It is not news that we live in a 24/7 world. For the majority of us, it seems there is always too much to do and not enough time to do it. In light of those realities, the idea of taking a whole day for worship, rest, and relaxation seems rather anachronistic. Yet, perhaps it is because life goes at such a frantic pace today that observance of the sabbath rest deserves a second look. The sabbath has its roots in the Jewish faith. The commandment to “Keep Holy the Sabbath” referred to the seventh day of the week. On the seventh day, God rested after the work of creation had been completed. “The sabbath is at the heart of Israel’s law. To keep the commandments is to correspond to the wisdom and the will of God as expressed in his work of creation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 348). In the Christian tradition, however, this observance has moved to the eighth day. “For us a new day has dawned: the day of Christ’s Resurrection. The seventh day completes the first creation. The eighth day begins the new creation… The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendor of which surpasses that of the first creation” (CCC, 349).
So, then, how are we called to observe this holy day of each week? First and foremost, we are called to worship. By gathering with others of our faith at Mass, we join in communal celebration of the paschal mystery and engage in praise of God. It is also meant to be a day of grace and rest from work. “Human life has a rhythm of workand rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives” (CCC, 2184). Sunday is a day that can be dedicated to service, by “devoting time and care to families and relatives”. It is also a day for “reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation” (CCC, 2186).
Those are high standards for this day! The reality often comes up short. Many people are required to work on Sundays. Even those of us who do not need to work on Sundays may have other demands put on our time on that day. Mothers, who may be able to arrange a respite from most housework on Sundays by getting their chores done the rest of the week, nevertheless still need to engage in the service of childcare on Sundays. Rest may be a very elusive goal. Attending Mass, which should be a time of reflection and prayer, can often feel more like an ordeal to be endured if one has infants and toddlers in tow. The benefit is still there, but it is certainly not always a prayerful, meditative experience! Yet, in spite of these obstacles, God, Who sees what is in our hearts, knows if we do try to set this day apart. It may not be possible to set aside the whole day, but perhaps a few hours are within reach. Perhaps it is possible to slow down the pace of life for a little bit, to really consider the activities we engage in on Sunday and decide whether they add or detract from the spirit of the day.
There is also something to be said for allowing sabbath moments to be observed throughout all the days of the week. Sunday is the holy day, but all days are holy. Time spent in prayer throughout the week can serve as a mini-sabbath. Time spent with relatives or at a family dinner can foster increased emphasis on the ties that bind. Time spent in service to others or in creative pursuits can help us to relax and rejuvenate ourselves and the world around us. We all need rest. We all need a break from the pressures of work and the focus on money. We need to remember what truly matters in life. Charlotte Ostermann in Souls at Rest: An Exploration of the Idea of Sabbath encourages us “to think of creative ways — on Sundays, and in Sabbath moments through the week — to quiet the place where you dwell… ‘dwell’ implies an at-home-ness — a leisurely sense of spending time at home just being — in contrast to home as a way-station for distracted, disconnected family members stopping off en route to a scattering of separate doings elsewhere.” Our world and our families are in desperate need of rest and a renewed focus on God. Perhaps a renewed appreciation and observance of the sabbath is just what we need.