Voltaire, eighteenth-century French philosopher and well-known attacker of Catholicism, once wrote, “If you want to kill Christianity, you must abolish Sunday.”
Where the Sabbath rest and worship is forgotten, a weak to nonexistent practice of Christianity can almost inevitably be found. Conversely, those who take their spiritual life seriously know that Sunday is the key to personal and family peace, the lifeblood of Christian culture in the home.
Many of us know the Third Commandment given by God to Moses: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; … therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex 20:8–11).
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Unfortunately, knowing the commandment doesn’t mean it is well practiced. Full schedules, sports events and TV, open restaurants and shopping malls, and a general cultural habit of working too much and playing too little make it easy to let Sundays pass us by as just another day of the week. But God was clear: the Sabbath—which, thanks to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Christians now celebrate on Sunday—is altogether different.
Prioritizing Sunday worship and rest takes patience and intention. Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure (CCC 2187).
There are many unique and various ways to keep holy the Sabbath, including:
- Refraining from shopping
- Fasting from media
- Getting the most out of Mass by going over the readings as a family and later discussing what they took away from Mass that day through the Scripture, homily, or personal prayer
- Reserving time for naps or pleasure reading
- Cooking a big family meal together
- Playing games or watching a movie as a family
- Spending time outdoors hiking or playing in the backyard or at a park
- Getting together with family friends or relatives
- Gathering around the family altar or prayer space for intercessory prayer and spiritual reading and reflection
- Celebrating feast days with special activities or food related to the holy day
- Doing favorite hobbies individually or collectively
- Saying a family Rosary
- Serving the poor and others in need in the community
- Participating in parish ministries or gatherings
- Visiting sick friends or relatives
- Initiating or joining in a service project
The goal of your Lord’s Day activities and celebrations is worship, rest, and leisure. If we aren’t careful, we run the risk of leading our families into a habit of glorifying work and diminishing leisure. In his masterful work, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper contends that leisure requires constant affirmation by our practice of it and leads us to an inner joyfulness that lasts. “This is why the ability to be ‘at leisure’ is one of the basic powers of the human soul … the power to be at leisure is the power to step beyond the working world and win contact with those superhuman, life-giving forces that can send us, renewed and alive again, into the busy world of work.”
Leisure brings us in close contact with the God who made us for rest, not for toil. Work is a means to an end, and that end is leisure, first here on earth, and ultimately in the great festivity of the heavenly banquet, where stillness and joy and rest and worship meet and converge into the peace that all of our hearts were made for.
As Christians, we look at Sunday as the first day of the week, not the last. The Catechism explains, “For Christians it has become the first of all days, the first of all feasts, the Lord’s Day … Sunday” (2174). Reveling in the peace of the Resurrection is supposed to be the way in which we start the week off on the right foot, with a sense of rejuvenated rest, having devoted the day to prayer, play, thanksgiving, remembrance of God’s covenant with his people, and, most importantly, communal worship in the Holy Mass.