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Catechesis on the Third Commandment

14 Nov

We turn this week to the Third Commandment, the final commandment that relates to our responsibilities toward God. The remaining commandments will specify how we are to live out our vocation to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Remember to keep holy the LORD’s Day.

The seventh day of the Jewish week is called the sabbath day. The Third Commandment, originally given to Moses for the chosen people, is all about observing “rest” on the sabbath, thereby making it holy, or set apart for God. As Scripture says: “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD” (Ex. 31:15).

The Lord Jesus observed divine law. At the same time, however, He gave us a new perspective for understanding the Third Commandment: “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mk. 2:27).In other words, the sabbath is for our own well-being. This commandment does not contain a “Thou shall not” but simply a “Remember.” This commandment is nothing other than a reminder to do something that is truly good for us.

Before getting into what that means for us in practical terms, we should briefly note that Christians keep holy the Lord’s Day (Sunday), not the seventh or sabbath day (Saturday). This transfer took place early in the life of the Church (see Catechism, nos. 2174-76). The reason Sunday was selected is because it is the day of the Resurrection of Christ, “the Lord even of the sabbath” (Mk. 2:28). As “the first day of the week” (Mk. 16:2), Sunday recalls the beginning of creation. As the “eighth day,” or the day following the sabbath, it symbolizes the new creation (see 2 Cor. 5:17) brought about by Christ’s Resurrection. For us, then, the “day of the Lord” (Dies Domini) has become the first of all days and of all feasts, as we find our rest in God alone (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 452).

There are two ways in which we are called to “remember” the Lord’s Day.

First, all Catholics are obligated to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. As the Church especially stressed at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Sunday Mass is the high point of our week, and the source of our strength for the week to come. For that reason, it should be a joy and not a burden to fulfill this duty, which is one of the precepts of the Church. The deliberate failure to attend on Sunday is a serious sin against the Third Commandment.

Second, Catholics “are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body” (Code of Canon Law, canon 1247). Mass is only one hour of the day. This commandment is about refreshing ourselves and our families all day. It is a day of “protest” against the servitude of work and the worship of money (Catechism, no. 2172).

On Sundays we remember to give praise and thanksgiving to God the Father, from whom all blessings flow. We remember to join with our brothers and sisters in Christ for the celebration of the Eucharist, where we receive Jesus, the living bread from heaven. And we remember to set aside our labors as much as we are able, choosing instead activities that build us up spiritually and in every other way.

Sounds more like a divine prescription than a commandment!