May the crucified and risen Christ fill your life with light and joy! As St. Paul says: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. … But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:17, 20) So, let us rejoice with confidence!
What we read in the Gospel and what we celebrate at the liturgy from one season to another are not simply a historical remembrance of things past. Scripture and the mysteries of redemption are living realities here and now because the risen Christ is alive and active. Having passed outside of space and time (something impossible for us to comprehend), Jesus is always simply “present” in both dimensions. Easter is “today” every bit as much as it was 2,000 years ago.
Even in time, our observance of Easter is more than a once-a-year occurrence. From the earliest centuries, Christians have recognized that every first day of the week every Sunday is a little Easter. St. Augustine says Sunday is “a sacrament of Easter.” And St. Jerome writes: “Sunday is the day of the resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day.”
“It is our day,” and yet it is increasingly evident that we Christians are abandoning what is ours in the relentless drive toward a secular society. The observance of every Sunday by faithful attendance at Mass, refraining from unnecessary business and servile work, making it a day for parish and family all these things are no longer part of the lifestyle of many who consider themselves Catholic.
The earliest Christians observed Sunday at all costs even though it was a secular workday in the Ancient World. Sometimes they paid with their lives. To the Roman authorities, the martyrs of Abitina in North Africa said: “Without fear of any kind we have celebrated the Lord’s Supper, because it cannot be missed; that is our law. … We cannot live without the Lord’s Supper.”
“We cannot live without the Lord’s Supper.” To find this kind of faith on a vast scale today one must turn to places like Africa and Asia, where the Church is growing by leaps and bounds, and where people walk miles and spend the whole day to celebrate Sunday. One thinks, too, of people under Communist persecution who often paid a very heavy price to “keep holy the Lord’s Day.”
And us? I leave it for each of us to examine our conscience and to ponder where we are headed as a Church and as a nation in which a majority of the population considers itself Christian. We estimate that less than 25 percent of registered Catholics in the Archdiocese of Hartford are at Mass on any given Sunday. This is consistent with various estimates of Mass attendance throughout the United States.
Sunday Mass is a fulfillment of the Third Commandment (“Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day”). The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults explains: “Sunday observance fulfills the interior law inscribed in the human heart to render God visible and public worship as a sign of radical dependence upon God and as gratitude for all the blessings we have received.” And the Catechism of the Catholic Church states the traditional teaching: “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” unless excused for a serious reason such as illness. (CCC 2181)
Let me conclude by offering for your personal (and family) reflection the following discussion questions taken directly from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (p. 369)
• What is your Sunday like? How can it become a balance of worship, restful reflection and personal spiritual renewal? What pressures make this a challenge for you, and what can you do about them? How does Sunday Mass enrich your life, your relationships and the rest of your week?
• What can be done to free up poor people from unfair working practices that deprive them of the gift of the Christian Sunday? How can families reverse the trend sponsored by those who schedule athletic events for children and young people on Sunday morning?
• How does consumerism eat away at the Christian ideals of Sunday? What are ways that family gatherings could again become a regular feature of Sunday life?
May the risen Christ renew us as members of his Body, the Church, not just on Easter Sunday, but every Sunday “until he comes again.”