The Third Commandment – Remember to Keep Holy the Sabbath Day

by admin on August 31, 2011

«Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservants, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is whithin your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day* (Ex 20, 9-11).

The sacred text tells us that God prescribed rest on the seventh day of the week so that it would be a holy day, consecrated to the Lord in memory of, and in thanksgiving for, the week of creation. We know that, in the Old Testament, the day of the week reserved for rest and consecrated to the Lord was Saturday. The Church, authorised by God – «I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever your loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.» (Mt 16, 19) – substituted Sunday for Saturday, in order to commemorate, along with the work of creation, the work of redemption brought about by Christ, our Saviour, who rose from the dead on a Sunday.

Now that we understand this much, let us fix our attention on the words which God uses when laying down this commandment: «Six days you may labour (…) But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God» (Ex 20, 9). Thus, Sunday is not only a day of physical rest, with abstention from servile work, but it is also, and above all, a day to be «consecrated to the Lord», a day of prayer in which we encounter God, to thank Him for all his benefits to us, to sing his praises, to remember his infinite gifts in which He has made us sharers, and to ask his help in all our needs.

In order to fulfil all these duties to God, the Church has commanded us to hear an entire Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. And we must not limit ourselves to simply being present at Mass; we must take part in it. Indeed, it is not only the priest who celebrates Mass: he presides, and con­secrates, in the name of Christ, but all the faithful gathered around the altar, live and celebrate the one Sacrifice of Christ. Hence, we must be prepared, so that, giving the responses, praying with the priest, we may, with the priest, draw near to the altar to receive Holy Communion, the Body of Jesus Christ.

I say that it is important to be prepared, because, in order to receive the Body of Christ, it is necessary that our conscience does not accuse us of grave sin. If we are in a state of grave sin, we must first receive absolu­tion in the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession, before receiving Holy Communion.

The celebration of the Eucharist is not a mere ceremony at which we are present; it is a real event in which we meet the living God, in the person of his Son, the renewal of whose passion, death and resurrection we cel­ebrate, and we receive his Body and Blood, as He Himself has told us: «This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me» (Lk 22, 19) and «Iam with you always, to the close of the age» (Mt 28, 20).

In reference to the consecrated bread and wine, the Lord says to us,: “This is My Body”. Hence, if the Lord says that “this is”, then it is, and does not cease to be, because the word of God effects what it signifies. By virtue of this word, under the species of the consecrated bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are present, for as long as the species re­main. By virtue of the word of God, the phenomenon of transubstantiation has taken place. Here our faith must be firm, because it is nourished and enlightened by the word of God, which, for us, is life and light. We are not walking in darkness, we know where we are going, we follow the road which God has marked out for us, we follow Him who said: «I am the way, the truth and the life» (Jn 14,6). We follow Jesus Christ, the Word of God, the Word of the Father.

In this way, if our observance of Sunday is limited to merely abstain­ing from work, we cannot say, with an easy conscience, that we are keeping God’s commandment since we have respected the part of it that refers to rest, but failed to observe the part that bids us consecrate the day to the Lord. God did not make us just material beings, there is also a part of us which is spiritual, which makes us like God: we can think, know, choose freely and decide; we are the result of God’s thought, created by his Will. Therefore, our physical and corporal rest has to be accompanied, and sanc­tified, by the spiritual element in us.

Still less will this commandment be observed by those who use this day only for distractions, pastimes and amusements, especially such as are sinful. In that case, the day, which should be consecrated to the Lord, becomes a day of sin which offends God and corrupts souls. In this respect, Sacred Scripture tells us ^Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death; whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord* (Ex 31, 14-15) .

As we see, the text insists on this day of rest being consecrated to the Lord. And this consecration demands that at least part of the day should be spent in an encounter with God: an encounter where we communicate directly and consciously with the Lord, by means of prayer, individually and with others, assisting at Mass, hearing the word of God which, by the ministry of priests, is addressed to us in the general assembly of the faith­ful. It was to them that the Lord confided the mission of preaching his word to us and guiding us in the way of salvation.

If we should happen to see some priests who seem to have lost their way and have gone astray, let us not be surprised! They, too, are human, subject to frailty like ourselves. In the course of time, we meet many who have lost their way and been unfaithful to God and to the mission en­trusted to them by the Lord. This is a fact about which God Himself com­plains and which He deplores thus: «And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may hold, says the Lord of the hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him, that he might fear; and he feared me, he stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts* (Mt 2, 1-7).

God shows us here the figure of a priest who was unfaithful, and that of another who was faithful to the Lord and the mission entrusted to him. The fact that some priests fall away, must not mean that our respect, our esteem and our veneration for those who persevere should be any less: rather, the weakness of some should heighten the merit of the rest. Therefore, we should always listen with faith to the priest, because he is a light for our path, a guide for our life and a source of strength for our weakness.

Christ is the true and eternal Priest of the New Covenant, and all of us, who remain united to Him, share in his priesthood; each of us in the sphere where we have been placed by God. All of us, united in the same faith, the same hope and the same charity; together constitute the People of God, described by Sacred Scripture as a priestly people. St. Peter, in his first Letter, says to us: «But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into the marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 3, 9-10). «And like living stones be your­selves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ* (1 P 2, 5). It was in Baptism that we received this priestly dignity, in virtue of which we can offer spir­itual sacrifices: all the good works of a Christian, making known the won­ders of God, all the prayers of supplication and thanksgiving offered by ourselves and our neighbours, the witness of a holy life, self-sacrifice and the gift of ourselves in the service of others.

We must realise that we have been made sharers in the priesthood of Christ in order to co-operate in his work of Redemption. The realisation of this will help us to observe worthily the precept concerning Sunday as a day consecrated to the Lord: the day must be used also for our own evan­gelisation, by the study of the laws and truths of God, so that, in our daily lives, we may know how they apply in each case, how to live them our­selves and transmit them to those around us, above all to those entrusted by Heaven to our responsibility.

If, on the contrary, we spend our Sunday solely in physical rest and distractions, can we say that we are fulfilling our priestly mission in respect of those whom the Lord has confided to our care? Will we not have failed to give the good example which we should give to those who see us? We must not forget that the apostolate of good example is superior to that of the word, unless this latter is translated coherently into action in our prac­tical life. The Portuguese have a saying, which is very true: “Words move us, but example induces us”. In other words, our lives must be in harmony with our words.

All of us, to a greater or lesser extent, in whatever situation we are placed, have a responsibility for the good of others, and the salvation of their souls. By our attitude towards them, by our words, our actions, and the prayers we should say for them, either in private or in public, with them and for them, we have to help one another to keep on the right road; the road of faith in Christ, the road of hope and love which unites us all in Christ, Head and Leader of his People, the Church. If we do not do this, how in fact do we consecrate our Sunday to the Lord?

In his Gospel, St John tells us that, when many of those who had followed Christ heard Him proclaiming the mystery of the Eucharist, they refused to believe, were scandalised and left the Lord. Then Jesus, seeing this, said to them: «”‘Do you take offence at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe. ” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that should betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father. “After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away? ” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was to betray him.» (Jn 6, 61-71).

This Gospel passage shows us how, from the very beginning, in God’s Church there were those who did not believe, were unfaithful or deserted altogether. They left God to succumb to temptations to pride, avarice, sins of the flesh, the devil and the world. They take no notice of what the Lord said; “It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail’. Of what use is the flesh when the spirit leaves it? Let us go into a cemetery and look at the graves: they will give us the answer!

But this answer is still incomplete. A day will come when these bod­ies, by then reduced to ashes, must rise to eternal life and, united once more to the souls which animated them in life, will go to share in the same destiny ordained for the souls after death, merited by each one according to his or her works. This is why Jesus Christ tells us that the flesh is of no use because it is the spirit which gives life. And the words that He spoke are indeed “spirit and life”, at any rate for those who believe and follow them. St. Peter answered: “To whom shall we go, Lord, You have the words of eternal life?”

Like the Apostle, we must believe in Christ and remain united to Him, in the person of the Successor of St. Peter, the Pope and Bishop of Rome, and say, with him: “We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God, the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save us; and that You only have the words of eternal life”. (Jn 6:69). And when we see that others are falling away, we should stand all the more firmly in our faith, united to Christ, in the person of his repre­sentative, the Pope, the one true Head of the one true Church of God, founded by Jesus Christ. He is still present and will be with us until the end of time: «I am with you always, to the close of the age» (Mt 28, 20).

This is the door of salvation which God has opened for us, and the way by which we will go to Him: Christ and his Church. We are members of Christ’s Church, we are part of the Assembly of Christ and we live united to Christ, so that we may be saved by Christ. And Sunday is the day appointed by God for all the members of the Mystical Body of Christ who form His Church to gather together in assembly.

Ave Maria!

Click Here to see the List of The Ten Commandments with 122 Questions to Examine Your Conscience with.

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