Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the January AD 2000
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    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.).[1]

    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.[2]

    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 Sabbath."[3]

    While many people identify it with Saturday (particularly in Latin language countries), the word "Sabbath" simply means a period of "rest."

    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).

    Shabbat Shuvah (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 Repentance).
    (Ariel Scheib, "Special Sabbaths," Jewish Virtual Library)

    Rosh Hashana itself is mentioned as a Sabbath in the Book of Leviticus:

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.[4]  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.[5] 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.[6]

    Saint 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.

    Saint 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 Lord's day:

    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 Christians.
    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."

2. Ibid.

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.  

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