Sometimes, the joy busters of life get the better of me. When I feel that way, the Catholic Church beckons me to turn my attention toward Sunday. This is much more than the modern notion of “living” for the weekend. Tucked inside the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the middle of a summary about the “Lord’s Day,” there is this tiny, yet powerful phrase describing Sundays as the day of joy.
Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” is the principal day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. It is the pre-eminent day of the liturgical assembly, the day of the Christian family, and the day of joy and rest from work (CCC, 1193, emphasis mine).
When I first read this years ago, I was immediately struck by how often I have revered Sunday as an obligation, and a day of rest, and a day for family. But I have not always consciously entered into it as a day of joy, save for major feast days like Easter or Pentecost. I often miss the point of Christian joy as proper to Sundays.
FOUR ELEMENTS FOR SUNDAYS
As we read above, four elements characterize the Lord’s Day: the celebration of Mass, Christian family, joy, and rest from work.
1. Attending Mass on Sundays is obvious.
It’s not only a Precept of the Church (see CCC, 2042) but it follows the Third Commandment to “Remember the sabbath day — keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Sunday Eucharist is the great feast handed down to us from the apostles. We gather for the Word of God and to partake of Holy Communion. There “the whole community of the faithful encounters the risen Lord who invites them to his banquet” (CCC, 1166). We go to meet the Lord!
To prepare to attend Mass with the appropriate joy, it helps me to visualize my personal meeting with Jesus. Sometimes I recall the Resurrection accounts of Mary Magdalene and the apostles meeting the risen Jesus for the first time since Good Friday. What joy must have flooded their souls! That’s a cue for how I might better prepare to meet Christ in the Eucharist.
2. The second Sunday element regards the experience of Christian family.
St. John Chrysostom said this about Mass attendance:
“You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests” (CCC, 2179).
This day calls us beyond our families of origin — to the family of God into which we are baptized. Sunday worship is “a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church” (CCC, 2182).
We cannot live the Christian life in a vacuum. We must maintain contact and connection; making friends and getting involved in parish life makes Sundays more fruitful.
3. The Catechism has more to say about Sunday being a day of joy.
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the 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. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health (CCC, 2185, emphasis mine).
Joy is connected to worship and merciful service and relaxation! Here we note Sundays being recommended for works of mercy. Imagine our world if more of us, myself included, intentionally performed a work of mercy each Sunday, or even one Sunday a month? We would become harbingers of joy.
4. The fourth element is rest.
Taken from God’s model of initiating a Sabbath rest after the six days of Creation (see Genesis 2:2). Acute pressures exist to make Sunday just another day of the week to work, shop, exercise, pay bills, mow the grass, and catch up. What joy awaits us when we allow ourselves to rest in meaningful ways — on a regular basis!
THE BENEFIT OF A SUNDAY DISCIPLINE
When we follow the Lord’s ways, we find joy. It takes deliberate action — and maybe even planning! — to live this way and to tame our schedules each week. Sunday observances are a necessary discipline of disciples of Jesus. Such discipline brings joy.
This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it (Psalm 118:24, RSV).