Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost - 16 September AD 2012
The Highest Law

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

“Which of you will have an ox or an ass fall into a pit on the Sabbath and not immediately draw it out?”

    Today's Gospel finds our Lord at dinner with the chief Pharisees.  And we know that the Pharisees were the descendants of the Maccabees—those Jews who were so very zealous for the keeping of the Law of Moses that they drove the foreign invaders out of Israel just a few hundred years before Christ.  These Pharisees, then, were people whose close ancestors had literally died—given their lives for the right to keep the Mosaic Law.

    Unfortunately, as we see in many similar Gospel passages, they had become obsessed with the Law for the Law's sake, and had forgotten that the Law was intended for the honor of God, and for the well-being and salvation of men.  As we might say in modern terms, they were more concerned with the “letter of the law than with the spirit of the law.”  They were more concerned with its outward observance than with the reasons for the law.

    You can just imagine, then, the uproar that our Lord's behavior must have caused.  Here he was healing people on the Sabbath—a day on which no one was supposed to do any work!  And, of course, as we learn from the Gospels, this was not an isolated incident.  Our Lord is recorded as healing others on the Sabbath as well; and even picking grain so that His disciples might have something to eat on the Sabbath.

    What our Lord is expressing here is very important.  By healing people, and by providing for them, and, especially, by forgiving their sins on the Sabbath, He is telling us that the most important law is the salvation of souls.  It would be wrong to avoid doing some necessary good for someone because of some accident of the law.  He is telling us that even though the Law comes from God, it was not the intent of the Lawgiver to make the Law an obstacle to physical or spiritual well-being.  God desires that men and women be brought to Him, not kept away by some quirk of law.

    St. Paul speaks about this quite often in his Epistles.  The Christian is no longer bound by all of the ritual prescriptions of the Old Law.  Instead, the Christian is called to know and love God with all of his being.  As he tells the Ephesians today, he is begging God that we “might be strengthened according to the inner man” so that “Christ can dwell in our hearts,” and we can know “the love of God, which surpasses even the knowledge of God.”

    You can almost hear the fire in his voice as you read Paul's words!  And, of course, Paul spent more than words in this connection.  He literally spent his life for the salvation of souls.  He was afraid of no one.  He even rebuked Peter, the first Pope, when Peter refused to eat with the Christians of Antioch who had been baptized without first receiving the Jewish ritual of circumcision. (Gal. 2)

    These readings today, then, ought to fill us with a similar zeal for souls;  first and foremost for the salvation of our own soul, and then also for the salvation of those around us.  Nothing else is more important.  Nothing can legitimately keep us from working for salvation.  For our Lord is telling us that any law on earth that keeps us from our salvation is contrary to what God the Father, the Supreme Lawgiver, wants for us.  No politician; no churchman may make laws to keep God's people away from Him.

    Having said that, we must remember that our Lord said: “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.[1]  The Commandments are still very much with us—although, in many cases, with a more merciful interpretation—adultery is still wrong, but Christians do not stone adulterers to death!  We are still bound by the third Commandment to “Keep holy the Lord’s day.”  So perhaps we ought to discuss just what that requires under the Christian dispensation.

    To begin with, the Lord’s days of the Church are all the Sundays of the year, and a number of Holy Days, at most ten in some places.  This corresponds to the Jewish keeping holy all the Saturdays and a few other holy days.  By the authority of the Apostles, the Christian observance of the Sabbath was moved to Sunday, sometimes called “the eighth day,” the day on which Christ rose from the dead.  We see this in the Bible and in writings of the very early Church.[2]

    On Sundays and the few Holy Days of Obligation (Opportunity!) Catholics are normally required to assist at Holy Mass.  One ought to arrive before Mass starts and remain for a few moments of prayer when it has concluded.  Deliberately to miss any portion of the Mass would be sinful, and to miss a significant portion of the Mass would hardly differ from not coming at all.  We usually say that absolute minimum attendance at Mass requires arrival before the Offertory, and departure after the priest has received Holy Communion.  Attendance in such an abbreviated fashion should be with good reason—perhaps to get to (necessary) work on a Holy Day, or to relieve someone who is caring for the sick so that they may attend an earlier or later Mass.

    One must be physically present at Mass, although in a very crowded church it would suffice to be where one could see or hear the Mass—perhaps outside an open window.  There must be the intention of taking part in the worship of God in the Mass—this is a minimum, and hopefully our people will follow the Mass from memory or with a printed text, and make the responses assigned to them.

    The Church does not expect them impossible or even the very inconvenient.  The need to care for the sick, the requirement to work, or a lengthy or hazardous journey are just reasons for not coming to Mass—although we should do whatever we can to overcome them.  Additionally, your confessor can excuse you from the obligation to attend Mass when an occasional, specific, and weighty need arises.[3]  You cannot just transfer your Mass attendance to another day of the week, but it does seem laudable to attend Mass another day if you are unable to attend on Sunday or other Day of Obligation.

    In addition to attending Sunday Mass, we are encouraged to add more prayer and spiritual reading to our normal schedules.  Family prayer is particularly encouraged.

    On Sundays and Days of Obligation we are required to abstain from commercial and servile physical work.  Some people will have to work—the cops, the firemen, the gas station attendants, the restaurateurs, to name a few—but we ought not patronize establishments that can be visited during the week, unless there is an urgent necessity.  We should not be responsible for other people having to work on Sundays when it is not essential to society.

    Recreational and cultural activities are permitted, particularly those that are conducive to relaxation and bodily restoration or rejuvenation.  Cutting the grass or chopping down trees seems to me to be a little too physical for Sunday gardening.

    Keeping holy the Lord’s day means worshipping God in the way He has chosen to be worshipped—in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It also means emulating God, who rested after He accomplished His work of creation

    “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”[4]  As the Latin phrase has it:  Lex suprema, salus animarum—the supreme law is the good of souls.


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