Liturgical Year
Part 2 Sunday

Chapter y22 Sunday:  Meaning and Theology

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Key Issues

Mass Attendance

Spirituality of the Seasons

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

What have you been taught about the meaning of Sunday?  What concerns you about the way you spend Sundays?  Do you confess working on Sunday?  Missing Mass on Sunday? Does it matter with whom you celebrate Eucharist on Sunday?

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Bibliography

Documents

Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, The Day of the Lord, August 12, 1998. http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/innews/998.htm

Congregation for Divine Worship. Directory for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest, Vatican City, June 2, 1988. ICEL translation, Washington DC: Office of Publishing and Promotion Services, United States Catholic Conference, 1988.  ISBN 1-55586-251-9. $1.95.

Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, "Gather Faithfully Together: A Guide for Sunday Mass."

Studies

A.G. Martimort (Editor). The Church at Prayer, Volume IV, The Liturgy and Time
Jounel, "Sunday and the Week"  pp. 11-29.  

Maxwell Johnson, Editor. Between Memory and Hope
Chapter 3 "Day of the Lord: Day of Mystery" by H. Boone Porter, pp 49-58. 
Chapter 4 "Sunday: the Heart of the Liturgical Year" by Mark Searle, pp 59-76. 
Chapter 5 "The Frequency of the Celebration of the Eucharist Throughout History" by Robert F. Taft, pp 77-98.

Adam, Adolf. The Liturgical Year: Its History, Its Meaning After the Reform of the Liturgy.

Bacchiocchi, Samuele. From Sabath to Sunday: A Historical Investigation of the Rise of Sunday Observance in Early Christianity. Rome: The Pontifical Gregorian University Press, 1977.

Chupungco, OSB, Anscar J.   "Easter Sunday in Latin Patristic Literature," Notitiae 164 (March 1980) pp 93-103.

Denis-Boulet, Noƫle. The Christian Calendar. P. Hepburne-Scott, trans. The Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Volume 113. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1960.

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Key Issues

Five years from now, when you have forgotten what Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote in his letter to the Magnesians and you cannot remember who Mark Searle was, what should you still know about what you learned in the Liturgical Year Course about SUNDAY?   What are the "key issues"?   The seven most important things, in the order of importance, are: 

1.  Christians gather on the First Day of the week (the day the Lord rose from the dead)
2.  Christians gather because they are the community of the Resurrection
3.  When they gather they celebrate the Eucharist which incorporates them into the Risen Lord
4.  The
Lord's Supper makes the day The Lord's Day
5.  The Lord's Day, Sunday, is at the heart of the Liturgical Year, it is the original "feast day"

These five issues are the key theological / liturgical elements of the Christian Sunday;  the next two items are not of the essence of Sunday -- i.e. they could disappear completely and the Christian Sunday remain intact -- but they are related to the history of Sunday.

6.  Later, the theology of the Sabbath was joined to the Christian Sunday
7.  Latter still, the obligation of the Sabbath was attributed to the Christian Sunday

In what follows, I will say a brief word about each of these seven issues.

1.  Christians gather on the First Day of the week (the day the Lord rose from the dead)   Sunday is the day of Christ. The day of his resurrection. The day on which he presented himself in the midst of his disciples. The day he drank the wine of the kingdom. The day the disciples gathered to await his return.

The following is taken from the my talk "Eucharist:  A Symphony in Four Movements"  on the CDs The Sacramentswww.NowYouKnowMedia.com

Why do I go to Mass? The way I answer this question reveals an important change in the way I understand the Eucharist.

One of my earliest childhood memories is that of going to Mass every day. (Actually, it was my mother who went to Mass every day; she took me along.) We went to Mass to pray. Mother had her prayer book, which was filled with holy cards containing her favorite prayers. Sometimes we said the rosary out loud with the other daily Mass attendees. But all of these prayers stopped at the moment of consecration. That's when Mom put down her prayer book, and we looked up to the altar as the priest raised the host that had now become the Body of Christ.

I treasure these memories and I want to speak of them not only with nostalgia but also with great reverence. That style of praying the Mass has formed countless generations of holy women and men. But if you ask me today, "Why do you go to Mass?" I will answer, "I go to Mass, first of all, to come together with other Christians." The first thing we do when we celebrate the Eucharist is we gather!

All of the ritual elements that we experience at the beginning of Mass--the Sign of the Cross, holy water, song, greeting, silence, prayer--have one purpose: to gather us together into the one Body of Christ so that together we are prepared to hear the Word of God and to celebrate the Eucharist.

The words "to gather", "to come together", "to assemble" are frequently used in the Bible to describe what the first Christians did on the Lord's Day. In perhaps the earliest written text we have regarding the Eucharist, St. Paul speaks of how the Corinthians are to "come together" to "gather" to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

I have written further on this issue in "The Community Gathers" Eucharist: Jesus With Us, St. Anthony Messenger Press, May 2005. Q0505.  I have placed a draft of this article on my website  and  "Why I Go to Mass," Catholic Update, Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, August 2002. C0802  and  "The Ministry of Hospitality," America, 190:15 (May 3, 2004) pp12-14. and "What the Eucharist Means--Still" Catholic Digest, December 1992 pp 32-37.

2.  Christians gather because they are the community of the Resurrection  Christ's resurrection is the essential object of Christian faith and the basis of the Christian's assurance that we too will pass from death to life.  What is the Lord's Day? A day of joyful celebration and remembrance of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. A day of actual presence of the Lord in the Word of God and the eucharist. A day of expectation of the Lord's return, which we celebrate in hope.  Sunday:  The day of resurrection, the "first day" on which the world was created, the "eighth day" -  the first day of the new and eternal covenant brought into fulfillment by the resurrection of Christ. --- "Does it not seem more true to say that the Church did not choose Sunday but received it from Christ when he rose on that day? We don't choose and sanctify Sunday. We have been chosen and sanctified by Sunday! Sunday is not simply a fortuitous day, as good as any other, for worship. It is the day." (Kathleen Hughes RSCJ, "On Sunday Catholics and Saturday Worship," Assembly, 5:2, September 1978, p 3.)  How many Christians believe in the Resurrection of Christ? How many Christians believe in their own resurrection? What are their attitudes toward death (and life after death)?   When you look around your parish during Sunday Eucharist, does the assembly look like it has risen from the dead?

3.  When they gather they celebrate the Eucharist which incorporates them into the Risen Lord    As we sit at the Eucharistic table with Jesus and with the disciples and with all those who have believed in the Resurrection throughout the ages past and the ages to come, past-present-future all become one. We eat the flesh of the one who died in the past and taste the future banquet of heaven. We sing of our confidence in Life: "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life." We sing of our freedom: "By your cross and resurrection you have set us free!" (Eucharistic acclamations) We sing of our strength in the face of evil for in Christ we have "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." (Hebrews 6:5) The Resurrection makes Sunday the first of all Christian feasts.  This doesn't happen when we stop short at the first epiclesis (i.e. consider primarily the prayer to change the elements rather than continuing to the epiclesis to change the Church).

4.  The Lord's Supper makes the day The Lord's Day   The Sunday assembly for Eucharist is at the very heart of the meaning of Sunday. Speaking of Sunday, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Lord's Supper is its center, for there the whole community of the faithful encounters the risen Lord who invites them to his banquet." (CCC 1166)   Does the celebration of Mass during the week obscure the meaning of Sunday?  If the Eucharist makes a day Sunday, when Eucharist is celebrated every day, every day is Sunday.  Or is Eucharist on Sunday a liturgical event and Eucharist on a weekday a devotional event?    How can Sunday remain Sunday when it is not possible to celebrate Eucharist because there is no one present who is authorized to preside at the Eucharist.  If the Eucharist make the day "Sunday" how can one have Sunday without Eucharist?

5.  The Lord's Day, Sunday, is at the heart of the Liturgical Year, it is the original "feast day"   Sunday is the original feast day for Christians.  Every Sunday is a celebration of the Paschal Mystery.   One of the basic guiding principles for the 1969 reform of the Roman Calendar was the restoration of Sunday to its rightful place. 

These five issues are the important things to know about Sunday;  the next two items are not of the essence of Sunday -- i.e. they could disappear completely and the Christian Sunday remain intact.

6.  Later, the theology of the Sabbath was joined to the Christian Sunday   The Jews rest on the Sabbath because the Creator rested (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15.)   At first, the Christians observed both their Jewish Sabbath and the Lord's Day.  The Sabbath, a day of rest is on the seventh day of the Jewish week and when the Sabbath rest was over, the Christians gathered for Sunday, a day of communal worship.  But soon the Christians stopped observing the Sabbath.  

"We are no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord's Day" (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Magn. 9, 1)  For the first three centuries it was work day (with the assembly early in the morning before work--and before the police got up).  The Christian observance of Sunday was more a day of corporate worship rather than a day of abstinence from work.  Sunday was not a day of rest. Christians gathered to celebrate Christ's resurrection prior to beginning their work day.  

Gregory Dix:  "Christians showed no hesitation at all about treating Sunday as an ordinary working day like their neighbors, once they had attended the synaxis and eucharist at the ecclesia. This was the Christian obligation, the weekly gathering of the whole Body of Christ to its Head, to become what it really is, His Body."  (Dix, p 360). 

Constantine issued an edict in 321 CE forbidding the law courts to sit on Sunday.  Enforcing this holiday brought daily life to a near standstill within the empire.  While the edict was designed to render attendance at Christian worship, it is more likely the edict was more a propaganda measure to gain support in the empire.  With the Peace of Constantine, Christians could meet later in the morning.

For priests and many other Christian ministers, Sunday is the principal work day of the week.  It is "difficult" for priests to preach about Sunday being a day of rest because they do not experience it as such.  Often "church people" take a "day off" during the week e.g. Monday or Friday.  Sunday is a working day.  -- My own experience of living in Egypt where the "day of rest" was Friday and Sunday was an ordinary working day confirmed this understanding of "Sabbath Rest" -- It was nice to have an actual "day of rest" (Friday) for a change from American where, for the priest and lay minister, there is no rest on Sunday. 

In a "Christian" country, "religion" and "culture" are often mixed together (as they are in Israel, and in Muslim countries).   This can blur our understanding of what is "religion" and what is "culture".   For example, in 2002, Cardinal Karl Lehmann, president of the German Bishops' Conference made the following remarks regarding Sunday as a day of rest.  (Oct. 27, 2002)  "The celebration of Sunday is a necessity of human dignity, a protest against the commercialization of the person, and against enslavement by the world of work." ...  "All creatures, especially the human being, must have the possibility to be free and to rest from the pressures of society and our world."  ...  [There is a danger that] "Sunday and feast days could be eliminated or turned into simple weekends, time to go out and to enjoy sports events." ... "Sunday is not at our free disposal. Among the conditions for real freedom is the proper celebration of Sunday."  ... "It is not accidental that the Jewish Sabbath is a most special gift of God to humanity, as Sunday is."   The question can be asked:  Are these religious remarks, or are they cultural / sociological remarks?  Is the cardinal speaking as a Christian or as a German? 

7.  Latter still, the obligation of the Sabbath was attributed to the Christian Sunday   In the late sixth century the REST of the Jewish Sabbath is added to the celebration of the Christian Sunday.  In 589 the Council of Narbonne imposes punishments (6 pieces of gold or 100 lashes) on those who work on Sunday. The 1917 Code of Canon Law says missing Sunday Mass is a mortal sin.   The Second Vatican Council debated eliminating obligatory nature of Sunday worship.  Many bishops felt that the obligation obscures the aspect of celebration essential for the Eucharist. 

How is the question of "obligation" understood today?  Holy Days of Obligation have one half the number who attend on Sunday. Christmas, Easter, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday have double the Sunday attendance.  Today many Catholics find a God who would condemn someone to an eternity of hell for an extra hour in bed on Sunday morning to be inconsistent with the God they find in the Christian Scriptures. [I have explored this issue more at length in  "Discipleship and the Moral Life: The Reality of Sin and Grace," Catechist, February 2, 2003 (36:5) pp 50-54.]

Personally, I have come to believe that "resurrection" is at the heart of the issue (not "obligation").  People would be drawn to gather with us on the Lord's Day if the Body of Christ (i.e. us, Christians) looked like it had risen from the dead!  Frequently I encounter Christians who give me the impression that they are still in the tomb! 

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Mass Attendance

In February 2008, Georgetown-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in a report authorized by the Communications Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, titled "Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics" found that about 23 percent of Catholics attend Mass weekly. 

The researchers polled 1,007 self-identified adult Catholics, comparing responses from those born between 1943 and 1960, called "pre-Vatican II," those born between 1961 and 1981, called "post-Vatican II," and so-called "Millennials" born after 1981. http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/catholics_approve_of_pope_benedict_but_dont_attend_mass/

***

In January 1995, Mark Chaves of Notre Dame University and colleagues Kirk Hadaw of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and Penny Long Marler of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. published a study that first raised the possibility that church attendance in the United States was well below the figures traditionally reported.  That study reported that actual attendance at both Protestant and Catholic services was nearly half (20 percent and 28 percent) of the traditional figures provided over the years by the Gallup organization (45 percent and 51 percent, according to a 1991 Gallup Poll).

Mass attendance on Sundays in the United States: A study by Mark Chavez (and colleagues) of Notre Dame University examined the "October Count" and compared it with parish registration and found that 28% of Catholics attend Mass on Sunday.  In 1991 Gallup, in a "self-reporting" poll found that 51% of Catholics attend Mass on Sunday.

 ***

ROME, August 8, 2010 -- Despite regular polls showing that about 30 percent of Italian Catholics claim to attend Sunday Mass regularly, a closer look at the numbers reveals a more uncertain future for the Italian Church, and consequently for Italy as a moral vanguard in Europe.  For many years, Italians responding to surveys have said that between 30 and 50 percent attend Mass more than once a month. But in 2004-5, the Patriarchate of Venice undertook a study that showed the actual attendance numbers were no more than 22.7 percent, with only 15 percent attending every Sunday. Those who attended one to three times were 7.7 percent. The survey noted that Mass attendance increases with the level of education, in contrast to findings in other parts of Europe.  While this number still compares favorably to that of other EU countries like France, where regular attendance is thought to be below 5 percent, it is likely to slide further in the coming years.
http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2010/aug/10080901.html

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Spirituality of the Seasons

[Reprinted from: Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M. "Spirituality of the Seasons: Sunday, the First Feast Day," St. Anthony Messenger, 102:9 (February, 1995) p 56.]

The feasts and seasons of the liturgical year are one of our most precious Christian treasures. The key which can help us unlock this treasure is Sunday. Sunday is the original Christian feast day. Sunday is "the first holy day of all, ... the foundation and core of the whole liturgical year." (Constitution on the Liturgy, 106)

Sunday--the day to go shopping, the day to watch football, the day to sleep late, the day we have to go to Church--Sunday can mean a lot of different things. But before we get too distracted by our attitudes toward Sunday, or by what we do on Sunday, let's take a look at what Sunday is in itself. What makes Sunday "the first holy day of all"?

The system we use for naming the days of the week is based on the seven planets of antiquity: the sun, the moon, etc. (Sunday, Monday, etc.) The Jewish system known to Jesus and the first disciples simply numbered the days of the week: the first day, the second day, etc. They named only the seventh day, Sabbath, (and its eve, parasceve or preparation day). When the planetary system was "Christianized" the first day of the week, the Sun's Day, was renamed the Lord's Day and Sunday became dies domicalis (Dominus = Lord) in Latin, domenica in Italian, dimanche in French, domingo in Spanish, etc. But whether we call it Sunday, the Lord's Day, or the first day of the week, this day is important for us because this is the day God chose to transform the history of the world: it is the day of Resurrection!

Each of the four Gospels mentions explicitly that the Resurrection took place on the day we call Sunday. "After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb." (Matthew 28:1) "Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb." (Mark 16:2) "But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb." (Luke 24:1) "On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb." (John 20:1)

Why is Sunday "the foundation and core of the whole liturgical year?" Because it is the day of the Resurrection and "the Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 638) As the Resurrection is the center of our Faith, Sunday--the day of the Resurrection--is the center of the Liturgical Year. In large part, the way we view Sunday will be colored by the way we view the Resurrection!

"Do you believe in the Resurrection?" Any Christian will answer "yes" to that question without hesitation. But what if we ask "Do you believe in the Resurrection, not only as a historical event, but as happening NOW? (We observed in this column last month that the liturgical year does not merely remember past events but makes them present.) The Resurrection is more than a historical event, "it remains at the very heart of the mystery of faith as something that transcends and surpasses history." (CCC 647)

What does it mean to believe that the Resurrection is NOW? I have a friend who hates movies that don't end happily. When renting a movie for his VCR, he will first fast forward to check out the ending so that he won't waste time watching a movie that he is not going to like! You may think this a silly way to watch movies, but I find it a good analogy for what God does for us in the Resurrection. The Resurrection is our proof that life has a "happy ending."

There are times when life can be discouraging and the world disappointing. There are times when I look around me and see so much sin and pain, dysfunction and darkness, that I am tempted to wonder if Death isn't actually winning the battle! But in the midst of oppression, poverty, pain, and injustice the Resurrection is God's great cry of triumph! The Resurrection is the vindication of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. The Resurrection is our assurance that God is in charge. Sin and evil have been definitively conquered. The story has a glorious ending. We are people of HOPE for we have nothing to fear, not even death itself. "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:55)

The Resurrection is a universal event. The "happy ending" extends to all creation. Consequently we celebrate the Resurrection not only in our hearts and in our homes but we go out and join with others and all creation to proclaim that the Lord is risen. Sunday is first of all a day of assembly, a day of gathering for worship. Even before Sunday became a day of rest (at first it was an ordinary work day like the other days of the week), Sunday was the day to come together and to proclaim the death and resurrection of the Lord in the Breaking of the Bread, the day for Eucharist. We follow the example of the two disciples from Emmaus who, on the first day of the week when they came to know the Resurrection in the Breaking of the Bread, "set out at once and returned to Jerusalem" to share this Good News with the other disciples. (Luke 24:13-35)

The Sunday assembly for Eucharist is at the very heart of the meaning of Sunday. Speaking of Sunday, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Lord's Supper is its center, for there the whole community of the faithful encounters the risen Lord who invites them to his banquet." (CCC 1166) As we sit at the Eucharistic table with Jesus and with the disciples and with all those who have believed in the Resurrection throughout the ages past and the ages to come, past-present-future all become one. We eat the flesh of the one who died in the past and taste the future banquet of heaven. We sing of our confidence in Life: "Dying you destroyed our death, rising you restored our life." We sing of our freedom: "By your cross and resurrection you have set us free!" (Eucharistic acclamations) We sing of our strength in the face of evil for in Christ we have "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." (Hebrews 6:5) The Resurrection makes Sunday the first of all Christian feasts.

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To Think About

1.  What are the major obstacles to the celebration of Sunday in today's parish?  (The contemporary weekend customs; e.g. sports, travel...)

2.  What is the theological difference between remembering the mysteries of the Christian Liturgical Year and a mere historical recalling of the event celebrated?

3.  If the assembly of Christians is to gather on Sunday, what happened to the centrality of one Eucharist = one Assembly?  Where has convenience crept in?

4.  To what extent are Catholics catechized regarding the importance of Sunday beyond mere legal obligation?

5.  If making Christ present in the Word and the Eucharist makes a day "Sunday", how do we keep weekday Masses from making everyday Sunday?

Does Sunday "obligation" take away from the "joy" of the day?

6.  Does the Saturday evening anticipatory mass distract from the uniqueness of the Sunday liturgy? [Some Catholics go to Saturday evening Mass and have no religious observance on Sunday.  For many people Sunday is a work day:  factory workers, farmers, hospital workers, airline personnel, etc -- and especially Priests and Liturgical Ministers.]

7.  Comment on the interruption of the Sunday readings for special "themes" and "collections" without any regard for the integrity of the Lectionary; e.g. Mission Sunday, Vocation Sunday, Right to Life Sunday, Catholic University Sunday,

8.  Comment:  Sunday should be set apart as a day of more complete focusing of the mind and heart on God, rather than a prohibition against all work.

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it. This site was updated on 02/20/13 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at trichstatter@franciscan.org