Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J
Table of Contents
The Lord’s Day (Sunday) has structured the history of the Catholic Church for some 2,000 years and today is still considered the definable and indispensable element in Catholic identity. The Eucharistic Assembly is the heart of Sunday. It is the celebration of the presence of the Living God in the midst of His people. It is a powerful and essential support group for Christian life in a counter-Christian culture. In Baptism we forge not only a personal relationship with the Lord but also become a member of the Christian community, the Mystical Body of Jesus, the People of God. To believe is to belong.
We have seen already that the Sabbath was a celebration of Creation and the Exodus and part of the Covenant of Sinai. The Christians saw in the Resurrection of Jesus a new Creation and a new Exodus and part of a New Covenant. And the Resurrection took place on “the first day after the Sabbath.” Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles also took place on “the first day after the Sabbath.” So they made “the first day after the Sabbath” the “Lord’s Day.” Sunday was to be not only the celebration of the Resurrection and Pentecost but also the fact that “Jesus is Lord.” Jesus tells us that he came to not destroy but to fulfill. So what God accomplished in Creation and the Exodus is recovered and perfected in the Risen Jesus. Its definitive fulfillment will come at the Parousia when the Risen Jesus returns in his glory. What the Sabbath was to the Old Covenant the Lord’s Day is to the New Covenant.
When did this change from the Sabbath to Sunday take place? Initially the apostles and particularly Paul continued to attend the Synagogue on the Sabbath in order to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. Some Christian communities observed both the Sabbath and Sunday as “two brother days.” But soon the two days began to be clearly distinguished and found incompatible. Paul confronted Peter on this issue at Antioch, “If you, though a Jew, are living like a Gentile and not as a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal. 2: 14) Finally in 84 AD, 50 years after Pentecost, the Christian were expelled and excluded from the Synagogue. A Jewish Christian could no longer hold both his Christian faith and retain membership in the Jewish community.
The Sunday Mass is a combination of the Synagogue Service and the Temple Sacrifice. First of all when you enter a synagogue you see a tabernacle with the Torah, the Word of God, and a light next to it. When you enter the Catholic Church you see a tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament, the Incarnate Word of God and a light next to it. The Liturgy of the Word is similar to the Synagogue Service. In the Liturgy of the Word we hear the Word of God as it was gradually and progressively revealed through the patriarchs and prophets culminating in the person of Jesus Christ. During the year we celebrate all of the events in the life of Christ. In the Creed we profess all of this not only personally but also as a member of the Community. We say “I believe…” It is my personal conviction and the conviction of the whole Community.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist is similar to the Temple Sacrifice. It is not the sacrifice of a lamb but the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we celebrate the one sacrifice of Calvary by which we are saved. Jesus offers himself sacramentally through the human priest. Christ is both the victim and the priest. Therefore this sacrifice has an infinite value. Throughout both the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist are the Psalms. These are the prayers of the Jews and the prayers that Jesus learned at Nazareth from Mary and Joseph, and which he knew by heart. The blood shed on Calvary for our forgiveness was Jewish blood. And the blood we drink from the chalice at Communion is Jewish blood.
This is how St.Justin, Martyr, (100-165) described the Sunday Mass in his day. “On the day which is called Sunday we have a common assembly of all who live in the cities or outlying districts and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read as long as there is time. Then, when the reader has finished, the president of the assembly verbally admonishes and invites all to imitate such examples of virtue. Then we all stand up together and offer up our prayers and, as we said before, after we finish our prayers bread and wine and water are presented. He who presides likewise offers up prayers and thanksgivings, to the best of his ability, and the people express their approval by saying “Amen.” The Eucharistic elements are distributed and consumed by those present and to those who are absent they are sent through the deacons. The wealthy, if they wish, contribute whatever they desire and the collection is placed in the custody of the president. With it he helps the orphans and widows, those who are needy because of sickness or any other reason and the captives and strangers in our midst; in short, he takes care of all those in need. Sunday, indeed, is the day on which we all hold our common assembly because it is the first day on which God, transforming the darkness and matter, created the world; and our savior Jesus Christ arose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before that of Saturn and on the day after which is Sunday He appeared to His Apostles and disciples and taught them the things which we have passed on to you also for consideration.” (First Apology, 67)
The Lord’s Day is not restricted to attendance at the Eucharistic Assembly. The whole day must be marked by grateful remembrance of God’s saving works. Sunday is a day of rest from our labors. Material things about which we worry so much should give way to spiritual values which bring peace and security. The power which God gives us over creation should not lead us to forget that God is the Creator upon whom all depends.
The Lord’s Day
should also be a day of joy, a time for relaxation and recreation within
the family. It is a time to forge strong family bonds. It is a time to
get away from man-made gadgets and enjoy the beauty of nature which speaks
in exclamation points of God. Sunday should be a day of love when the
love of God which is poured into our hearts by the Eucharistic Jesus should
filter, radiate and overflow to all we meet. If we celebrate the Sunday
Mass faithfully week after week the work of Creation and Salvation and
Catholic identity will be etched indelibly in our minds and on our hearts.
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