In our Edmonton Archdiocese, we're in the midst of struggling with how to continue celebrating Sunday Eucharist in the face of a rapidly declining number of priests. Parishes are being merged so that all Catholics will continue to have the opportunity to take part in the Sunday Eucharist.
For various reasons, there has been resistance to this. One suggestion for preserving the status quo has been to make Sunday Eucharist a moveable feast. Celebrate it on Sunday in one parish, Tuesday in another and Thursday in still another. By doing that, we could keep the same number of parishes with fewer priests.
One problem with that approach, however, is that it reflects an impoverished understanding of the Lord's Day. It assumes that Sunday worship is the one hour we spend at Mass.
Certainly that's the view of our Alberta culture. Most stores are respectfully closed on Sunday morning so as not to interfere with Church services, but at noon the doors swing open and it's business as usual. Sunday afternoon and evening are for shopping, watching TV and doing chores. The spirit of materialism rules on Sunday as it does during the rest of the week. Sunday is a holiday, not a holy day.
If that's all there is to Sunday then indeed there is less reason not to celebrate our weekly Eucharist on Wednesday or any other day.
However, we've got our priorities backward. Sunday is not time-out from regular activity; it's the high point of the week. Sunday is not "escape day." Rather, the whole week should be oriented towards making Sunday its summit. All our work and dashing around from Monday through Saturday should be clear the decks so that Sunday is truly the Day of the Lord. At the very least, Sunday should be a day free of work and free from shopping.
Sunday worship should be the high point of the day. But the Day of the Lord does not end when we drive out of the church parking lot. The rest of the day should be given over to prayer, reflection, and family and community recreation. If we try to celebrate Sunday on Wednesday, we're treating the Eucharist as one more thing we have to squeeze into our busy schedules. We've lost any sense of the holiness of time.
Time is holy. Time was the first thing God created. Time is one thing humans have no power to create. Last Christmas, when I was reflecting on what people could give me as gifts, I realized the one thing I most wanted was more time. Maybe a day with 27 hours would be nice. Of course, no one can give me that.
But I can give myself more time. I can do it by not being so driven, so set on accomplishing things. I can do it by honouring the Lord's Day.
The Lord's Day is the clearest sign we have from God that he doesn't judge us by what we accomplish. By telling us to keep holy the Sabbath, God reminds us that our accomplishments will not bring eternal life. The only way to gain eternal life is by giving this life back to God -- all of it. A holy Sabbath is but a token, a visible sign, of the holiness of all time. Only if I am prepared to give away my time to God, can I talk with integrity about devoting my life to God.
Christians, of course, talk about the Lord's Day and Jews about the Sabbath. The Jewish celebration of the Sabbath was a revolution. Ancient societies were like today's Western world -- they believed people only had value when they were working. The Jews celebrated the Sabbath because they refused to put themselves above God. If God does not feel the need to create new stuff every day, who are we to abrogate that power to ourselves? The Sabbath, says the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money" (no. 2172).
The Lord's Day pushes the Sabbath further. Sunday is not the first day of the week, but the eighth day. It is the day beyond time, the first day of the new creation, the first day of eternity. It anticipates our eternal rest with God. By honouring the Lord's Day, we even begin to take part in that rest.
For eternity, we will be what we are in this life, only somehow transformed. Perhaps that is especially true of how we spend our Sundays. If we devote Sundays to watching TV football or doing leftover work from the office, maybe it is to those things that we condemn ourselves for eternity. Frankly, I've already seen the Roughriders play the Eskimos enough. Darned if I want to be watching them play for all eternity.
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