By Fr. Roy Cimagala
I FEEL that we have to recover the proper sense of Sunday. While it’s heartwarming to see our churches filled with people on Sundays, we cannot deny the fact many do not know the true significance of the day.
Many go simply out of routine. Thanks to God, in spite of the inroads of modernist attitudes that erode our sense of the sacred, our culture is still predominantly Christian, at least in form and practices if not anymore so much in substance.
Yes, many still go to Church to Sundays. That’s because in spite of the imperfections in our knowledge, we still get some glimpses of sanctity in this activity. The heart can go further than what the mind and the social customs can show. The duty for continuing catechesis on this topic is therefore really a must.
This is not to mention the usual elements that tend to undermine the proper understanding of our Sunday obligation. These can be our daily concerns, or the mere passage of time that can blunt what’s referred to as the “radical newness” that Sunday as the Day of the Lord possesses.
Thus, I was happy to be reminded recently of the relevant Catholic doctrine in the document “Sacramentum caritatis” of Pope Benedict XVI. In it, he traced the origin of the Christian meaning of Sunday.
According to him, the early Christians already had a customary practice of gathering on the first day (Sunday) of the week—after the Sabbath, which is the last day—to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.
Understanding Christ’s resurrection as his ultimate victory over sin and death, or the ultimate victory of his cross, the early Christians understood Sunday as the “new day,” the day of our re-creation, of our salvation, “the day the Lord has made.”
The first Christians were convinced that the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday was the attainment of our authentic freedom and liberation, a goal reached and made available to us by Christ but requiring our cooperation.
That’s why they looked at Sunday in a very special way. St. Ignatius of Antioch coined an expression to describe the attitude the early Christians had toward Sunday. He said they were “living in accordance with the Lord’s Day.”
This “living in accordance with the Lord’s Day” simply meant that the early Christians were keenly aware of the liberation won by Christ. They also sharply felt the duty to make their lives a constant self-offering to God, so that Christ’s victory can be reflected in their deeply renewed existence.
Sunday became paradigmatic for all the other days of the week. It’s “the” day from which all the other days flow and derive its meaning, and to which all the other days also tend and seek as to their goal and fulfillment.
Sunday therefore gives us the proper Christian meaning of our life, of time, of everything in our life. This was how the early Christian understood Sunday. This is how we should understand it also.
Of course, the best way to “live in accordance with the Lord’s Day” is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist or the Holy Mass, which is the sacrament—a mysterious but no less real and actual re-presenting—of our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection.
In Christian liturgy, the sacrament is not merely a dramatization of what happened in the past. It is an actual re-presentation of the very same event that took place centuries ago, this time through words, signs and our human cooperation. This is all due to God’s will and omnipotence.
In the Holy Mass, we celebrate the very climax and summary Christ’s redemptive work for us. In it, Christ makes available to us all the gains and merits of his redemptive work.
The challenge we have today is how to convey and keep alive the overwhelming richness of this reality about our Sunday obligation in all of us. It is how to make everyone see that the Sunday obligation is actually everything for us.
This means also that we need to find a realistic way of linking everything to it. And of how Sunday with its intrinsic requirement of the celebration of the Mass is necessary in giving proper meaning and direction to everything that we have and do.