The Meaning of Sunday
French liturgist says Christians need to rediscover the importance of the “first day of the week” From: LaCroix: International News of the Catholic Church
February 1, 2020
For many, Sunday has lost its religious dimension (maxppp.com).Increasing secularization and a decline in religious practice has changed how the Western world views and lives Sunday. Michèle Clavier, a liturgist and professor of sacramental theology, says we need to rediscover why this day is “different” from every other day of the week.
What is the theological justification that makes Sunday so particular? The Bible does not dwell on chronological details. But the New Testament says that after his crucifixion and burial, Jesus was raised “on the third day,” the day after the Sabbath.
“Initially, Sunday was the day the women discovered the empty tomb of Christ. Christianity breaks with Judaism and chooses to respect and sanctify this first day of the week as the ‘day of the Lord’ (dominicum, in Latin) “, explains Michèle Clavier, who has just published a new book, Une histoire du dimanche (A history of Sunday).
For the disciples, the morning of the Resurrection still marks the dawn of a new world.”The ‘new times’ announced by the prophets begin on this day. It’s like a new creation, we are on the ‘first day’ of the Kingdom which is already here, but will still have to be fully realized,” said the French bishops’ commission on the liturgy in its 1988 document, The Christian meaning of Sunday. “Sunday, in the Passover of Christ and thus fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish Sabbath and announces the eternal rest of human beings in God,” says Clavier in her latest work. “it propels believers progress from week to week towards the ‘eternal Sunday’,” she says.
How do the texts exhort us to this day of rest?
“(God) rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done,” says the Book of Genesis (2, 1-2). “The seventh day is the day of rest, (…) in honor of the Lord thy God: thou shalt not do any work,” commands the Book of Exodus (20, 1-18). And in Book of Deuteronomy we read: “You will remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord brought you out (…) : this is why the Lord your God commanded you to observe the day of rest” (Dt 5, 15).
Rooted in the Ten Commandments, the divine injunction to rest occupies a fundamental place in the Old Testament.”By remembering that we are not the creator, but that we are part – with our own limits – of Creation, the day of rest is also legitimized by this duty to remember the liberation from slavery,” says the Geneva-based Reform Church pastor Marie Cénec.
She is the author of C’est tous les jours dimanche (Everyday in Sunday).
“In our daily rhythm, when we sometimes become slaves of our work or pleasures, there’s a liberating and militant dimension to stop for a day and allow ourselves… to contemplate, be silent, sleep in without any sense of guilt or do other things that cannot be measured by money,” says Pastor Cénec.
How did Sunday become the day that Christians gather together, and how has it nearly lost its unimportance today?
Before there was a codified ritual for our current Mass, the early Christians were already required to gather together on Sunday, or on Saturday evening, according to the biblical understanding that the next day begins at sundown. “These remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers,” says the Acts of the Apostles (2, 42).
In the second century, Saint Justin Martyr was the first to use the term “Eucharist” (thanksgiving) to describe these gatherings. And until the end of the third century, marked by a violent wave of Roman persecution against Christians, the Eucharist was celebrated secretly in private homes.
Intense period of construction of basilicas, churches …
The Emperor Constantine’s decision in 313 to make Christianity the religion of the Empire changed the course of history. Under his reign, Sunday became a compulsory public holiday.
“The expression of the Christian faith can therefore manifest itself publicly, and little by little, around the sixth century, the ritual of the Mass as we know today is being put into place,” says Clavier.
“The history of Sunday remains troubled, however. Philosophers during the Enlightenment paved the way for its abandonment, even before the establishment of ‘modern Sunday’ from the 19th to the middle of the 20th century,” the female theologian adds.
Then there is a decline in religious practice in secularized societies, questions of whether to allow people work on Sunday, the demands of labor unions … And today, from a Christian point of view, Sunday has suffered from a certain doctrinal and existential relativism. “There has been a break with tradition,” says Clavier, who also serves the deputy head of liturgical and sacramental ministry in the Diocese of Bordeaux (France).
“There certainly have been disruptions in the Church, just like those of (the student uprisings in) May 1968. While previous generations were immersed in Christianity – with the memorization of the catechism, the obligation of attending Sunday Mass, the need to go regularly to confession, etc. -, today we are immersed in secularism,” she says.
What are the challenges to reviving the Christian meaning of Sunday?
Sunday has become just another part of the weekend and no longer has a primarily spiritual dimension for many Christians. “It’s reception continues, but the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) strongly urged us to try to understand better what we celebrate and what we say during Sunday Mass,” continues Clavier. She says Vatican II calls us to better understand that, above all, Sunday is “the first day of the week “.
When Rome allowed for the celebration of Saturday evening Mass it was a further indication of the Church’s efforts to adapt to the changing pace of family life. But Pastor Cénec cautions, “We must be careful to maintain resistance, in our schedules, so as not to reduce spirituality to a minimal portion of our lives.”
And in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’, Pope Francis reminds us that there is yet another dimension to Sunday: “The day of rest, centered on the Eucharist, sheds it light on the whole week, and motivates us to greater concern for nature and the poor”( LS 237).