“As Was His Custom”: Keeping the Sabbath Holy

Today's Gospel reading is a continuation of last week's. It begins by saying that Jesus was speaking in the synagogue. Last week, Luke told us that Jesus was visiting the synagogue in His hometown, "as was His custom." In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks to the people about the salvation He came to bring to all men, using two Old Testament passages as evidence of God's favor even to the Gentiles.

"As was His custom." That's such a simple phrase, and it can zip right by without our even noticing it, but it is worthy of reflection.

We know that Jesus was truly a man of prayer. He began His public ministry by spending 40 days and nights in the desert, fasting and praying. Luke tells us that the night before Jesus named His Twelve Apostles, He spent the night in prayer. John tells us that after He fed the 5,000, He went up the mountain to pray. In the Garden of Gethsemane, and on the Cross, we see Jesus in prayer. He prayed in many places and at many times, but He also did not fail to observe the ritual feasts of His people. He went up to Jerusalem with His family and disciples to celebrate the Passover. He kept holy the Sabbath, going to the synagogue, as was His custom.

One often hears Catholics who acknowledge that they do not go to Mass as often as they should. One might ask in return, "How often do you think you should be going?" Or one might dare to ask, "How much do you want to go?"

 It should not be difficult for us to acknowledge that Sunday should be a day that is different from the others. From the beginning, the Sabbath was set apart by God as a day of rest. The people of Israel could work six other days, but the Sabbath was a day to rest and consider the works of the Lord. Deuteronomy commanded that the Sabbath be kept holy because the people of Israel needed to remember how the Lord God led them out of the land of Egypt, a place of bitter and hard slavery. In other words, they were to remember their saving God.

Today, we keep Sunday holy, a day set apart and made holy by God. Christ rose from the dead early on the first day of the week. The Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles on this first day of the week. It is meant to be a day of rest, setting aside some of our usual activities in order to contemplate the mighty works of God. It is meant to be a day when we gather for the holy sacrifice of the Mass, remembering that our salvation, too, was procured by the blood of a Lamb. This is the time to listen attentively to the Word of God, to the story of salvation history. To participate in the Mass regularly expresses our desire to be truly a part of a covenantal relationship with God.

We can pray at many times and in many places, but the Mass is the highest form of prayer, for at its heart it is the sacrifice of the Cross, to which we unite all of our daily struggles, our sufferings and our little acts of love. If we truly love God, why would we not want to be there?

That Christ Himself kept holy the Sabbath and went to the synagogue "as was His custom" should be sufficient reason for us to keep the Third Commandment ourselves. As Christians, we ought to be imitators of Christ. To miss Mass regularly is to lose sight of the fact that our salvation was procured by the blood of the Lamb of God, and to risk sliding back into the slavery of sin. To miss Mass regularly is to risk losing sight of Sunday as the Lord's Day, set apart by God Himself, so that we might consider all His wonderful works.

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Rod Bennett is the author of Four Witnesses; The Early Church in Her Own Words widely considered to be a modern classic of Catholic apologetics. His other works include: The Apostasy that Wasn't; The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church and Chesterton's America; A Distributist History of the United States. His articles have appeared in Our Sunday Visitor, Rutherford Magazine, and Catholic Exchange; and he has been a frequent guest on EWTN television and Catholic Answers radio. Rod lives with his wife and two children on the 200-year old family homeplace in the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee.

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