Celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is the sign of the new and everlasting covenant for Christians
In the last column, we explored the Old Testament backdrop for why it is important to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Now we must explore how this prepares us for what Christ calls us to in the new and everlasting covenant.
Many Catholics do not know why they must attend Sunday Mass under pain of committing grave sin, which can put one’s salvation in jeopardy. Pope John Paul II wanted it to be clear that the church’s precept is not some arbitrary dictate by a tyrannical dictator in Rome. He makes it clear in his 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini (On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy). I encourage you to read this document; it will transform your understanding and living out of the Lord’s Day.
God is our Father, and he has given the church to us as our mother and teacher, to help lead us to the fullness of Trinitarian love. Our Father knows what is good for his children. In the end the church’s precept comes not from Rome but from God the Father, establishing a sacred family bond, through the Sabbath in the first covenant and through the Eucharist in the new covenant.
If the Sabbath was Saturday, why do we emphasize Sunday? The move from Saturday to Sunday, from Sabbath to the Lord’s Day, is intimately connected to the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. As John Paul II notes, “there emerged a unique connection between the Resurrection and Creation…This link invited an understanding of the Resurrection as the beginning of a new creation, the first fruits of which is the glorious Christ…” (Dies Domini 24). Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, the day when light was created. Jesus speaks of himself: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
The day of Jesus’ resurrection is not only the first day; it is also the eighth day. The seventh day completes the first creation, and the eighth begins the new creation (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church 349). The work of creation culminates in the work of our redemption. The first creation finds its meaning and fulfillment in the new, with the glorious resurrection of our Lord. St. Ignatius of Antioch tells us that, “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” (CCC 2175). As well, we know that Christ’s resurrection points ahead to the resurrection of the body of all humanity on the last day (cf. Philippians 3:21). Sunday is thus distinguished from the Sabbath in that it replaces it, fulfills the truths of it and announces man’s eternal rest in God (cf. CCC 2175).
So, it is primarily the resurrection that leads to worship and adoration of our Father on Sunday instead of Saturday. However, there are other events that took place on the Lord’s Day after the resurrection which help us to grow in our understanding of rest on the Lord’s Day.
On the same day of the resurrection, two disciples on the road to Emmaus encounter Jesus, during which Jesus celebrates a Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which are what make up the Mass. Jesus says to the disciples (and to us): “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!” (Luke 24:25). Luke continues, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Here we have a Liturgy of the Word. After the Liturgy of the Word Jesus celebrates the Eucharist. “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30). Sunday is a day that is intimately linked with the celebration of, and participation in, the new and everlasting covenant established in the Eucharist.
On that same evening Jesus appears to the apostles and institutes the sacrament of reconciliation. Jesus said, “‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:21-23). Sunday is a day to celebrate being set free from slavery, not to the Egyptians but to sin.
Another event that took place on the Lord ’s Day was the descent of the Holy Spirit. This was, in essence, the institution of the sacrament of confirmation. The disciples can now go forth and boldly proclaim the Gospel as Peter does in Acts 2:14-36. The response to Peter is repentance, belief and the reception of the sacrament of baptism. “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added that day” (Acts 2:41). What did these people do next? “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). They listened to the church and celebrated the Eucharist, just as we are called to do on the Lord’s Day. However, we are also sent to boldly proclaim the Good News. The word “Mass” comes from the Latin word “missa,” which means “to be sent.”
Scripture further challenges us to understand why it is necessary to participate in Sunday Mass: “We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some…” (Hebrews 10:25). We should not neglect it, because as St. Paul says: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
The celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is the sign of the new and everlasting covenant for Christians. It is also a memorial of our liberation from slavery. Just as God rested, so are we to rest on the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day helps the children of the Father to have adequate time to enrich their familial bond, through renewing the covenant established in the Eucharist, with their heavenly Father and their brother Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. It also allows one to cultivate familial bonds within earthly families, along with their cultural, social, and religious lives (cf. CCC 2184). “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God” (CCC 2185). There is a difference to this day. May it make a difference in our lives.