Honouring Sunday

hands praying at a church bench

As we start the new church year, we all know that one of the Ten Commandments is to “keep holy” the Sabbath. During the pandemic, there have been restrictions on parish life and people have been exploring other ways to practice their faith including Spiritual Communion on Sundays via live streaming. The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales have now reviewed the dispensation they gave which removed the obligation to attend Sunday Mass and have issued the following statement about the importance of honouring Sunday. They have paid particular attention to the hopes and fears, the joys and anxieties of all who have shared their thoughts and feelings with them and so they have extended their dispensation but they make some additional suggestions about how we may honour Sundays.

“The Sunday Eucharist is a gift; as God’s holy people we are called to praise and thank God in the most sublime way possible. When the Church speaks of the Sunday obligation, it reminds us that attending Mass is a personal response to the selfless offering of Christ’s love….

At this time, we recognise that for some people there may be certain factors which hinder attendance at Sunday Mass. The pandemic is clearly not over. The risk of infection is still present. For some, there is legitimate fear in gathering together. As your bishops, we recognise that these prevailing circumstances suggest that not everyone is yet in the position to fulfil the absolute duty to attend freely Sunday Mass.”

The Bishops’ full text can be read at: https://www.cbcew.org.uk/bishops-statement-honouring-sunday/

However, the Bishops encourage us to reflect upon the patterns which we have formed in recent months with regard to the Sabbath. This would include consideration and reflection about what we do on Sundays which might detract from our Lord’s request that it be a day of rest- with greater emphasis on reflection and prayer. They mention, for example, distractions such as sports or shopping or other leisure and social activities. This review, and the decisions which arise from it through our love for the Lord, fall to every Catholic and could include refraining from unnecessary work, making time for extra prayer, a special meal which brings the family closer, inviting friends for a country walk and contemplating God’s creation.

However, many struggle to understand what it means to “observe the Sabbath” and so it can be a source of guilt if we think we are sinning by some of the activities we do on that day. According to the scriptures, the observation became so obscured with legalities that some scribes and Pharisees were actually enraged when Jesus healed a man on a Sabbath (Luke 6:6-11). As Jesus had pointed out in other similar situations, these religious leaders had forgotten that God wants “steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6; Matthew 9:13). What they had forgotten is Jesus’ words that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), i.e: a time given by God for restoration, recharging and drawing closer to Him spiritually.

“Father, you are my security and salvation. Teach me and lead me in honouring the Sabbath, so that I may rest in you and learn more about who you are and what you desire of me.”