Q. For years I have had some questions about the Bible after reading it. Here are three questions which I hope you can answer. First, if the Bible says that the Sabbath is Saturday, why must Catholics go to Mass on Sundays? And aren’t we keeping the Sabbath by recent trends to have scheduled Saturday Masses?
A. Catholics celebrate Sunday as the Lord’s Day par excellence “because of the venerable Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ,” an event that changed history. The citation is from Pope Innocent I at the beginning the fifth century, witnessing to an already ancient tradition rooted in the very origins of Christianity.
According to the Gospels, Jesus’ Resurrection occurred on “the first day after the Sabbath” (see Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). Sunday was also the day on which the risen Lord appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:36), and to the Eleven Apostles (Luke 24:36); also, a week later, to the Apostles with “doubting” Thomas (John 20:26). Moreover, Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the infant Christian community, happened on a Sunday (Luke 24:49).
Pope John Paul II reminded us in his Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini (1998), that the first day of the week, i.e., Sunday, “began to shape the rhythm of life” for Christians from Apostolic times.
Obviously, everything changed with Christ’s death and Resurrection; an entirely new creation took place. St. Paul, recall, refers to Christ as the new Adam.
For a thorough answer to this question about Sunday, one should read Pope John Paul’s Dies Domini. In the Pope’s words: “Because the third commandment depends upon the remembrance of God’s saving works and because Christians saw the definitive time inaugurated by Christ as a new beginning, they made the first day after the Sabbath a festive day, for that was the day on which the Lord rose from the dead.” (Ibid.)
As for Saturday evening Masses, they are really Sunday Vigil Masses. The concept of vigils is ancient. The liturgy of the Sunday vigil is the liturgy of Sunday.
Q. Secondly, Moses told the people to celebrate the Passover. Why don’t Christians do so?
A. The Hebrew Passover was but a prophetic symbol of the reality that was to occur with Christ; specifically, the Eucharistic Sacrifice or, as we say, the Mass. At the Last Supper on the first Holy Thursday, the Lord inaugurated the fulfillment of the Passover by instituting the Mass. It was in the context of the ancient Hebrew Passover event that Jesus changed bread and wine into his Body and Blood, and ordained his first priests to follow his example to the end of history. In other words, the Passover meal looked forward to Christ’s priesthood and the Mass.
Q. Thirdly, since centuries ago the Church did not celebrate Jesus’ birth on 25 December, why was the date changed to 25 December in the fourth century?
A. The date of 25 December is the liturgical date for Christmas; the historical date is unknown. That 25 December was fixed as the liturgical date during the early fourth century is highly significant, because the Church was largely an underground Church during the first three centuries.
When the Church emerged from the catacombs, the date of 25 December was chosen for several reasons, one of which was the worldwide (at that time) pagan festival of Sol invictus (“the unconquered sun”) – the winter solstice, in contemporary dating. As Msgr. Ronald Knox put it in his London Times homilies published on Stimuli, “the winter solstice is a kind of annual mercy.”