Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost—20 September AD 2009
Keeping Holy the Lord's Day
“This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

   When we read this Gospel today, it seems that the Pharisees are acting very “pharisaical.”[2]  The Pharisees, you will recall, were those Jews who were very proud of themselves for keeping the outward observances of the law.  In essence, it seems that our Lord was, as we would say today, “set up.”  It isn't hard to imagine the Pharisees inviting our Lord to eat with them on the Sabbath, and searching around to find some one ill enough to inspire pity in our Lord, in order to see if He could be induced to break the Sabbath.

   For the Jewish people, you see, the Sabbath was very strictly observed, and required them to abstain from almost all activity.  They weren't supposed to build a fire to cook, to hitch up their animals to travel, do any manual labor, carry anything, or even travel beyond a specified distance—“a Sabbath day's journey.”  The Gospel says that “Jesus went into the house ... on the Sabbath day to eat bread”—anything that was eaten was supposed to have been prepared on the previous day or two.  Even today, these things are observed among the Orthodox Jews, some of them quite scrupulously.  (I remember being at Scout camp as a boy, and one young Jewish man would not even touch an axe that someone had just acquired, and was showing to his friends.)  The Pharisees wanted to see if they couldn't goad our Lord into what was at least a technical violation of the Sabbath.

  But our Lord was not about to be deterred from doing good, and was quick to turn the trap around on the Pharisees, to show them that their merely outward observance of the law was just so much spiritual pride.  Quite obviously, no reasonable man would let one of his animals languish in a pit until the following day.  As He says elsewhere, in Saint Mark’s Gospel,  “The Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.”[3]  The purpose of the Sabbath is to us some needed rest from our labors, and of course, primarily, to allow us to direct our attentions to God periodically.  It certainly isn't intended to keep us from doing good.

   But, please note that our Lord wasn't abolishing the Sabbath.  There was and always will be a need to take time out to join with our neighbors in the worship of God.  That is a fundamental obligation, and would be even if God had not told us so in the Ten Commandments;  even if the Church hadn't told us so in its Six Precepts.  Man, of his very nature is dependent on God, and owes Him acknowledgement of that dependence.

   Christians observe this relationship with God on Sunday.  By the authority of the Apostles we observe the day of our Lord's Resurrection and the day of Pentecost, instead of the Old Testament Saturday.  To be more accurate, we should say that we observe Sundays and the other major holy days of the year—the six holy days of obligation.  I mention this, because we are obliged to observe the holy days in exactly the same way as we observe Sundays; at least to the degree that this is possible.

   The people who run the world have made this difficult in some cases, but we ought to make whatever effort we can to overcome them.  That may involve taking vacation days from work, or attending evening Mass, or Mass early in the morning, or whatever.  But we should make the effort.

   At a minimum, we are required to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.  But that is a minimum.  We ought to be looking for other ways to honor God and to get to know Him better—things like reading the Scriptures or other spiritual works, saying the Rosary, perhaps saying the Rosary as a family or doing something else for a family devotion.  [Vespers, Benediction]

   We are also required to refrain from doing servile work.  That means that we ought to be earning our living and doing our household chores on the other six days of the week.  Sunday is for prayer, for wholesome recreation, spending some time with family or friends, or perhaps even in doing something to help the aged or the sick as we see our Lord doing today.

   We are not asked to do the impossible.  Sometimes we simply have to work on Sunday to earn our livelihood or out of public necessity.  (The police and firemen, hospital workers, and even gas station and restaurant workers.)  Sometimes we simply can't get to Mass because we are sick, or lack transportation, or because we have to look after someone else who is confined to the home.  But even with these difficulties, we ought to do our best to plan around:  Can we trade a job assignment with someone else and work another day, or get the work done in advance?  Can someone else stay with the sick person, perhaps attending an earlier or later Mass?  Can we get a ride with someone who is coming from the same direction?  Certainly, we should not be intimidated by friends or relatives who are unwilling to come to Mass themselves and who want us to do something else.

   To end on a positive note, we might turn our thoughts to what Saint Paul tells us in the Epistle, and understand that the whole purpose of the Sabbath is to allow ourselves to be strengthened by the Holy Ghost in the “inner man,” to allow Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, “to know the charity of Christ, which surpasses all knowledge”  “to be filled unto the fullness of God.”[4]

   As King David wrote in the Psalms, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”[5]


[1]   Psalm cxvii

[2]   Gospel: Luke xiv: 1-11

[4]   Epistle: Ephesians iii: 13-21

[5]   Psalm cxvii



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