Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, April 22, 2018

MsgrLiptak_TNQ. I’m a bit confused over whether Sunday is a synonym for Sabbath. How is it that the Third Commandment, which cites the Sabbath, is now identified by Christians with Sunday?



A. Sunday is observed by Christians as the first day of the week because Christ rose from the grave "on the first day of the week," the day following the Israelitic Sabbath. (See Mk 16:1, and Mt 28:1.)

Thus it is that, from Apostolic times, Catholics met for the Eucharist on Sunday. The Church Father, St. Justin (d. 165 A.D.), left us this testimony:

"We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish Sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made this world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead."

And St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 110 A.D.) wrote:

"Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death."


From Apostolic times, therefore, Sunday became "the pre-eminent day for the liturgical assembly, when the faithful gather" to listen to the word of God (the Bible) and participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice (the Mass), thereby recalling the Passion, death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord, and thanking God for our being privileged to be enriched so by entering into this mystery. (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1167.)

Entering into the Sunday mystery is accomplished by means of the Church, since it is within the Church that the community of believers "opens itself to communion with the universal Church." (Dies Domini, Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, 31 May, 1998.)

Sunday was called "the Lord’s Day" from the beginning; the name was not an innovation, but Traditional even in the first century of the Christian era. Indeed, it is Biblical in origin; see Revelation 1:10. In extrabiblical documents, the title and context appear in the Didache (c. 90 A.D.) and also St. Ignatius of Antioch. Later, St. Jerome, the scholarly Church Father (d. 420), was to declare that "Sunday is the day of the Resurrection, it is the day of Christians, it is our day."

Hence, as John Paul stated, Sunday is not merely "part of a weekend." (ibid.) Thus, in John Paul’s words:

"The disciples of Christ… are asked to avoid 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." (ibid.)

We are living, of course, in an almost thoroughly secularized world. But our situation doesn’t demand compliance; rather, it calls for Christian maturity. We can’t allow our religious idioms to become callous or irrelevant in a world given to all kinds of confusions and errors; on the contrary, we must hold fast as best we can. For example, when I am the recipient of common greetings like "Have a good weekend," I usually (politely, I hope) respond with "and Sunday." Again, Sunday is not the weekend.

Insofar as the Sabbath Day’s injunction to rest from ordinary labor goes – a rest recognized by the Roman Empire in the fourth century and described by Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum as a "right" that must be safeguarded by the State – Pope John Paul II includes several apposite paragraphs in his Dies Domini. (ns. 66sqq.) Therein, he takes note of our historical context and the rights of workers to work, as well as personal economic demands. But he adds that Sundays can be the means by which daily concerns "can find their proper perspective," and help us see "the true face of the people with whom we live."