jews, the Tabernacle is thought to be a type, or pattern, of the created world. In our Christian understanding, the holy of holies where he makes his dwelling place corresponds to Sabbath, to Mary, to the Church and to the heart of the Christian. The ‘Sacrament of Easter’ not only reminds us of the Resurrection, but it actually conveys into our beings - as individuals and as communities - the Bread of Heaven, the new life of the Risen Christ in his own Body and Blood. The Eucharist is, then, the pinnacle of Christian Sabbath observance and the source of its manifold blessings to us and to the world through the people of God. Keeping Sabbath holy is not simply a matter of religious discipline or practice, but a defining expression of Christian identity. Sabbath-keeping was and is the indelible mark of God’s people, of Christ. Holiday is the natural form for extended rest, but Sabbath - the supernatural holiday - is as like a travel break as the Eucharist is like bread!
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It’s Your Sabbath As a Christian, you live in the glorious freedom of the children of God. You no longer need to learn the hundreds of particular rules by which to honour him and keep his Sabbath holy. You are expected to go far beyond the letter of the law to its spirit, with the Spirit’s help. You must choose for yourself what to do, or not to do, on any given Sunday. Freedom is actually more challenging than being told just what to do! When you come to Mass like a child, you trust God to provide everything you need there, in the Eucharist. Faith like this is exemplary, and we must all learn it. When you come like an adult, you still trust in God, but you prepare yourself, you hold yourself responsible for entering into it consciously, you make sure to learn the responses and gestures. You might even study the Catechism, the day’s Scripture readings, the writings of Church Fathers, or other documents of the Church. In this way, you become a vessel with more and more capacity to hold on to what you receive, and to share it. If an adult just goes along on someone else’s journey, it seems childish. We know he won’t be as fully satisfied this way, or learn to travel alone. If you’ve been just ‘going
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along’ with someone else’s Sabbath design, now is the time to learn to plan your own best practices, and fulfil your own deepest needs. Don’t make these mistakes There are two opposite errors people fall into when considering how to observe the Sabbath. I call them the ‘Bubble Bath’ and Whip Lash’ problems. Bubble Bathers suggest that relaxation is the highest goal of Sabbath. They have some great ideas for relaxing: bubble baths, long walks in the country, turning off the phone, getting a massage. These may be just what you need, but they won’t constitute the whole of Sabbath-keeping. Whip Lashers have long lists of things you’d better do (read the Bible, help at the homeless shelter, pray an extra two hours) on Sunday, and another list of things you’d better not do (shop, watch a movie, wear jeans, play cards). Their idea is that Sunday belongs to God, and you’d better use it for something spiritual (or, at least not do unspiritual things). Some of these ideas may be good; but no matter how good they are, you can’t do them all. You certainly don’t want to make Sundays less restful than every other day. The reason perfectly good ideas may be problematic is that they haven’t taken into account who you are, what you need, or your characteristic mix of being and doing. God designed the Sabbath, he says in the Scriptures, for man,
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Published on May 10, 2013
Looking at Sunday as a day set aside for God, in history and today. The fast pace of modern life and a growing secularism seem to have made...