From the January AD 2000
Our Lady of the Rosary
Question: A (Christian) friend claims that Catholics disobey God's Law by
observing Sunday instead of the Saturday Sabbath. What would you say to him?
Answer: While the Jewish people observe the seventh day of the week as the
"Sabbath," a day of rest, dedicated to the Lord, they do so only in
imitation of the narrative of Creation found in the Old Testament Book of
Genesis. There is no positive divine law requiring the observance of this
specific day of the week; only to "keep holy the Lord's day," one day
of rest out of seven. From the earliest days of Christianity, Sunday, the day of
our Lord's Resurrection, has been observed as that day.
It is very unlikely that your Christian (or even your Jewish) friends observe
the seventh day in the same way as the Jews of the Old Testament:
All work was forbidden, the prohibition including strangers as well as
Israelites, beasts as well as men (Ex., xx, 8-10; xxxi, 13-17; Deut., v, 12-14).
The following particular actions are mentioned as forbidden: cooking (Ex., xvi,
23); gathering manna (xvi, 26 sqq.); plowing and reaping (xxxiv, 21); lighting a
fire (for cooking, xxxv, 3); gathering wood (Num., xv, 32 sqq.); carrying
burdens (Jer., xvii, 21-22); pressing grapes, bringing in sheaves, and loading
animals (II Esd., xiii, 15); trading (Ibid., 15 sqq.).
By the time of Christ the prohibitions had become more strict, restricting
travel to a thousand yards or so, the "Sabbath day's journey" that we
read about in Acts i, and included
. . . trifling actions as weaving two threads, sewing two stitches, writing
two letters, etc. To pluck two ears of wheat was considered as reaping, while to
rub them was a species of threshing (cf. Matt., xii, 1-2; Mark, ii, 23-24; Luke,
vi, 1-2). To carry an object of the weight of a fig was carrying a burden; hence
to carry a bed (John, v, 10) was a gross breach of the Sabbath. It was unlawful
to cure on the Sabbath, or to apply a remedy unless life was endangered (cf.
Matt., xii, 10 sqq.; Mark, iii, 2 sqq.; Luke vi, 7 sqq.). This explains why the
sick were brought to Christ after sundown (Mark, I, 32). It was even forbidden
to use a medicament the preceding day if it produced its effect on the Sabbath.
A great deal of the antipathy between our Lord and the Pharisees related to
the observance of the Sabbath. The Gospels present Him not only healing various
sick people on the Sabbath, but allowing His disciples to pick and thresh grain.
"The Sabbath," He informed them, "was made for man," and not
the other way around. Ultimately, He claimed to be the "Lord of the
While many people identify it with Saturday (particularly in Latin language
countries), the word "Sabbath" simply means a period of
The term derives from the
Hebrew shabbat (תבש), "to cease", which was
first used in the Biblical account of the seventh day of Creation.
(Wikipedia, s.v. "Sabbath.")
The Jews observed other sabbaths beside the seventh day of the
week -- for example, a seven year period after which loans and pledges were
redeemed (Deuteronomy xv) -- there was even a year long agricultural sabbath
during which the land was required to lie fallow (Leviticus xxv).
(Sabbath of Return) refers to the ten days of repentance
that falls in between Rosh
Hashana and Yom
Kippur. The name “shuvah” comes from the first word of the week’s Haftorah
portion. This Shabbat is sometimes called Shabbat Teshuvah (Shabbat of
Repentance). Traditionally on this Shabbat, rabbis deliver sermons to their
congregation to awaken the congregation to recall their malevolent conduct of
the past year, and begin to repent for the coming of Yom Kippur (the day of
(Ariel Scheib, "Special
Sabbaths," Jewish Virtual Library)
Rosh Hashana itself is mentioned as a Sabbath in the Book
23:27. Upon the tenth day of this seventh
month shall be the day of atonement. It shall be most solemn, and shall be
called holy: and you shall await your souls on that day, and shall offer a
holocaust to the Lord. 23:28. You
shall do no servile work in the time of this day: because it is a day of
propitiation, that the Lord your God may be merciful unto you. 23:29.
Every soul that is not afflicted on this day, shall perish from among his
people. 23:30. And every soul that shall do any work, the same will I
destroy from among his people. 23:31. You shall do no work therefore
on that day: it shall be an everlasting ordinance unto you in all your
generations, and dwellings. 23:32. It is a sabbath of rest, and
you shall afflict your souls beginning on the ninth day of the month. From
evening until evening you shall celebrate your sabbaths.
As is Yom Kippur
16:29. And this shall be to you an
everlasting ordinance. The seventh month, the tenth day of the month, you
shall afflict your souls, and shall do no work, whether it be one of your
own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you. 16:30. Upon this
day shall be the expiation for you, and the cleansing from all your sins.
You shall be cleansed before the Lord. 16:31. For it is a sabbath of
rest: and you shall afflict your souls by a perpetual religion. 23:24.
Say to the children of Israel: The seventh month, on the first day of the
month, you shall keep a sabbath, a memorial, with the sound of
trumpets, and it shall be called holy. 23:25. You shall do no
servile work therein, and you shall offer a holocaust to the Lord.
If the word ''Sabbath" is taken literally as a day of
rest and prayer, the first and last days of Passover-Pesach
(Lev. 23: 7, 8), Pentecost-Shavuot
(Lev. 23: 21), the first and last days of Booths-Sukkoth
(Lev. 23: 35, 36) are all Sabbaths
For Christians, and particularly for those who had not been raised in
Judaism, Sunday was clearly the day of the Lord. Sometimes spoken of as the
"eighth day," Sunday commemorated both the Resurrection (a sort of new
creation) and the Descent of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. Exercising the
authority given to them by the Lord to "bind and loose," the Apostles
determined that gentiles becoming Christians were not required to observe the
customs of the Law of Moses other than to refrain from idolatry and immorality,
from eating what has been strangled and the drinking of blood. In three of his
Epistles, St. Paul indicates that Jewish customs including the Sabbath, "a
shadow of things to come," had been fulfilled in Christ, and were not
binding on Christians. That the "breaking of the bread," referring to
the Mass or to an "agape," took place on Sunday is mentioned by
St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles.
Barnabas (died c. 60 AD) in his Epistle
(Ch. 15) wrote
Further, also, it is
written concerning the Sabbath in the Decalogue which [the Lord]
spoke, face to face, to Moses on Mount Sinai, "And sanctify the Sabbath
of the Lord with clean hands and a pure heart. Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12
And He says in another place, If my sons keep the Sabbath, then will I cause
my mercy to rest upon them. Jeremiah 17:24-25 The Sabbath is mentioned at
the beginning of the creation [thus]: And God made in six days the works of
His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and
sanctified it. Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, He
finished in six days. This implies that the Lord will finish all things in
six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself
testifies, saying, Behold, today will be as a thousand years. Therefore, my
children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be
finished. And He rested on the seventh day. This means: when His Son, coming
[again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly,
and change the-sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on
the seventh day. Moreover, He says, You shall sanctify it with pure hands
and a pure heart. If, therefore, any one can now sanctify the day which God
has sanctified, except he is pure in heart in all things, we are deceived.
Behold, therefore: certainly then one properly resting sanctifies it, when
we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing,
and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work
righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first
sanctified ourselves. Further, He says to them, Your new moons and your
Sabbath I cannot endure. Isaiah 1:13 You perceive how He speaks: Your
present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made,
[namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of
the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also,
we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose
again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended
into the heavens.
Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (died c. 105 AD) wrote to the Magnesians
(Ch, 9) about a change from the Jewish Sabbath to the observance of the
If, therefore, those who were
brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new
hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the
Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death—
whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure,
that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master— how shall
we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in
the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly
waited for, having come, raised them from the dead.
One of the earliest detailed descriptions of Christian
worship was written by Justin (later Saint
Justin, Martyr). The Apologia preserves the disciplina
arcana of not revealing the precise wording of the ceremony to pagans, but
is clear about the day of Christian worship. It is addressed to the
Emperor Antoninus Pius, which places it about 150 AD:
Chapter LXVII.-Weekly Worship of the
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the
wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things
wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus
Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live
in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the
apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits;
then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts
to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and,
as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are
brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings,
according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a
distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been
given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they
who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is
collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows
and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who
are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of
all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common
assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in
the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the
same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of
Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the
Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things,
which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.
For the Christian, the Sabbath is Sunday, "the day of
the Lord" by authoritative decree of the Church, in honor of our Lord's
Resurrection on Sunday, and the descent of the Apostles on Sunday, seven weeks
later. One might also say that the Church keeps other "Sabbaths"
on Her holy days of obligation, whereon we are obligated to attend Mass, abstain
from our labors, and keep the day holy.
1. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1907), s.v. "Sabbath."
3. Matthew xii: 1, 8; Mark ii: 27; Luke vi: 5; etc.
4. Matthew xvi: 19; xviii: 18; Acts xv: 5-21.
5. Colossians ii: 16; Galatians iv: 9-10; Romans xiv: 5.
6. Acts xx: 7.