Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
Sunday Mass is rooted in the Jewish Sabbath. To understand the importance of Sunday Mass you have to understand the importance of the Sabbath observance to the Jews. Christianity is not a completely new religion. It begins with Abraham, our Father in faith. Luke’s Gospel begins in the Temple with Zachariah a priest of the Old Covenant. It begins with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist the last of the prophets and the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament implies an Old Testament. Jesus came not to destroy but to fulfill. Jesus is the glory of Israel. (Jer. 31:31-34)
The Temple in Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish religion from the time of Solomon to its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. This was the one and only place where Sacrifices and certain other rituals were performed. It was partially destroyed at the time of the Babylonian Exile and rebuilt. The rebuilt Temple was known as the Second Temple. The famous Wailing Wall is the western retaining wall of the Second Temple and is as close to site of the original Sanctuary as Jews can go today. The site of the Temple is currently occupied by a Muslim Mosque, the Dome of the Rock.
There was only one Temple but there were many Synagogues. According to the law wherever there were ten Jewish families there must be a Synagogue. The Synagogue is primarily a teaching institution. The service consisted of three things: prayer, reading of the Scripture and explanation of the Scripture. There was no music, singing or sacrifice.
The Scribes were scholars, experts in the law. The title of Rabbi was given to the greatest of them. They would never give an independent judgment, a decision on their own. They would simply quote the authorities. The people were astonished at Jesus because he spoke with authority, his own personal authority. He spoke as if he needed no authority beyond himself. “You have heard it said of those of old, “Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.” But I say to you, “Love your enemy.” (Matt. 5:43-44)
Jesus had a high regard for the Sabbath. He was very faithful in the observance of the Sabbath law. He not only attended the synagogue on the Sabbath, he also participated in the liturgy by reading and preaching. (Luke 4: 16-21) He said he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it.
The Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at the end of twilight on Saturday. The Sabbath celebrates Creation. It is a celebration of the Creator of the universe acknowledging Him as the one and only Lord. It is the answer to the first and recurring temptation to divinize man and the world. “You will be like God.” (Gen. 3:5)
At the same time it is a celebration of the goodness of Creation. Creation is good in itself and good for others. Evil is only in the will of man. Nature is constantly speaking to us in exclamation points about God. (Job 12:2-10) From meditating on nature we can learn a lot about God, about ourselves and about our relationship with God. This beautiful world moves us to awe and admiration but also calls for cultivation and development. Man is the steward of Creation and one day will have to give an account of his stewardship. He cannot destroy the air we have to breathe, the water we have to drink and the land on which we have to live. Man, created in God own image, is to be a co-creator with God to bring Creation to its completion. The world remains good and beautiful as long as it remains tied to God, its Creator.
Genesis also tells us of God’s joyful rest. “He rested on the seventh day from all the work He had undertaken.” (Gen. 2:2) It pictures God, as it were, lingering over the very good work He had done and contemplating it with joyful delight. Man made in the image of God and constituted co-creator with God is not to be a workaholic. He is to stop his work and contemplate what he has done and experience the joy and satisfaction and take pride in the work he has done. Genesis continues, “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” (Gen. 2:3)
The observance of the Sabbath is also part of the Covenant of Sinai, part of the Ten Commandments. This is not just a matter of community religious discipline but a DEFINING and INDELIBLE expression of our relationship with God. “Remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) It is to be kept holy by remembering the grand and fundamental work of God which is Creation. Rest is not just an interruption of work it acquires a sacred value.
Herman Wouk gives this description of the Jewish observance of the Sabbath. “The Sabbath is the fulcrum of a Jew’s existence and source of strength, refreshment and cheer. Light and wine are the keys to the day. The Sabbath begins with blessings over light and wine. Dressed in holiday clothes they sit down to a splendid dinner: twisted loaves, meat and fish. If they cannot afford to buy them the synagogue gives them. They talk about Judaism, the children ask questions, strong family ties are welded. Traditions are handed down from parents. On Saturday they go to the synagogue. It is an oasis of quiet. Coming so often, the Sabbath has a lifetime in which to imprint its meaning on the spirit and brain. Those who keep the day inevitably have the ideas of Creation, of the Exodus and of Jewish identity strongly in mind.” (“This is my God”)
ancient aphorism of the rabbis proclaimed, “It
is not Israel that keeps the Sabbath; it is the Sabbath that keeps Israel.”
|© 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J. all rights reserved|