“And so the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the furniture of them. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. And He blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:1-3).
The seventh day, the Sabbath. The holy day of the New Testament, however, is Sunday, the first day of the week.
Here again something typical of the New Testament has occurred. Jesus Christ was the Executant of the Old Testament but its Lord as well. In Him the promise of the coming Messiah, which gleams throughout the Old Testament, is fulfilled. With Christ’s death and Resurrection the new order began. The evening before His death, while establishing the Eucharist, Jesus spoke with divine simplicity of the “new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).
The day of Easter, on which He rose again, crowning His mission, now becomes the new day of completion. Again God rests from His work of creation — this time the creation from which the new man, the new heaven and earth are supposed to emerge. This day returns every week as Sunday, a memorial of the first creation’s wedding with the second. The divine repose of the Sabbath now mingles with the triumph of the Resurrection. Into the hum of peace breaks the fanfare of victory. Promise and fulfillment have become one. For the Sabbath looked back — in eternity — to the beginning. Sunday looks forward — in eternity — to the end, to what is to come. It proclaims Christ’s new creation, the new world born of His deed and one day to be revealed in eternity.
We asked whether it is possible to speak of God’s resting, since He is He Who Is, the Omnipotent One, eternal, unchanging; revelation replies that He truly makes decisions; He creates; and He rests from creating. This double aspect of the all-pervasive, all-governing God who is yet personally free to come and go and act in a specific instance is proclaimed throughout Scripture. The Bible recounts His selection of a particular person, His sealing a covenant of loyalty with him, His consolidation of that covenant with the nation that grew from the chosen man’s descendants, His divine guidance and support in their constant struggles against their own inertia and stubbornness, His never-failing loyalty, His rescuing them from repeated apostasy.
Again and again God experiences the lot of magnanimity betrayed. The account goes on to tell how He then revealed Himself in all His reality: the Father sends His eternal Son into the world as the long-awaited Messiah. The Holy Spirit governs that entire life, and everyone is aware of its unheard-of power. Finally, God’s Son, accepting with supreme readiness the fate prepared for Him among men, allows the storm-clouds of centuries-old opposition to the divine to gather and break over His head and slay Him. The completion of this act on Calvary, the victory of the Resurrection, is expressed in the day of the Lord.
But God’s lot among men finds another expression in time — namely, in the Mass itself.
A New Creation in Time & Eternity
This divine fate took place in time. As divine act and fate, however, it issued from the divine will. It took place once as an earthly event with beginning and end. Simultaneously it is an unchanging reality in eternity. There Christ stands with His Passion and death before the Father. Before He died He willed that this salutary fulfillment be constantly remembered.
At the Last Supper He gave His friends the bread of His body and the wine of His blood, exhorting them to “do this” in His memory. As often as those authorized to do so obey this command, what occurred then occurs again — in the present.
The memorial is no mere recollection; it is a return to actual being. Through the act of the Lord’s memorial, the eternal reality of God’s earthly destiny, renewed ever and again, steps into time. This entry is the holy hour, the constantly recurring now. It is not as though there existed one hour which man reserves for his God; God Himself, bearing His salutary destiny, enters into the hour, which attains self-realization through Him. It now becomes part of the new creation. Through such an hour, time contains eternity, and eternity embraces time.
When the eternal God took upon Himself our human transitoriness, sacred time in the real sense of the words came into being. At first that was simply the time that lay between the angel’s annunciation and the Lord’s departure. Within those years the incarnate Son of God lived, worked, and suffered among us — then and only then. During the reign of Caesar Augustus, God really became man, and while Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea He really died — not sooner, not later. Between those two events the eternal Logos existed as a man.
This earthly sojourn is renewed in the Mass. When the priest, empowered by the Lord Himself, speaks the words over the bread and the wine, Christ walks alive and real among His congregation until He gives Himself as nourishment in the sacred Supper. Again a definite span of time with beginning and end: the Passover of the Lord in the most literal sense of the phrase.
To participate properly in the Mass it is essential that we be aware of its temporalness: of its beginning, continuation, and end. This brief portion of time enfolds eternity. Customs like that of exposing the Blessed Sacrament during the Mass can blur the sense of sacred time in the Mass. The constant figure of the host, star-like above the altar, cancels the sense of the Lord’s coming, pausing, and departing.
It is very important to experience the pass-over of the sacred moment emerging from eternity. It catches us up into itself, and while it lasts we are different from what we are at all other times. Then it dismisses us, and we fall back into the transitoriness of day-to-day existence. But if we have vitally participated in it, we take with us the seed of that holy eternity which comes from the Resurrection, and our life in the transitory world is changed.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Guardini’s Meditations Before Mass, which is available in paperback or ebook from Sophia Institute Press.