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Sunday Sabbath?

by Brant Pitre June 19, 2019 0 Comments



There is a problem that many of us may have never thought about, but it’s a significant problem. As Catholics, whenever we’re growing up and being catechized, we all learn the 10 commandments, right? And one of the commandments, is what? “You shall honor the Sabbath day.” Now for many Catholics they just assume, “Well, that’s Sunday, and so I honor it by going to church on Sunday”. But, if you’re a 1
st Century Jew (or if you have taken any of my classes and we have gone through all these Old Testament texts), you’ll realize, well, no, no, no. The commandment is not about Sunday, it’s about what? Saturday. So this is one out of 10 commandments, the only one which we as Catholics, what? We don’t keep. We don’t keep the Sabbath day, do we? I mean what are you doing on Saturday? Are your resting? No. Right? This is a very important point. So if that commandment is optional, are the other ones optional? What about the 6th commandment? Our culture seems to think that one is optional right? Which other commandments can I give up? It’s an interesting question, right?

And in fact, a whole group of Christians, the Seventh-day Adventists, started a church on this very issue. The Seventh-day Adventists will claim that all Christian churches who worship on Sunday rather than Saturday are in state of apostasy. We are basically all in a state of mortal sin and in a state of error because we are not keeping the divinely revealed law of God to keep the Sabbath, and Shabbat is not Sunday it is what? Saturday.

So if someone came up to you and said “Why do you Catholics worship on Sunday? Why do you Christians keep Sunday rather than Saturday? Why do you break the commandment?” What would be your response? I can’t hear you, I don’t know how good your responses are, this place is too big. Well I’ll tell you what my response was the first time someone asked me that. It was “uh well, uh I don’t know, you know… tradition, how about tradition? Maybe that’s the reason.” Because it’s interesting, if you look through the whole New Testament, will you ever find a commandment in the New Testament that says “you no longer have to keep the Sabbath, now you can worship on Sunday”? Nope. You will not, even though all of the Apostolic Fathers, the earliest Church Fathers, they all said that their worship was on the first day of the week. So the question is then, “how do we understand this?”

Well I would suggest to you that the Apostolic Fathers, even though it wasn’t made explicit in the New Testament, recognized that Jesus had fulfilled the old Sabbath in his death and his resting in the tomb and had inaugurated a new Sabbath by being raised from the dead on the first day of the week. Look at the Church’s teaching on this and we’ll conclude by looking at what the Catechism has to say about this. It quotes two early Church Fathers.  You heard Dr. Hahn talking about the importance of the early Church Fathers, these Christians who lived at the time of the Apostles, or shortly after the Apostles, and how they interpreted the Sacred Scriptures. What do they have to say about the Sabbath and our obligation (or lack thereof) to worship on Saturday as opposed to Sunday?

Well this what the Catechism has to say. I want you to see this. This is fascinating in answer to that question, it says:

Jesus rose from the dead "on the first day of the week." Because it is the "first day," the day of Christ's Resurrection recalls the first creation.

Think about that. If you were an ancient Jew and you knew that God had instituted the Sabbath on the Seventh day, and he had said “Let there be light on the first day”. Well, just back up, do the math. What day does he say “Let there be light” on in Genesis 1? It would be Sunday, right. That’s the first day of the week. So the Catechism is saying that because Sunday is the first day, the day of Christ’s resurrection actually recalls the first creation; because it is the 8th day following the Sabbath, it symbolizes what?

...the new creation ushered in by Christ's Resurrection. For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord's Day (he kuriake hemera, dies dominica) Sunday

As Justin Martyr said in 2nd Century:

We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.

Then again, continue.  Sunday then is the fulfillment of the Sabbath:

Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God.

Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the sabbath, but the Lord's Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death

That is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church 21:7:5. Don’t turn the page, because there are no other pages. We can wrap up here. What do we see then? When we put scripture and tradition together, when we put scripture and the Church Fathers together, when we look at New Testament in light of the Old and the Old Testament in light of the New, our answer to our second question becomes clear. Why do we as Christians worship on Sunday rather than Sabbath? Why on Sunday rather than Saturday? Because we (remember this, this is so important)…Sunday is the day, not just of Jesus’ resurrection, but of the new creation. And as a Catholic, when you were baptized into Christ, guess what? You died to the old world. You were crucified with Christ. As Paul says in Galatians 6, I have been crucified to the world and the world has been crucified to me; It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. Behold, I am a new creation. And so on Sunday Christ didn’t just raise from the dead and show that you can’t keep a good man down, right? That was kind of a joke….can’t keep a good man down.  It is late; I am coming to the end. It wasn’t just a vindication of his messiahship. On Sunday Christ was inaugurating a whole new universe, a whole new creation that began in his own resurrected and glorified body. Just as the Father had said “Let there be light” on the first day and there was light and the father saw it was good, so too the son now inaugurates the new creation in his own glorified body. And as Catholics, guess what we belong to? Not to this old world which is passing away, but to the glorified and risen body of Christ, which lives forever.

And so how do we as Christians then celebrate that feast? We don’t just get together on the New Sabbath of Sunday and hear songs, and hear prayers, and say prayers, and listen to scripture. We come to the table of the Lord in celebration of the new Sabbath and we receive the fulfillment of the Jewish Sabbath sacrifice: the bread and the wine of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. What a great gift the Lord has given to us. You know, so many Catholics don’t attend mass on Sunday. We have a crisis of Sunday mass attendance. Am I lying or am I telling the truth here? It’s a real, terrible problem. I think the latest stats now are that 60% of Catholics in America are not attending Sunday mass regularly. And what do some people say? “Well, why do I have to go to Bass to be with God? I can be with God in my car. I can be with God on the deer stand.” That’s a popular one. “Out in the woods, in my boat, with a fishing rod”. Well, yeah, you can be with God because he is present everywhere. You can be with God in a boat. You can be with God in a car. You can be with God in the woods in his spiritual presence.  God’s spirit is omnipresent. But last time I checked, the Father sent the Son to become incarnate, to become a man, so that we could be redeemed. And the Son went to the cross so that we might be forgiven of our sins. And the Son was raised from the dead on Easter Sunday so that we might have hope of a life beyond this passing world, of a life beyond this old creation and this fallen valley of tears. And it was on that day that he inaugurated a new creation, and it is on that day and into that new creation that we were grafted when we were baptized into Christ. And it’s into that new creation that we are called to go and give thanks to God and receive the bread and the wine of his glorious and everlasting presence. Is it too much for him to ask of us to give thanks to him by going to Mass every single Sunday until we give up our final breath?


Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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