Mass Text -
In reading today's Gospel, we are reminded of the third
Commandment; to keep holy the Lord's Day. And, it is obvious that the Pharisees
had an exaggerated understanding of what was required by the Commandment. You
will recall that the Pharisees were the descendants of the Machabees -- those
Jews who were very zealous for the observance of the Mosaic Law. They didn't
like our Lord very much, and here they felt that they could trap Him, and expose
Him as someone who did not keep God's Law.
But, our Lord clearly demonstrates that the Pharisees were
trying to understand the Sabbath from the wrong perspective, as a penalty placed
on man. But, as our Lord says elsewhere, "Man wasn't made for the Sabbath,
rather the Sabbath was made for man."
It is intended by God to be a day of rest -- a pause from
the worldly activities of the week -- a day to refresh ourselves with God's
goodness -- so to speak, to "recharge our spiritual batteries" so that
we can face the world strong in our faith again on Monday morning.
Secondarily, it is a day when family and friends come
together to enjoy each other's company and conversation in an unhurried way. A
family dinner, a neighborhood softball game, a walk in the park -- these are all
good things, because they bring us a bit closer together, and let us see each
other as God sees us.
We are still bound by the Commandment to keep the Lord's
day holy. For Christians, that day is Sunday -- changed by the early Church from
the Jewish observance of Saturday, in order to commemorate our Lord's
Resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. And, perhaps, also the descent of
the Holy Ghost on Pentecost Sunday. Sometimes we speak of Sunday as the
"eighth day" of the week -- a special day on which we celebrate our
redemption. We can say that, in a way, every Sunday is a renewal of Easter, a
celebration of our Lord's victory over sin and death.
So, the most obvious thing for us to do on Sunday is to
take part in Holy Mass. In fact we are bound to assist at Mass on every Sunday
and Holy Day of Obligation, unless we have a compelling reason not to -- that
means a reason which makes it impossible or extremely difficult to attend -- not
just an "I feel like sleeping late" sort of reason. Without such a
reason, missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is a serious sin, which must be
confessed before we approach Holy Communion again. If you have a question about
what constitutes a "compelling reason," ask your confessor.
But attendance at Mass is really the minimum. If possible,
we should spend some extra time in prayer. We should make the effort to receive
our Lord in Holy Communion -- and to have made a good Confession before doing
so. That might mean spending a little time the day or so before, or coming early
enough to Confess before Mass. Some churches also celebrate Vespers publicly on
Sunday evenings, and conclude with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament --
certainly a good way to conclude your Sunday.
We are also commanded to avoid any unnecessary servile
work on Sundays and Holy Days. Normally that means that we do not perform our
normal occupation on Sundays -- but it also suggests that we ought to cut the
grass and wash the car on Saturday rather than Sunday. I say
"suggests" because that is the point our Lord is making in today's
Gospel -- we have to make a good faith effort to determine for ourselves just
what is "necessary" and what is not. The Sabbath is not an excuse for
avoiding what is truly necessary -- if the "ass or the ox falls into the
pit" we cannot put off doing what needs to be done.
I shouldn't have to say it, but, Sunday must not become an
opportunity for getting in trouble. It is not a time for wild parties, or
dangerous and boisterous amusements. Nor should it be the occasion of
making other people work on Sunday. While gas stations hospitals, and
restaurants may truly need to operate on Sundays, one should shop for things
like groceries, clothing, and televisions on some other day of the week.
Sunday is, in short, the Lord's Day. We should be
conscious of our obligation to observe it as such -- to seek what is wholesome
and holy, and to avoid what is profane.
Yet, the Sabbath should never be thought of as a penalty.
It is, without question, a day of refreshment and rejoicing. As the Psalmist