By the third commandment we are commanded to worship God in a special manner on Sunday, the Lord's day.
"Keep you My Sabbath: for it is holy unto you: he that shall profane it, shall be put to death: he that shall do any work in it, his soul shall perish out of the midst of his people. Six days shall you do work: in the seventh day is the sabbath, the rest holy to the Lord" (Exodus 31: 14-15).
God commanded the observance of a definite day, in order that man may devote one day a week to the special worship of his Creator. Natural law obliges man to adore and thank God for His continuous blessings.
If God gives us six days to work for ourselves, we ought to be glad to devote one day to Him, exclusively. The day enables us to join in public worship and receive religious instruction. The rest benefits both body and soul. If we had to work always, seven days a week, year in and year out, our health would break under the strain.
Consider during these past several decades how this has happened with 7 days a week, 24 hour stores. Man has forgotten the true purpose of Sunday. It is not to worship at the altar of the NFL or be glued to the TV set watching whatever sport is in season.
In the Old Law, the celebration of a definite day, the sabbath, had been ordered only specially for the Jews, just as circumcision and bloody sacrifices had been. The Old Law was abrogated upon the institution of the New (cf. Acts 10:15; Colossians 2:16; and Galatians 4:10-11).
In the Old Law the Jews kept holy the seventh day of the week, Saturday. It was their day of rest. The vital principle of the Third Commandment was not the specific day, but that one day out of seven should be devoted to the worship of God the Creator.
In the New Law, Catholics keep holy the first day of the week, Sunday. It is called "The Lord's Day." Saint Paul refers twice to its observance. (cf. Acts 20: 7; 1 Cor. 16:2). The Church commands us to keep Sunday as the Lord's day, because on Sunday Christ rose from the dead, and on Sunday the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.
In the New Law, Christ delegated His authority to the Church, His Living Voice. It remained then for the Church to indicate the ceremonial day to be kept holy. In the same way the early Church caused circumcision and bloody sacrifices to make way for Baptism and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The Church commands us to worship God on Sunday by assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
The obligation of Mass is binding on all persons who have attained the use of reason; that is, including children seven years old. Those who find it impossible, or very difficult, to hear Mass, are excused.
The sick, the very aged and infirm, and those engaged in works of necessity at the hour of Mass, are excused from attending it. Those who live too far to walk and have no conveyance are also excused. Very bad weather may be sufficient cause.
Not to hear Sunday Mass, or to miss a notable part of Sunday Mass, is a mortal sin. To come a little late and not make up for it in another Mass, is a venial sin. The precept is to hear an entire Mass from beginning to end; that is, from the Priest's entrance into the sanctuary till his departure into the sacristy. One is considered to have missed Mass if one arrives too late to be present at the Offertory (when the Priest uncovers the chalice), or leaves before the Communion is finished. The principal parts-that is, the Offertory, the Consecration, and the Communion-must be heard in one and the same Mass.
Those who on every slight pretext excuse themselves from their obligation of hearing Sunday Mass will gradually slip into religious carelessness and indifference. We should be sturdy Christians, and not let anything but impossibility or serious illness interfere with our hearing Mass on Sunday.
Not to have a new or clean dress is not sufficient reason for staying away from Sunday Mass. Neither is an excursion that leaves early a reason. One should go to Mass before going on the excursion.
Mass is not our only obligation on Sunday, for God commands us to sanctify the whole day, and not only a part of it. We should perform other good works. We may hear sermons or instruction, receive the sacraments, attend vespers or benediction, read the Bible or other spiritual books, say the Rosary, attend a sodality or confraternity meeting, visit the Blessed Sacrament, the poor, the sick, and perform other works of mercy. It is not an obligation to spend the entire Sunday in such works, but we should try to give as much time to them as we can, for the love of God. If we do things not required for the love of our friends on earth, how much more eager we should be to do them for our best Friend of all, God!
We should participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for by it we offer adoration to God, we obtain instruction in our Faith, and we secure our sanctification. If we offer Holy Mass with the implicit intention of participating in the services, we are not mere spectators watching those services. We become actors in a divine drama, as members of a great family completely united in mind and spirit, one in a bond of charity, using the ceremonies of the Church for our sanctification.
At Holy Mass we partake supernaturally of the divine life itself, giving the plenitude of glory to God. For who can give Him greater glory than His Own Son, with Whom we are united in the Mystical Body, and Who offers Himself in sacrifice at Mass?
Holy Mass, as it is said in the course of the Liturgical Year, is a deep source of knowledge. It follows a definite program, unfolding a vivid drama, presenting to our minds and hearts the story of God's love for men.
In the course of the liturgical year Holy Mass is a dramatic summary of the principal truths of our Faith, unfolded with the beauty of ritual and ceremonial. With its functions it unfolds, not one mystery alone, as private devotions do, but the entire drama of man's redemption. It is a catechism by which the Church inculcates dogmas and precepts, investing them with the grandeur of rite and chant.
Pope Leo XII said, "As He took to Himself a mortal body which He gave to suffering and death in order to pay the price of man's redemption, so also He has a Mystical Body in which and through which He renders men partakers of holiness and eternal salvation."
Next Thursday: The Fourth Commandment