On the day of rest, our eyes open to the larger picture. This “gives us renewed sensitivity to the rights of others.” The Eucharist is the center of day of rest. It “sheds its light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor.” Laudato si’ (LS) ¶ 237. Two weeks ago, I posted an article on the relationship between liturgy and integral ecology as laid out by Pope Francis. Pope Francis shows that liturgy enables us to understand the natural world in a transcendent way. One aspect I did not discuss is the importance of the day of rest. But Pope Francis says the day of rest, Sunday, has special importance. It “is meant to be a day which heals our relationships with God, with ourselves, with others and with the world.” LS ¶ 237.
Ladauto Si’ is the most recent social encyclical. The first also emphasizes rest. Pope Leo XIII wrote that workers have the right to “proper rest for soul and body. Rerum novarum (RN) ¶ 33. “This rest from labor is not to be understood as mere idleness …. [I]t should be rest from labor consecrated by religion. RN ¶ 32.
But Saint Pope John Paul II provides the most extensive treatment on the subject.
Dies Domini: On Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy
“Sunday is a day that is at the very heart of the Christian life,” says John Paul. Dies domini (DD) ¶ 7. But he sees the rise of the weekend as a “somewhat mixed” situation. DD ¶ 5. The weekend “contribute[s] to people’s development and to the advancement of the life of society as a whole.” But his concern is that Sunday “loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a weekend ….” When this happens, people may “stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see the heavens.” DD ¶ 4. In Dies Domini, he considers “the many different aspects” of Sunday. This, he is confident, will make “[t]he duty to keep Sunday holy … easily understood ….” DD ¶ 7.
The pope looks at five aspects of Sunday. First, it celebrates creation. DD ¶¶ 8-18. Second, it is the day of the Lord’s resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. DD ¶¶ 19-30. Third, on Sunday, the Eucharistic assembly comes together. DD ¶¶ 31-54. Fourth, it is a day of joy, rest and solidarity for men and women. DD ¶¶ 55 -73. Finally, it reveals to us the meaning of time. DD ¶¶ 74-80.
Sunday is the day of rest
At several points, John Paul reflects on Sunday as the day of rest. He begins with the Creation. In Genesis we read, “On the seventh day God had completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day from all the work he had been doing.” Gn 2:2 (NJB). “The divine rest of the seventh day does not allude to an inactive God,” says John Paul. Rather, it “speaks, as it were, of God’s lingering before the ‘very good’ work which his hand has wrought in order to cast upon it a gaze full of joyous delight.” DD ¶ 11 (emphasis in original).
The seventh day also is a day of remembrance. The Third Commandment tells us to “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Ex 20: 8 (NJB). “For in six days Yahweh made the heavens, earth and the sea and all that these contain, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why Yahweh has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred.” Ex 20: 11 (NJB). “Rest therefore acquires a sacred value: The faithful are called to rest not only as God rested, but to rest in the Lord, bringing the entire creation to him, in praise and thanksgiving, intimate as a child and friendly as a spouse.” DD ¶ 16.
From the seventh day to the first day
For Christians, the Lord’s day moved from the seventh day, the Sabbath, to the first day after the Sabbath. “[F]or that was the day on which the Lord rose from the dead. … [T]he meaning of the Old Testament precept concerning the Lord’s Day is recovered, perfected and fully revealed in the glory which shines on the face of the Risen Christ. We move from the ‘Sabbath’ to the ‘first day after the Sabbath,’ from the seventh day to the first day.” DD ¶ 18.
“[T]he Lord’s Day is rooted in the very work of creation and even more in the mystery of the biblical rest of God ….” But it is “to the resurrection of Christ that we must look in order to understand fully the Lord’s Day.” DD ¶ 19.
Sunday is the eighth day
The resurrection occurred on the first day of the week. Christian thought, therefore, links it with the first day of that cosmic week which shapes the creation story ….” This invites “an understanding of the resurrection as the beginning of a new creation ….” DD ¶ 24. “Sunday is not only the first day, it is also ‘the eighth day’ ….” It “evokes not only the beginning of time but also its end in the ‘age to come.'” DD ¶ 26.
In the weekly rhythm of days, Christian hope is “the leaven and the light of human hope.” Thus, the prayers of the faithful that we offer each Sunday go beyond the needs of our particular Christian community. They respond to “‘the joys and hopes, the sorrows and anxieties of people today ….” In particular, they speak to the needs “of the poor and all those who suffer.'” The Eucharist itself is “a sacrament, or sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the entire human race.” DD ¶ 38. Thus, the day of rest is also a day of social justice.
Sunday is an experience of brotherhood
Jesus himself commands that we come to the table of the Lord at peace with our brothers and sisters. “So then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come and present your offering.” Mt 5: 23-24 (NJB). Thus, our “communion with Christ is deeply tied to communion with our brothers and sisters.” DD ¶ 44.
This means that we must also leave the altar “called to evangelize and bear witness in [our] daily lives.” In sharing the Eucharist, we are entrusted with a responsibility.
Once the assembly disperses, Christ’s disciples return to their everyday surroundings with the commitment to make their whole life a gift, a spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God. They feel indebted to their brothers and sisters because of what they have received in the celebration, not unlike the disciples of Emmaus who, once they had recognized the Risen Christ “in the breaking of the bread”, felt the need to return immediately to share with their brothers and sisters the joy of meeting the Lord.
DD ¶ 45.
Sunday rest gives us perspective and insight into human life
“Rest is something sacred,” says John Paul. It allows us to withdraw from the cycle of our daily tasks. Then we are able to “renew an awareness that everything is the work of God.” DD ¶ 65. He reiterates Leo XIII’s insistence that workers have a right to rest. “[T]here remains the obligation to ensure that everyone can enjoy the freedom, rest and relaxation that human dignity requires ….” DD ¶ 66.
Through Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their proper perspective: The material things about which we worry give way to spiritual values; in a moment of encounter and less pressured exchange, we see the true face of the people with whom we live. … Men and women then come to a deeper sense, as the apostle says, that “everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
DD ¶ 67.
The day of rest is a school of charity, justice and peace
Christians have “the duty to make the eucharist the place where fraternity becomes practical solidarity, where the last are the first in the minds and attention of the brothers and sisters, where Christ himself – through the generous gifts of the rich to the poor – may somehow prolong in time the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves.” DD ¶ 71.
It is not enough to wait for people to ask for help. To make Sunday a day of joy, Christians must “look around to find people who may need their help.” DD ¶ 72. “Lived this way, not only the Sunday eucharist but the whole of Sunday becomes a great school of charity, justice and peace.” In the Risen Lord, we find solidarity, inner peace, and an inspiration to change the structures of sin. DD ¶ 73. The day of rest leads to justice. It is a day of charity and peace.