|Saint John Paul II in Krakow, Poland, September 13, 1991. Photo: Grzegorz Gałązka via TotusTuus 2010 Calendar, Postulation of the Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God John Paul II.|
Coming off a fresh reading of Dies Domini, Saint John Paul II's apostolic letter on keeping the Lord's Day holy, I thought if fitting to publish today's post on what I consider to be an essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the Lord's Day.
Released on May 31, 1998, on the Solemnity of Pentecost, Dies Domini, was written in part to support the pastoral efforts of bishops around the world, and for the laity as a continuation of St. John Paul II's "lively exchange" with the faithful, inviting the laity to rediscover the full meaning of Sunday with a new intensity in the changing circumstances of the times and the "new situations" that had arisen from them.
Spotlighting the changing socio-economic conditions and the profound modifications in social behaviour St. John Paul II stressed the need to distinguish between the special character of the Lord's Day from the more widespread "custom of the weekend."
Although St. John Paul II acknowledged that there are positive aspects of the weekend's cultural, political, and sporting activities, he encouraged the disciples of Christ to, "...[A]void any confusion between the celebration of Sunday, which should truly be a way of keeping the Lord's Day holy, and the 'weekend', understood as a time of simple rest and relaxation." (4)
Drawing from the First Letter of Peter (1 Pt 3:15), St. John Paul II noted that avoiding such confusion will require a "genuine spiritual maturity" allowing Christians to, "...'[B]e what they are' in full accordance with the gift of faith, always ready to give an account of the hope which is in them." (4)
Another new situation that St. John Paul II spotlighted was the strikingly low attendance at the Sunday liturgy, which he attributed to sociological pressures, weakened faith, and the lack of priests in both mission countries and countries evangelized long ago.
Recognizing that some young Churches have illustrated how fervently Sunday can be celebrated, St. John Paul II presented what he believed to be the main causes for decreasing Mass attendance on the Lord's Day, "In the minds of many of the faithful, not only the sense of the centrality of the Eucharist but even the sense of the duty to give thanks to the Lord and to pray to him with others in the community of the Church, seems to be diminishing." (5)
Given these situations and the questions they have prompted, it was St. John Paul II's belief that there was an ever increasing necessity to recover the deep doctrinal foundations underlying the Church's precepts, so that the, "...[A]biding value of Sunday in the Christian life will be clear to all the faithful." (6)
It is through Dies Domini that St. John Paul II sought to do just that, identifying and elaborating on the many aspects of the Lord's Day and the duty to keep Sunday holy: the importance to remember God's creative work for six days, that He rested on the seventh day, blessed it and made it holy; the sacred value to rest in the Lord; keeping the Lord's Day holy by means of prayer, works of charity, and abstention from work; the Sunday obligation to attend Mass as stipulated in the Code of Cannon Law; and how the Lord's Day is a day of joy and solidarity.
Amongst the many different aspects of Dies Domini, one that stood out in my mind was—perhaps one of the most salient aspects considering the increasing secular landscape of so many Christian countries—the fact that keeping the Lord's Day holy is a Commandment, the Third Commandment to be precise which can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work."
Referring to the Third Commandment in the first chapter under the subheading, "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy" (Gn 2:3) , Saint John Paul II emphasized that the Lord's Day was so important for God's plan that it was included the Ten Commandments. Adding to this, he wrote the Lord's Day is a "...[D]efining and indelible expression of our relationship with God," and it is from this perspective that "...Christians need to rediscover the Sabbath precept today." (13)
Stressing how important that relationship is with God, Saint John Paul II wrote further in the same section, "...But man's relationship with God also demands times of explicit prayer, in which the relationship becomes an intense dialogue, involving every dimension of the person. 'The Lord's Day' is the day of this relationship par excellence when men and women raise their song to God and become the voice of all creation." (15)
It is worth mentioning that St. John Paul II dedicated the importance and sacredness of rest in sections 64-68 under the subheading, The Day of Rest. It is an especially important aspect for the Christian fulfillment to keep the Lord's Day holy. To get a sense of the richness of Dies Domini, here are a few excerpts from those respective sections:
...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. There is a risk that the prodigious power over creation which God gives to man can lead him to forget that God is the Creator upon whom everything depends. It is all the more urgent to recognize this dependence in our own time, when science and technology have so incredibly increased the power which man exercises through his work. (65)
In our own historical context there remains the obligation to ensure that everyone can enjoy the freedom, rest and relaxation which human dignity requires, together with the associated religious, family, cultural and interpersonal needs which are difficult to meet if there is no guarantee of at least one day of the week on which people can both rest and celebrate. (66)
Through Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their proper perspective: the material things about which we worry give way to spiritual values; in a moment of encounter and less pressured exchange, we see the true face of the people with whom we live. Even the beauties of nature — too often marred by the desire to exploit, which turns against man himself — can be rediscovered and enjoyed to the full.
Therefore, also in the particular circumstances of our own time, Christians will naturally strive to ensure that civil legislation respects their duty to keep Sunday holy. In any case, they are obliged in conscience to arrange their Sunday rest in a way which allows them to take part in the Eucharist, refraining from work and activities which are incompatible with the sanctification of the Lord's Day, with its characteristic joy and necessary rest for spirit and body. (67)
In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion. Therefore, among the forms of culture and entertainment which society offers, the faithful should choose those which are most in keeping with a life lived in obedience to the precepts of the Gospel. (68)During his inaugural homily in October 1978, Saint John Paul II encouraged the Church and the world, "Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!" In Dies Domini, he renews that encouragement specifically with respect to the rediscovery of Sunday, "...Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ! Yes, let us open our time to Christ, that he may cast light upon it and give it direction." (7)
The rediscovery of the Lord's Day is a grace that one should pray for, which St. John Paul II specifically noted in the introduction:
The rediscovery of this day is a grace which we must implore, not only so that we may live the demands of faith to the full, but also so that we may respond concretely to the deepest human yearnings. Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human. (7)This latest reading of Dies Domini proved to be just as intriguing when I first read it in May 2002. Given the growing secularism in Canada and so many other Christian countries around the world, this apostolic letter is even more relevant today.
May your reading of Dies Domini strengthen your resolve to "rest and remember" on the Lord's Day.