Tag Archives: Sunday

Are Sundays of Lent Days of Penance?

25 Mar

Sundays during Lent have a penitential character, but one markedly different from that of the weekdays of Lent. Because Sunday is primarily a day of celebration of the Resurrection (Catechism, nos. 2174, 2177), it is not counted among the “forty days” of Lent that are traditionally marked by fasting.

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice” (Catechism, no. 2181) and retains its essential character as a day marked by “worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body” (Catechism, no. 2185).

Nevertheless, the entire season of Lent, including the Sundays of Lent, is a time of penance. The penitential character of Sundays of Lent is reflected in the wearing of violet vestments and the prayers and readings of the Sunday Masses. It is also reflected in the prohibitions of the singing of the Gloria and the Alleluia, the adorning of the altar with flowers, and the playing of the organ and other instruments (except for the purpose of accompaniment).

The discipline of the Church and the piety of Christians throughout the centuries demonstrate that penance is expressed differently on Sundays of Lent from weekdays of Lent. In the early Middle Ages in the West, the weekdays of Lent were days of fast (one meal) and abstinence (at that time, from dairy products as well as from meat), while Sundays of Lent were days of abstinence only. The Holy See later permitted meat and dairy products to be eaten on Sundays of Lent. Today, of course, only Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence (from meat), while all the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence.

Penance extends beyond fasting. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:

“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (no. 1438).

Sundays of Lent, then, have a penitential character, which may include spiritual practices such as prayer, almsgiving, pilgrimages, and retreats, without in any way losing the sense of their being set apart as the “Lord’s Day.”

Click here for more on the history of Lenten observances.

Holy Days, Holidays, and “Obligations”

3 Jul

fourth of JulyI think many of us have already made plans for celebrating the Fourth of July tomorrow. And since it falls on a Thursday this year, many of us (thank you, Archbishop!) have a nice four-day weekend built into our summer not only to celebrate our “independence,” but to enjoy a welcome rest from our labor.

There are ten national “holidays”:

New Year’s Day (January 1)
Martin Luther King’s Birthday (third Monday in January)
Washington’s Birthday (often referred to as Presidents’ Day, third Monday in February)
Memorial Day (last Monday in May)
Independence Day (July 4)
Labor Day (first Monday in September)
Columbus Day (second Monday in October)
Veterans’ Day (November 11)
Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November)
Christmas (December 25)

Most people are off on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, and the Friday after Thanksgiving, but those are not separate holidays per se.

In the Church, the greatest liturgical feasts are known as solemnities. Most solemnities are of such significance that the Church considers them “holy days of obligation.” What are the “holy days” (as opposed to holidays), and why are they obligatory?

Canon 1246 of the Code of Canon Law identifies them for us:

Ҥ1: Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church. Also to be observed are the day of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension and the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Holy Mary Mother of God and her Immaculate Conception and Assumption, Saint Joseph, the Apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and finally, All Saints.

“§2: However, the conference of bishops can abolish certain holy days of obligation or transfer them to a Sunday with prior approval of the Apostolic See.”

The Solemnity of St. Joseph (March 19) and the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul (last Saturday) are not holy days of obligation in the United States. The celebration of Epiphany has been transferred to the first Sunday after January 1, and Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ), which we magnificently celebrated last month, has been transferred to the second Sunday after Pentecost.

Further, in many areas of the country (including here in KCK), the Ascension has been transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

All that leaves the following “holy days of obligation” (aside, of course, from Sundays):

January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
November 1, the solemnity of All Saints
December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Lastly, when January 1, August 15, or November 1 is a Saturday or Monday, there is no obligation. But what “obligation” are we talking about?  Continue reading

Working for Sunday

15 Jan

st joseph the workerA friend recently asked me, “Isn’t human work the result of the fall? How should Catholics view the subject of work?” Here’s how I responded:

In the beginning, God fashioned man in His image and likeness and called him to “cultivate and care for” (Gen. 1:15) the land that was given him. Therefore, work was part of human life before the fall, and thus it is not in itself a punishment or curse. Since the fall, work has become burdensome (see Gen. 3:17-19), but it has also been redeemed by Christ.

The life and preaching of Christ is instructive. For example, we know that He spent most of His years tending to the carpentry trade that St. Joseph taught Him. Once His public ministry began, He described His mission as involving work: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn. 5:17), and He often likened His disciples to laborers for His harvest (e.g., Mt. 9:37-38).

He taught us to be diligent in our work, but also not to be enslaved by it. We must not let work or other worldly concerns consume us with anxiety, but rather we must see our work as a way of honoring the Father.

Work is a duty. As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (no. 264) teaches: “No Christian, in light of the fact that he belongs to a united and fraternal community, should feel that he has the right not to work and to live at the expense of others (cf. 2 Thes 3:6-12).” Work enables us to participate in the ongoing work of creation as collaborators with God. In doing so, we become who we were created to be, we honor God through our use of the gifts and talents He gave us, we provide support for ourselves and our family, and we help build up the human community. Continue reading

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!

MLKing the Holiday

16 Jan

As the father of two dark-skinned, biracial sons, I have mixed feelings about Martin Luther King Day.  How will I explain this annual celebration to them as they get older?

On the one hand, I have several misgivings about this relatively new holiday. After all, in his private life MLK was reportedly no saint, and surely the civil rights movement is bigger than any one individual–even one as formidable as Dr. King. And this at a time when we’re downsizing holidays, when even Lincoln and Washington no longer have their own holidays but rather get lumped together into Presidents’ Day.

Maybe instead of a new holiday we could have added a civil rights dimension to our Independence Day celebration, as finally all races in our land are “free at last.”

I guess I’m also a little frustrated about society’s encroachment on religious holy days. Sundays in our culture have become more of a sequel to Saturday than a day set aside for worship, family, and rest from one’s labors. I’m concerned about days of extraordinary religious significance, such as Good Friday, becoming more “ordinary,” and Holy Days of Obligation becoming such a lost cause that many Church leaders feel compelled to move them to Sundays, presumably because at least then there’s a better chance of getting people to show up for Mass.

I realize that’s a lot to put on MLK Day. But then there’s also the political agendas that are unmistakably linked to the celebration. In that regard, the day is quite PC. Just an hour ago, for example, I heard ESPN link the holiday to the “gay” rights movement. While most national holidays bring everyone together, MLK Day strikes some discordant notes, despite the worthy goal of celebrating the achievements of Dr. King.

Despite all that, since MLK Day is here to stay for the foreseeable future, I have chosen to enjoy the holiday, for four reasons:

(1) Hello! It’s a holiday!  Who wants to look a gift day off in the mouth?  While it’s not a Sunday, it’s still a fitting day for worship, rest, and relationship-building within the family. So this can be a really great day if we use it well.

(2) Okay, MLK was not a saint, but neither were most of our Founding Fathers, yet we rightly revere them for their role in the formation of our country. MLK did some courageous things that have had a lasting impact on our culture. The day gives us a chance to consider this impact and to see how much farther we need to travel to overcome racial divisions.

(3)  Even as we celebrate MLK Monday, we still must not lose sight of the holiday par excellence: Sunday, the Lord’s Day.  MLK Day is all day, not just 45 min. or an hour. So, too, our Sunday observance should be all day. How often do we forget that keeping the Lord’s Day holy goes beyond simply “getting to Mass,” important as that is? For more on that subject, click here. MLK Day and all secular holidays can teach us how to “rest” in the deepest sense, which could carry over into the way we look at Sundays and other holy days.

(4) Despite my sons’ African-American roots, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how little racism I’ve encountered. Sure, there’s the occasional ignorant comment, but for the most part–thanks in large part to MLK–my boys aren’t subjected to the bigotry that existed even in my youth. This day gives me, and all of us, a chance to reflect on the greater spiritual reality that nobody has to sit at the back of the bus, that nobody is a second-class citizen in the eyes of God. As St. Paul wrote: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).

So let’s stay on message and “MLK” the holiday for all it’s worth!

An earlier version of this article appeared at Catholic Hour, the blog of My Catholic Faith Delivered.

Are You Ready?

19 Sep

Football season is now in full swing. I know this because my young sons and I usually camp out in the basement on the first weekend of the season.

As we said our prayers in our sleeping bags following Notre Dame’s upset loss to South Florida, Samuel quoted one of his favorite lines from Rudy: “Notre Dame our Mother, pray for us!”

My pious son was praying for victory. He was not, however, thinking of a great battle like Lepanto or even of victory over sin and the triumph of Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. Rather, the object of his prayer was next week’s game at the “Big House” versus Michigan. (His prayer apparently wasn’t efficacious, as the Wolverines pulled off an improbable fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Irish 35-31.)

Football is a terrific sport, but we can take this form of entertainment too seriously. Sometimes our athletic allegiances go so far as to border on the sacrilegious. For example, when we lived in the Pittsburgh area, I heard of a priest who would wear black and gold vestments in honor of the Steelers.

I also heard of a parish that would give updates on football games during Mass, as though our salvation depends on that.

Those examples may be extreme, but they point to a reality faced by pastors around the country, as football and the Christian faith vie for our attention. It’s not uncommon for a Catholic to complain about the homily going five minutes too long (apparently the pastor was out of time-outs), only to watch seven hours or more of football later that same day. Many football fans will spend more time watching commercials on a given weekend than they will spend in church.

There are countless parallels that can be drawn by which we can assess where our own treasure lies. In preparing for Sunday, do we spend more time reading the sports page than reading the Gospel and other spiritual fare? Do we more frequently think of the Saints as our intercessors in heaven or as the NFL team that Drew Brees plays for? Do we tend to spend Advent preparing for Christmas or for the playoffs? (That shouldn’t be a problem for Chiefs’ fans this season, unfortunately.) The list could go on.

We armchair quarterbacks would do well to reevaluate our priorities in light of what’s truly most important in life. I have to admit I’ve hurried home from Mass so as not to miss any of the “big game.” What did that say about the importance I was placing on the Lord’s Day?

Even those of us who aren’t football fans may occasionally find ourselves at Mass thinking about the activities planned for later in the day rather than what’s taking place on the altar. If we were watching a football game or engaging in one of our favorite pursuits, would we let our mind wander so much?

When the Church emphasizes the need for “full, active, and conscious” participation in the liturgy, the goal is not the proliferation of speaking parts and sundry liturgical ministries so much as to beckon us to enter more deeply into the realities celebrated in the liturgy, to be aware of who we are and what we’re doing at Mass.

Our participation makes all the difference. If we don’t engage ourselves in heavenly things, we will put disordered energy into worldly pursuits. As great as Notre Dame (or Nebraska, Kansas State, or Mizzou) football is, God desires more for us than that.

Notre Dame our Mother, pray for us!

Sloth Management

20 Jul

In yesterday’s post, I discussed how the vice of sloth is by no means limited to the “couch potato,” but is a widespread problem in our busy, workaholic world. Now I would like to offer a three-point plan for conquering the vice of sloth and replacing it with virtues that will move us in the right direction.

(1) Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day

I recently had the occasion to reread Blessed John Paul II’s magnificent 1998 apostolic letter Dies Domini, on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. It’s hard to single out “favorites” from among John Paul’s voluminous writings, but surely this meditation on the Lord’s Day will benefit Christians “with ears to hear” for many generations to come. 

I heartily recommend this apostolic letter as spiritual reading. Perhaps we can even give up an hour or so of sports (gasp!) this Sunday to soak in some of the Holy Father’s insights as to what Sunday is all about in the first place.

One passage of Dies Domini really struck me: “[The Sabbath is] rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is not set within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represents the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart” (no. 13).

Sunday Mass is not simply another requirement imposed on us by a Church that’s obsessed with “rules.” Rather, the obligation to remember to keep the day holy is prefigured and rooted in the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy, which in turn is rooted in the very act of creation. And by creation I mean both God’s creation of the world, from which He took his rest on the seventh day, and God’s creation of us.

This call to worship, to rest from servile labor, to take stock of all that God has given us, is inscribed in who we are, and we are acting against our own good when we fail to remember to keep Sunday holy. As Our Lord noted, the Sabbath is made for man, and not the other way around.

On top of all that, we are commanded to “remember” to keep the day holy, which suggests that we might tend to “forget.”

When it comes to tithing our money, assuming that we even make an effort to support the Church financially, we look for the minimum we can get by with. Nobody ever says, “Is it okay to give more than 10 percent?” let alone tries to imitate the widow in the Gospel (Luke 21:1-4). Instead, we tend to give a mere pittance of what we’re able to give—certainly not enough to affect our overall spending habits. God asks for our first fruits and we give Him our spare change.

In a similar sense, God asks us to tithe our time, to give him one day per week. We’ve reduced the Lord’s Day to Sunday Mass, and even then we squawk if it lasts more than 45 minutes. We can’t get out of the church parking lot fast enough once we’ve “done our time.”

But as long as we view the Sunday obligation minimally and as a burden, we’re missing the point. While Sunday Mass is the source and summit of our Christian life for the week, the entire Lord’s Day should be set aside for God and family—in other words, for leisure and for freedom from servile labor. Surely there must be some flexibility in application, especially given our diverse, secular culture, but I daresay just as we can probably do a better job of tithing our money, we can do a better job of remembering to observe the Lord’s Day.

(2) Take stock of our schedule

Time is one of our most valued commodities, and we should spend it in a way that reflects our values and priorities. Getting the Lord’s Day right is the first and most important step, but we still have six other days to order correctly. Faith, family, work, and other pursuits are like ingredients that need to be added at the right time and in the right measure to make a tasty dish. If we don’t take the time to read and follow the recipe, the ingredients won’t come together in the way we’d like.

That’s why it’s so important for individuals, couples, families, and communities to take the time to identify their priorities and commitments and schedule their days and weeks accordingly. For those of us who tend to be lazy “under-achievers,” a schedule will keep us on task to make sure we meet our obligations. For those of us who tend toward workaholism and to be driven by the tyranny of the urgent, a schedule will make sure that we make time for prayer, reading to the kids, or other priorities that might get shoved aside if we’re not vigilant.

(3) Cultivate virtue

If we’re not actively engaged in cultivating virtue, then our lives will start looking like my lawn. There are still some patches of green grass, despite the heat, but each day there are also more weeds. Overcoming vice and developing virtue go together, just as it’s not enough to pull weeds without also fertilizing and watering the grass.

When it comes to sloth, the corresponding virtues are justice, charity, and magnanimity. Sloth is about fulfilling our obligations to God and neighbor, which brings into play the various forms of justice. However, the motivation for fulfilling these obligations should be supernatural charity, which moves us out of our small, self-serving world so that we might live for others.

When the spiritual laxity of sloth overtakes us, we are like a football team that has lost its momentum. We are set back on our spiritual heels and feel ill-prepared to do what is necessary to turn the tide. From this perspective, we can see how the “end game” of sloth is despair, as eventually the negative momentum snowballs, and we lose the will to compete. Magnanimity, however, literally means being “great-souled”; it is the virtue that gives us the confidence that we can do all things in him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13), that we can truly run so as to win (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Each time we act against our disinclination to pray, as well as work into our day habits of prayer (e.g., saying a Hail Mary when we’re stopped in traffic) and sacrifice, we are replacing sloth with virtues that will help us become saints. And it all starts with getting up off the couch and onto our knees.

This article originally appeared in the January 2008 issue of This Rock magazine, published by Catholic Answers.

The Sin of Sloth: What the Couch Potato and the Workaholic Have in Common

19 Jul

When many of us think of sloth, we probably conjure up images of an ugly South American animal that eats shoots and actually hangs around. Or maybe we think of unshaven Joe Sixpack lying on the sofa all weekend, not lifting a finger except to open another cold one.

The latter is a fairly apt image of the vice of sloth or its synonyms such as boredom, acedia, and laziness. Boredom refers to a certain emptiness of soul or lack of passion; acedia refers to the sadness that comes from our unwillingness to tackle the difficulties involved in attaining something good; laziness more generally refers to the torpor and idleness of one who is not inclined to exert himself.

Sloth encompasses all these ideas and more. In his Modern Catholic Dictionary, the late Jesuit Fr. John Hardon defined sloth as “sluggishness of soul or boredom because of the exertion necessary for the performance of a good work. The good work may be a corporal task, such as walking; or a mental exercise, such as writing; or a spiritual duty, such as prayer.”

One might have the impression that sloth is not a typically American sin. The virtues of diligence and industriousness are deeply ingrained in our nation’s Protestant work ethic. Our youth learn early on that the way to get ahead—at least for those who don’t win the lottery—is by working hard. The early bird catches the worm. Early to bed, early to rise. In a competitive, dog-eat-dog business world, everyone is looking for an “edge,” and that typically comes from outworking the competition.

And even apart from an employment context, when we want to communicate that our lives have been normal and healthy, we report that we’ve been “keeping busy.” Continue reading