In introducing our study we posed several vital questions: What are the Biblical and historical reasons for Sunday keeping? Can Sunday be regarded as the legitimate replacement of the Sabbath? Can the fourth commandment be rightly invoked to enjoin Sunday observance? Should Sunday be viewed as the hour of worship rather than the holy day of rest to the Lord? We stated at the outset that to answer these questions, and thereby to formulate valid theological criteria needed to help solve the pressing problem of the widespread profanation of Sunday, it is indispensable to ascertain both the Biblical basis and the historical genesis of this festivity. We believe that this verification was justified by the Christian conviction that any present decision regarding the Lord’s day must be based on Biblical authority confronted with the historical developments of primitive Christianity.
Having reached the end of our historical investigation, we summarize its results and consider its implications for the urgent questions of today. We are aware that the conclusions which have emerged in the course of the present study, though the result of an effort which has been intentionally honest and objective, still rest on an inevitable personal interpretation of available evidences. It will be therefore the sieve of the critics that will eventually corroborate or challenge their validity. Nevertheless the fact remains that our conclusions represent the result of a serious effort which has been made to understand and interpret the available sources. The reader will in fact find in the preceding pages extensive discussion and precise reasons for every single conclusive statement which we now submit.
The analysis of the ample Sabbath material of the Gospels has revealed, first of all, the high esteem in which the Sabbath was held both in Jewish circles and in primitive Christianity. We have shown that the Gospels testify that for the earliest Christians, Christ did not, as some contend, "push into the background" or "simply annul" (1) the Sabbath commandment to pave the way for a new day of worship, but rather He enriched its meaning and function by fulfilling its Messianic typology. This Jesus did, not only by announcing His redemptive mission to be the fulfillment of the promises of liberation of the sabbatical time (Luke 4:18-21), but also through His program of Sabbath reforms. We noticed that the Lord acted deliberately on the Sabbath, contrary to prevailing rabbinical restrictions, in order to reveal the true meaning of the Sabbath in the light of His work of redemption: a day to commemorate the divine blessings of salvation, especially by expressing kindness and mercy toward others.
To make the Sabbath a permanent symbol of His redemptive blessings, we found that Christ identified His Sabbath ministry with that of the priests, whose work in the temple on the Sabbath was lawful on account of its redemptive function. As the true temple and priest, Christ likewise intensified on the Sabbath His saving ministry (Mark 3:4-5; Matthew 12:1-14; John 5:17, 7:23, 9:4) so that sinners whom "Satan bound" (Luke 13:16) might experience and remember the Sabbath as the memorial of their redemption. That the apostolic community understood this expanded meaning and function of the Sabbath, we found indicated not only by the Gospel’s accounts of Christ’s Sabbath pronouncements and healing activities, but also by Hebrews 4 where the Sabbath is presented as the permanent symbol of the blessings of salvation available to all believers by faith.
The object of our study, however, was not to trace the theological development and/or actual practice of the Sabbath among early Christians, but rather to ascertain the historical genesis of Sunday observance. Nevertheless, in examining, for instance, the Biblical and historical data regarding the primitive community of Jerusalem for traces of Sunday observance, we found irresistible proof that both the membership and the leadership of the mother Church of Christendom were mostly Jewish converts deeply attached to Jewish religious observances such as Sabbath keeping. A convincing evidence was provided by the sect of the Nazarenes, a group descending directly from the primitive community of Jerusalem. These, we found, retained exclusively Sabbath keeping after A.D. 70 as one of their distinguishing marks, thus proving that no change from Sabbath to Sunday occurred among primitive Palestinian Jewish Christians.
Map of Land of Palestine under King Herod. We submitted to careful scrutiny the three New Testament passages (1Corinthians 16:1-2; Acts 20:7-11; Revelation 1:10) generally cited as proof of Sunday observance in apostolic times. We are able to show, however, that they provide no probative indication for the practice of Sunday worship. We found the first explicit but yet timid reference to Sunday in the Epistle of Barnabas (chapter 15). The author mentions no gatherings nor any eucharistic celebration, but simply that Christians spent (αγομεν) the eighth day rejoicing, inasmuch as it represented the prolongation of the eschatological Sabbath to which is united the memory of the resurrection. Since Barnabas lived at the crucial time when Emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) adopted rigorous and repressive measures against the Jews, outlawing their religious observances and particularly their Sabbath keeping, we checked to see if possibly Sunday observance made its first appearance at that time.
We found that both external pressures and internal needs encouraged many Christians at that time to break radically with the Jews. Externally, the existing conflict between the Jews and the empire made it necessary for Christians to develop a new identity in order to avoid the repressive and punitive measures (fiscal, military, political and literary) aimed at the Jews. Internally, the influence of the synagogue and of Judaeo-Christians who insisted on the literal observance of certain Mosaic regulations, prompted Christians to sever their ties with Judaism. To develop this new identity, many Christians not only assumed a negative attitude toward the Jews as a people, but also substituted characteristic Jewish religious observances such as Passover and the Sabbath with Easter Sunday and the weekly Sunday. This action apparently would serve to make the Roman authorities aware that Christians liberated from Jewish religious ties represented for the empire irreproachable subjects.
Several indications emerged in the course of our study corroborating this hypothesis. We found, for instance, that with Barnabas began the development of a body of "Christian" literature characterized by what we have called an "anti-Judaism of differentiation." This found expression in a negative reinterpretation of the meaning and function of Jewish history and observances like the Sabbath. We have shown that the devaluation of the Sabbath was accomplished in several ways. Many, like Barnabas, emptied the Sabbath commandment of all temporal meaning and obligation by speculating on the superior symbology of Sunday as the eighth day. The latter was arbitrarily traced back to several references of the Old Testament where the number eight occurs and was variously interpreted as representing the eternal new world, the rest of the spirituals in the super-celestial world, perfection and spirituality, the Christian dispensation of grace, and the resurrection of Christ and of the believer. Over against this exalted meaning of the eighth day, the Sabbath as the seventh day was degraded to represent the end of the present age, this transitory world, impurity and matter, the dispensation of the law, and man’s repose in the grave. Some, like Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Origen, concerned to safeguard the consistency of God’s nature and law, preferred to retain the Sabbath as an ecclesiastical and spiritual symbol (namely, perseverance in the service of God during the whole life and abstention from sin) while at the same time denying its literal obligation. Others, as reflected in the Didascalia, deprived the Sabbath of its commemorative value of creation by making Sunday the symbol of the anniversary and renewal of the old creation. Still others, like Justin, assumed the most radical position, reducing the Sabbath to a sign of divine reprobation imposed on the Jewish people on account of their wickedness. In all these differing interpretations, one detects a common concern to invalidate the Sabbath in order to justify in its place Sunday observance. These polemic and often absurd arguments fabricated to justify and exalt Sunday at the expense of the Sabbath, substantiate our hypothesis that Sunday observance was introduced in a climate of controversy owing to an existing need to force a break with Judaism.
In the course of our investigation several concomitant factors emerged suggesting that this break with Judaism and with its characteristic festivities occurred first and to a greater degree in the Church of Rome. We found, for instance, that in Rome most Christian converts were of pagan extraction and experienced an earlier differentiation from the Jews than converts in the East. The repressive measures adopted by the Romans against the Jews—particularly felt in the capital city— apparently encouraged the predominant Gentile membership of the Church of Rome to clarify to the Roman authorities their distinction from Judaism by changing the date and manner of observance of characteristic Jewish festivals such as the Passover and the Sabbath which most Christians still observed. We found in fact that the Church of Rome took a definite stand against both festivities. The Quartodeciman Passover was substituted by Easter Sunday apparently at the time of Hadrian (A.D. 117-138), as suggested by Irenaeus’ reference to Bishop Sixtus (ca. A.D. 116-126) and by Epiphanius’ statement regarding the origin of the controversy at about A.D. 135. The sources attribute explicitly to the Bishop of Rome the role of pioneering and championing Easter Sunday, in order to avoid, as later stated by Constantine, "all participation in the perjured conduct of the Jews." The close nexus existing between Easter Sunday and weekly Sunday (the latter being viewed by many Fathers as an extension of the former) gives us reason to believe that both festivities originated contemporaneously in Rome because of the same anti-Judaic motivations. We found support for this conclusion in the fact that the Church of Rome rigorously enforced fasting on the Sabbath (a custom which apparently originated early in the second century as an extension of the annual Holy Saturday fast) to show, among other things, contempt for the Jews. Similarly, in Rome the eucharistic celebration and religious assemblies were forbidden on the Sabbath, to avoid appearing to observe the day with the Jews. Moreover, we found that in the second century only the Roman Bishop enjoyed sufficient ecclesiastical authority to influence the greater part of Christendom to accept new customs or observance (even though some churches refused to comply with his instruction).
The specific choice of Sunday as the new Christian day of worship in contradistinction to the Jewish Sabbath was suggested, however, not by anti-Judaism but by other factors. It appears that anti-Judaism caused a devaluation and repudiation of the Sabbath, thus creating the necessity to seek for a new day of worship; but we found the reasons for the specific choice of Sunday elsewhere. The diffusion of the Sun-cults, which early in the second century caused the advancement of the day of the Sun to the position of first day of the week (the position held previously by the day of Saturn), oriented especially Christian converts from paganism toward the day of the Sun. The choice of the day of the Sun, however, was motivated not by the desire to venerate the Sun-god on his day but evidently by two different factors. On the one hand, the existence of a rich Judaeo-Christian tradition which associated the Deity with the sun and light, apparently predisposed Christians favorably toward the day and symbolism of the sun. ‘On the other hand Christians realized, spontaneously perhaps, that the venerable day of the Sun provided a fitting symbology that could efficaciously commemorate and explain to the pagan world two fundamental events of the history of salvation—creation and resurrection:
"It is on this day that the Light of the World has appeared and on this day that the Sun of Justice has risen." (2)
Sunday, moreover, commemorated adequately both the beginning of creation—in contradistinction to the Sabbath, the memorial of its completion—and the resurrection of Christ, viewed as the beginning of the new creation. We have shown that the motif of the resurrection, which initially was not regarded as exclusive or dominant, in time did become the preponderant reason for Sunday worship. Lastly, Sunday was chosen inasmuch as, being the eighth day following the seventh-day Sabbath, it could express the continuation, the fulfillment and the supersedure of the Sabbath both temporally and eschatologically.
The picture then that emerges from the present investigation is that the origin of Sunday was the result of an interplay of Jewish, pagan and Christian factors. Judaism, as we have seen, contributed negatively and positively to the rise of Sunday. The negative aspect is represented by the repressive measures adopted by the Romans against the rebelling Jews as well as by the Jewish hostility toward Christians, both of which created the necessity of a radical Christian separation from Judaism. This need for a differentiation was a determining factor in causing both the repudiation of the Sabbath and the exigency of a new day of worship. The positive contribution of Judaism to the rise of Sunday we have found possibly (?) in the psychological orientation toward Sunday derived from the sectarian Jubilees’ calendar and especially in the Jewish apocalyptic speculations on the cosmic week. The latter made it possible to defend the choice of Sunday in Jewish and Jewish Christian circles, since as the eighth eschatological day representing the eternal new world, Sunday could be shown to be superior to the seventh terrestrial millennium symbolized by the Sabbath.
Paganism suggested to those Christians who had previously known the day and the cult of the sun, the possibility of adopting the venerable day of the Sun as their new day of worship, since its rich symbology was conducive to worship the True Sun of Righteousness who on that day "divided light from darkness and on the day of the resurrection separated faith from infidelity." (3) Christianity, lastly, gave theological justification to Sunday observance by teaching that the day commemorated important events such as the inauguration of creation, the resurrection of Christ and the eschatological hope of the new world to come. It appears therefore that Jewish, pagan and Christian factors, though of differing derivation, merged to give rise to an institution capable of satisfying the exigencies of many Jewish and pagan converts.
In the light of these conclusions we ought to consider now those questions raised at the outset regarding the theological legitimacy of Sunday observance and its relevancy for Christians today. Our study has shown (we hope persuasively) that the adoption of Sunday observance in place of the Sabbath did not occur in the primitive Church of Jerusalem by virtue of the authority of Christ or of the Apostles, but rather took place several decades later, seemingly in the Church of Rome, solicited by external circumstances. The earliest theological justifications in fact, do not reflect an organic Biblical-apostolic teaching, but rather differing polemic argumentations. Even those Biblical testimonia which were drawn from the Old Testament (references to the numbers eight and one) to prove the legitimacy and superiority of Sunday over the Sabbath were mostly based on unwarranted criteria of Biblical hermeneutic, and consequently they were in time abandoned. This means, to put it bluntly, that Sunday observance does not rest on a foundation of Biblical theology and/or of apostolic authority, but on later contributory factors which we have endeavored to identify in our present study.
It is noteworthy (as we were able to show in chapter 4 of our Italian dissertation) (4) that Sunday liturgy and rest were patterned only gradually after the Jewish Sabbath. In fact, the complete application of the Sabbath commandment of a bodily rest to Sunday was not accomplished before the fifth and sixth centuries. (5) This corroborates our contention that Sunday became the day of rest and worship not by virtue of an apostolic precept but rather by ecclesiastical authority exercised particularly by the Church of Rome. In the past this explanation has been regarded virtually as an established fact by Catholic theologians and historians. Thomas of Aquinas, for instance, states unambiguously:
"In the New Law the observance of the Lord’s day took the place of the observance of the Sabbath not by virtue of the precept but by the institution of the Church and the custom of Christian people." (6)
Vincent J. Kelly, in his dissertation presented to the Catholic University of America, similarly affirms:
"Some theologians have held that God likewise directly determined the Sunday as the day of worship in the New Law, that He Himself has explicitly substituted the Sunday for the Sabbath. But this theory is now entirely abandoned. It is now commonly held that God simply gave His Church the power to set aside whatever day or days she would deem suitable as Holy Days. The Church chose Sunday, the first day of the week, and in the course of time added other days, as holy days." (7)
This traditional claim that the Church of Rome has been primarily responsible for the institution of Sunday observance, though widely challenged by recent Catholic (and protestant) scholarship, has been amply substantiated by our present investigation. How does this conclusion affect the theological legitimacy and relevancy of Sunday observance? For those Christians who define their beliefs and practices exclusively by the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura, to observe Sunday as the Lord’s day not on the authority of the Scripture but of the tradition of the Church, is a paradoxical predicament. As well stated by John Gilmary Shea,
"Protestantism, in discarding the authority of the Church, has no good reasons for its Sunday theory, and ought logically to keep Saturday as the Sabbath." (8)
Catholics challenge Protestants on the origin of Sunday worship.
A dilemma, however, exists also for the Roman Catholic Church, inasmuch as she has traditionally enjoined Sunday observance by invoking the authority of the Sabbath commandment. Pope John XXIII, for instance, in his encyclical Mater et Magistra (1961) emphasizes the social and religious obligation of Sunday observance by appealing explicitly to the Sabbath precept. He states:
"In order that the Church may defend the dignity with which man is endowed, because he is created by God and because God has breathed into him a soul to His own image, she has never failed to insist that the third commandment: 'Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day,' be carefully observed by all." (9)
This justification of Sunday observance on the basis of the Sabbath commandment raises important theological questions: How is it possible to maintain that the Sabbath "has been fulfilled and abolished in Jesus" (10) and yet at the same time enjoin Sunday observance by appealing to the same Sabbath commandment? Moreover, how can the fourth commandment (third according to Catholic reckoning) be legitimately applied to Sunday, when it is the seventh and not the first day that the commandment demands to keep holy? C. S. Mosna, conscious of this dilemma, in the conclusive remarks of his dissertation proposes that "it would be better to renounce seeking a foundation for Sunday rest in the ancient Sabbath precept." (11)
On what ground then can Sunday rest be defended? Mosna finds a "fundamental reason" in the fact that the Church "influenced Constantine’s decision to make Sunday a day of rest for the whole empire, and this undoubtedly in order to give to the Lord’s day a preeminent place above the other days." Therefore, Mosna argues that the Church "can claim the honor of having granted man a pause to his work every seven days." (12) This explanation harmonizes well with the traditional claim that Sunday observance "is purely a creation of the Catholic Church." (13) But if Sunday rest is an ecclesiastical-imperial institution, how can it be enjoined upon Christians as a divine precept? What valid ground can this provide to enable theologians to reassess the meaning and function of the Lord’s day for Christians today? One can hardly hope to cope with the widespread profanation of the Lord’s day, merely by invoking ecclesiastical authority without providing an adequate theological rationale.
Some argue that a theological justification for Sunday rest is provided by the demands of worship. C. S. Mosna, for instance, asserts that "an essential theological motivation to support resting on Sunday is the fact that this is absolutely indispensable to provide the material time for worship on the Lord’s day and to favor its conditions." (14) That the interruption of work is a prerequisite to worship, is an axiomatic truth. But is a Christian to rest on the Lord’s day merely to fulfill its worship obligations? If this were the exclusive reason, then why insist on the rest from work for the entire day, since the time spent in actual corporate or private worship amounts at most to one or two hours? In other words, if the free time that remains after the Sunday service has no theological significance, one cannot but question the legitimacy of demanding total rest from work on Sunday. In view of the fact that idleness is the beginning of all manner of vices, would it not be more appropriate after the Sunday service to urge Christians to return to their respective jobs or to engage in some purposeful activities? Moreover, if rest is to be taken only to ensure attendance to the Church service, does not the five-day working week already provide ample time to fulfill worship obligations, thus making the notion of Sunday rest altogether irrelevant and anachronistic to modern man?
Should we then conclude that Sunday is to be regarded as the hour of worship rather than the holy day of rest to the Lord? Apparently it is toward this direction that some Christian Churches are moving. The Catholic Church, for instance, as expressed by C. S. Mosna, "is timidly introducing the custom of hearing the Sunday Mass on Saturday night." (15) Mosna maintains that "such practice is to be encouraged... in order to provide the Sunday blessings to those employees and workers who are not free because of their working schedule but, who as Christians, have the right to participate in the Sunday liturgy." (16)
Note however that the possibility of hearing the Sunday Mass on Saturday night is extended not only to those Catholics who on Sunday would be impeded to fulfill the precept by unavoidable obligations, but also, as explicitly stated by the Archbishop of Bologna, to "classes of persons such as skiers, hunters, holiday makers, tourists, and others, who on festivities normally leave home at a time when no Mass is celebrated in the churches, and go to places where churches are either too far or non-existent." (17)
This extension of the prerogatives of Sunday to Saturday evening suggests the possibility of further perplexing developments. Martino Morganti points out, for instance, that "the extension is already insufficient to accommodate all, because... Saturday evening is already fully week-end and for many the exodus out of the cities has already begun." (18) Owing to the constant reduction of the working-week, it seems plausible to foresee then that in the future the Catholic Church in her desire to minister to the largest number of vacationers, might anticipate the Sunday Mass precept even to Friday evening. Some radical Catholic theologians feel no discomfort with this development, since they argue, as expressed by Th. Martens that
"the problem of the "sliding-scivolarnento" of Sunday must be resolved not on the basis of theological, historical or traditional principles, but... on the basis of a pastoral judgment that holds together the two extremes: the will of Christ and the situation of the present world. It appears to us that the Gospel and tradition do not specify the actual day of the Lord." (19)
To say the least, this interpretation not only reduces the obligation of the Lord’s day to the attendance of a church service, but it even advocates the possibility of anticipating it in order to accommodate the social and recreational priorities of modern Christians. Does this view of the Lord’s day as the hour of worship reflect correctly the Biblical teaching of the sanctification of the Sabbath, accomplished by renouncing the utilitarian use of its time? Hardly so. But, should Sunday be viewed differently, namely as the embodiment of the theology and obligations of the Biblical Sabbath? In the light of our investigation into the historical genesis and initial theological basis of Sunday observance, we must reply, "No." We have shown that Sunday arose not as a divine precept demanding the sanctification of time, but as an ecclesiastical institution designed to force a differentiation from Jewish Sabbath keeping. The very primitive theology of Sunday did not require total rest from work on Sunday. As stated by W. Rordorf, "until well into the second century we do not find the slightest indication in our sources that Christians marked Sunday by any kind of abstention from work." (20) The resurrection of Christ, which in time became the dominant reason for Sunday observance, initially was commemorated by a common gathering for worship (Justin, I Apology 67) and not by a whole day of rest.
Should not, however, the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection constitute a valid justification for consecrating Sunday time to the service of God and of mankind? While this may appear as a worthy motivation, nevertheless it does rest entirely on a subjective interpretation. By virtue of the same reasoning one could defend the worthiness of Thursday, Friday or Saturday as days of rest, since on these days occurred respectively Christ’s betrayal, death and burial. But where is it stated that those days associated with significant events of Christ’s life are to be observed weekly by abstaining from work? We have shown, for instance, that though Christ’s resurrection is greatly exalted in the New Testament, there is no hint suggesting that the event is to be commemorated at a specific time. The very Lord’s Supper, which in time became the essence of Sunday worship, initially was celebrated at indeterminate times and commemorated Christ’s death and parousia rather than His resurrection. According to Pauline teaching, the believer is to honor Christ’s resurrection existentially, namely by walking after baptism "in newness of life" (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12-13).
When later the resurrection became the predominant reason for Sunday observance, even then no attempt was made to make this event the theological basis for total rest on that day. On the contrary, an appeal was made to the Sabbath commandment. Ephraem Syrus (ca. A.D. 350), to cite an example, urges Christians to rest on Sunday by invoking the Sabbath commandment: "The law ordains that rest be granted to slaves and animals, in order that slaves, serving girls and workers may cease from work." (21) The law to which Ephraem refers is obviously that of the Sabbath, since prior to Emperor Leo the Thracian (A.D. 457-474) no imperial law proscribed agricultural work on Sunday. (22)
The fact that Sunday became a day of rest not by virtue of its historical genesis or theological meaning but rather by absorbing gradually the prerogatives of the Sabbath, makes it virtually impossible to construct a valid theological basis to enjoin rest on Sunday. Some may wish to solve this dilemma by altogether divorcing rest from worship, thus retaining Sunday exclusively as the hour of worship. W. Rordorf, who leans toward this solution, asks "whether it is, in fact, an ideal solution for the day of rest and the day of worship to coincide." (23) He prefers to assign to Sunday an exclusive worship function which finds its fulfillment when the community gathers together to partake of the Lord’s Supper and to hear the preaching of God’s Word. Having fulfilled their worship obligations, Christians should feel free to spend the rest of the day engaged in any type of work or legitimate activity.
Does this proposal contribute to solving or to compounding the problems associated with Sunday observance in our time? Does not this provide Christians with a rational justification for spending most of their Sunday time either in making money or in seeking pleasure? Is this what Sunday observance is all about? To divorce worship from rest, regarding the latter as non-essential to Sunday observance, it means to misunderstand the meaning of the Biblical commandment which ordains the consecration not of a weekly hour of worship but of a whole day of interruption of work out of respect for God. Undoubtedly for some Christians the reduction of Sunday observance to an hour of worship is unacceptable, but our study has shown that both the historical genesis and the theological basis of Sunday observance offer little help to encourage the consecration of the total Sunday time to the Lord.
Is there a way out of this predicament? The proposal which we are about to submit may at first appear radical to some, but if it were accepted by Christians at large it could indeed revitalize both the worship and the rest content of the Lord’s day. Since our study has shown that Sunday observance lacks the Biblical authority and the theological basis necessary to justify the total consecration of its time to the Lord, we believe that such an objective can be more readily achieved by educating our Christian communities to understand and experience the Biblical and apostolic meaning and obligation of the seventh-day Sabbath. We are not here proposing to reproduce sic et simpliciter the rabbinical model of Sabbath keeping which the Lord Himself rejected, but rather to rediscover and restore those permanent interpretative categories which make the Sabbath, God’s holy day for the Christian today.
We cannot here survey the theological thematic development of the Sabbath in redemptive history and its relevancy for the Christian today. The most we can do in our closing remarks is to emphasize the basic difference between Sabbath and Sunday. While the aim of the latter, as we have seen, is the fulfillment of a worship obligation, the objective of the former is the sanctification of time. The main concern and obligation of the Sabbath commandment is for man to rest on this day (Exodus 20:10; 34:21). What is involved in the Sabbath rest? If it were only inactivity or abstention from work, we would question the value of such benefit. Is there anything more depressing than having nothing to do, waiting for the Sabbath hours to pass away in order to resume some meaningful activity?
In the Sabbath commandment, however, "rest" is qualified. It is defined not as a frivolous good time, but as a "solemn rest, holy to the lord" (Exodus 31:15; 16:23, 25; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3). Though the Sabbath is given to mankind (Exodus 16:29; 31:14; Mark 2:27), nevertheless it belongs to Yahweh (Exodus 16:23, 25; 20:10; 31:15; Leviticus 23:3). Repeatedly God calls the day "my Sabbaths," (24) undoubtedly because He "rested... blessed and hallowed it" (Genesis 2:2-3). This particular manifestation of the presence and blessings of God constitutes the ground and essence of the holiness of the Sabbath. The rest of the Sabbath is then not self-centered relaxation—a time when all wishes and desires can be fulfilled without restraint—, but rather a divinely-centered rest—a time when a person is freed from the care of work, to become free for God and fellow-beings and thus finds genuine refreshment in this freedom.
The physical relaxation which the rest of the Sabbath provides may be regarded as the preliminary preparation necessary to experience the totality of the divine blessings of creation-redemption which the day commemorates. The themes of the Sabbath spell out and encompass the unfolding of the His toria salutis (redemptive history): creation (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:11; 31:17), liberation (Deuteronomy 5:15; 15:12-18; Leviticus 25:2-54), covenant-consecration (Exodus 31:13, 14, 17; Ezekiel 20:20), redemption (Luke 4:18-21; 13:12, 16; John 5:17; 7:23; Matthew 11:28; 12:5-6; Hebrews 4:2, 3, 7) and eschatological restoration (Isaiah 66:23; Hebrews 4:11). By evoking and commemorating God’s saving activities, the Sabbath provides the believer with a concrete opportunity to accept and experience the total blessings of salvation. The believer who interrupts his daily routine and dedicates 24 hours to his Creator and Redeemer, as K. Barth puts it, "participates consciously in the salvation provided by Him [God]." (25) In other words, the stopping of one’s doing on the Sabbath represents the experience of being saved by God’s grace. It is an expression of renunciation to human attempts to work out one’s salvation and an acknowledgment of God as the author and finisher of our salvation. (26)
Chrysostom rebuked the Christians of his day, saying: "You appropriate for yourselves this day, sanctified and consecrated to the listening of spiritual discourses, for the benefit of your secular concerns." (27) Such warning is particularly applicable today, when Christians, owing to the greater availability of time and money, are tempted to question the sacredness of the Sabbath commandment and endeavor to rationalize away its obligations. In our consumer society where time has become a good that many use exclusively for selfish gratification, a rediscovery of the obligations and blessings of Sabbath keeping could act as a brake or a dike against that insatiable greediness and selfishness of modern humans. The Christian who on the Sabbath day is able to detach himself from his work and concerns, dedicating the day to the glory of God and to the service of his fellow beings, demonstrates in a tangible way how divine grace has delivered him from his self-centeredness and has enabled him genuinely to love God and people.
Resting on the Sabbath is an expression of our complete commitment to God. Our life is a measure of time and the way we spend it is indicative of where our interests lie. We have no time for those toward whom we feel indifferent, but we make time for those whom we love. To be able to withdraw on the seventh day from the world of things to meet the invisible God in the quiet of our souls, means to love God totally. "For the Jews," as well expressed by P. Massi, "rest was an act of worship, a type of liturgy. This enables us to understand why a series of ritualistic prescriptions were developed to regulate the liturgy of rest." (28) A. M. Dubarle points out that while the offering of the first-fruits or firstborn animals had the effect of freeing all the rest after that for secular use, in the case of time the situation was the opposite:
"The offering of time, accomplished on the last day of the week, and not on the first as was the case in the offering of the material goods, had the effect of consecrating the whole time, inasmuch as it tended toward the day of meeting with God." (29)
What does the consecration of the Sabbath time to God actually involve? A superficial reading of the rabbinical restrictions prevailing at the time of Christ may give the impression that the Sabbath was a day of rigorous inactivity. The pious Jews, however, dedicated their Sabbath time to study, prayer, meditation, and acts of mercy. Religious services were conducted in the synagogue on Friday evening, Sabbath morning, and Sabbath afternoon, for the reading of the law and of the prophets, and for their exposition. We have found, moreover, that Christ provides the supreme example of how to consecrate the Sabbath time to God. He used the Sabbath time to listen to and to proclaim the word of God: "He went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read. . . . He was teaching them on the Sabbath; and they were astonished at his teachings" (Luke 4:16, 31, 32; cf. 13:10). Furthermore, we noticed that Jesus intensified on the Sabbath His redemptive ministry on behalf of man’s physical and spiritual needs, in order to make the day the fitting memorial of the salvation-rest available to all that come to Him (Matthew 11:28). According to the example of Jesus, then, the Sabbath for the Christian today is a time to experience the blessings of salvation by worshiping God and by providing the warmth of fellowship and service to needy fellow beings.
Sabbath observance in this cosmic age can well be for modern man the fitting expression of a cosmic faith, a faith which embraces and unites creation, redemption and final restoration; the past, the present and the future; man, nature and God; this world and the world to come; a faith that recognizes God’s dominion over the whole creation and over human life by consecrating to Him a portion of time; a faith that fulfills the believer’s true destiny in time and eternity; a faith that would treat the Lord’s day as God’s holy day rather than as a holiday.
(1) W. Rordorf, Sunday, p. 70; speaking of the primitive Christians Rordorf emphatically states: "They came to understand that this commandment had been fulfilled and abolished in Jesus" (ibid. p. 298).
(2) Jerome, In die dorninicae Paschae homilia, CCL 78, 550, 1, 52.
(3) Dionysius of Alexandria, in Analecta sacra spicilegio solesmensi 4, ed. J. B. Pitra, 1883, p. 421.
(4) The chapter is entitled "Jewish Patterns for the Christian Sunday." Basically this chapter is a comparison between the worship and rest structure of the Sabbath and that of Sunday. On the basis of the numerous parallelisms existing between the two days, it is shown that Sunday was gradually structured after the Sabbath, though innovations and modifications occurred. Owing to the limitations of space and time we were unable to incorporate this material in the present study.
(5) Earlier traces can be found in Tertullian, De oratione 23; Syriac Didascalia 13; Eusebius, Commentaria in Psalmos 91, PG 23, 1169C. Beginning with Ephraem Syrus (footnote 18) the equation of Sunday with the Sabbath becomes explicit. Jerome (footnote 2) (ca. A.D. 342-420) compares Jewish Sabbath keeping with Christian Sunday observance: "They [the Jews] performed no service works on the Sabbath, we do not on the Lord’s day"; ef. Pseudo-Jerome, Epistola 3, PL 33, 225; Caesarius of Arles (ca. A.D. 470-542) uses the so called "quanto magis—how much more" formula which was later repeated countless times: "If the wretched Jews observed the Sabbath with so much devotion to the extent of abstaining from all earthly work, how much more Christians on the Lord’s day must devote themselves only to God" (Sermo 13, 3-4, CCSL 103, 1 p. 68); Martin of Braga, Dc correctione rusticorum 18, defines in details the agricultural activities forbidden on Sunday. For a study on the casuistic of Sunday rest, see M. Zalba, "De conceptu opens," Periodica 52 (1963): 124-163; H. Huber, Geist und Buchstabe der Sonntagsruhe, 1958, pp. 117f; W. Rordorf, Sunday, pp. 167-173.
(6) Thomas Aquinas, Sunirna Theologica, 1947, II, 0. 122 Art. 4, p. 1702.
(7) Vincent J. Kelly, Forbidden Sunday and Feast-Day Occupations, Catholic University of America Press, 1943, p. 2; Pope John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, trans. William J. Gibbons, Paulist Press, 1961, p. 76, "The Catholic Church has decreed for many centuries that Christians observe this day of rest on Sunday, and that they be present on the same day at the Eucharist Sacrifice"; John Gilmary Shea, "The Observance of Sunday and Civil Laws for Its Enforcement," The American Catholic Quartely Review 8 (Jan. 1883): 139: "The Sunday, as a day of the week set apart [or obligatory public worship of Almightly God, to be sanctified by a suspension of all servile labor, trade, and worldly avocations and by exercises of devotion, is purely a creation of the Catholic Church"; Martin J. Scott, Things Catholics Are Asked About, 1927, p. 136: "Now the Church . . instituted, by God’s authority, Sunday as the day of worship."
(8) John Gilmary Shea (footnote 7), p. 152.
(9) Pope John XXIII (footnote 7), p. 76; John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan, trans. Catechism of the Council of Treni for Parish Priests, 1958, p. 404: "‘Thou shall do no work on it, says the Lord, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.’ Exodus 20:10. These words teach us, in the first place, to avoid whatever may interfere with the worship of God." The Catechism continues explaining in the light of the Sabbath commandment which works are forbidden and which actions Christians should perform on Sunday.
(10) W. Rordorf, Sunday, p. 298.
(11) C. S. Mosna, Storia della Domenica, p. 367; W. Rordorf, Sunday, p. 298, shares the same conviction: "Therefore we must ask whether it would not perhaps be better if we were to refrain, so far as possible, from basing the hallowing of Sunday on the Sabbath commandment?"
(12) C. S. Mosna, Storia della Domenica, pp. 366-367.
(13) John Gilmary Shea (footnote 7), p. 139.
(14) C. S. Mosna, Storia della Do?nenica, p. 367.
(15) Ibid. p. 365.
(16) Loc. cit.
(17) La Civiltà Cattolica 115 (1964): 511; in the same issue La Civiltà Cattolica reports the communique of the Vatican Radio of June 12, 1964, where the following motivation is given for advancing the Sunday Mass to Saturday evening: "Among the considerations that have motivated this concession, we have taken into account the great and ever increasing development of the so-called week-end tourism, and of skiing sports, because the schedule of departure and return make ever so difficult the fulfillment of the Festive precept" (p. 94). Another reason mentioned is the scarcity of priests that makes it impossible for certain areas to have a Sunday Mass. Some Fathers requested during the Second Vatican Council both to define the holy day on the basis of the sunset to sunset principle in order to place the Saturday evening Mass within Sunday legal time and also to allow Christians prevented from hearing the mass on Sunday to fulfill the obligation during the week. The Commission on Liturgy gave "serious consideration—serio considerata est" to the proposal of advancing the Sunday Mass to Saturday evening, but the questions of the reckoning of the day and of the make-up of the Sunday Mass during the week, were referred to post-conciliar commissions (Schema Constitutionis de Sacra Liturgia, Emendationes, IX, 11). Note that in the decree Orientalium Ecclesiarurn, approved by the Council "it is established that the proper time for fulfilling the precept is from the sunset of the eve till the end of Sunday or a feast day" (n. 15).
(18) Martino Morganti, "La Messa domenicale anticipata al sabato," in La Domenica, Liturgica-Nuova Serie, 1968, p. 217.
(19) Th. Maertens, Paroisse et Liturgie 49 (1967): 193; cf. ibid. 46 (1964): 586; other Catholic theologians do not approve of the extension of the Sunday Mass to Saturday evening. P. Falsioni, for instance, has repeatedly denounced this concession as "the death certificate of Sunday" (Rivista Pastorale Liturgica 1967): 311, 229, 97, 98; (1966): 549-551. The validity of the Sunday Mass precept has been contested in numerous Catholic studies. Some challenge its Biblical-theological basis; others its relevancy and the difficulty to reconcile the freedom of Christian xvorship with the obligatory nature of the precept; still others denounce the formalism that the precept generates. An excellent survey of the various arguments and solutions is provided by the special issues of Lumière et Vie 58 (1962), and of La Maison-Dieu 83 (1965); cf. ibid. 124 (1975). On the basis of the distinction made by the Commission on Liturgy of the II Vatican Council between the Sunday assembly and the participation at the Eucharistic celebration, Morganti proposes an interesting solution. He maintains that the Sunday assembly cannot be transferred and must take place on Sunday. The believers who for valid reasons are unable to attend the service can be dispensed from the assembly but not from the Eucharist. The absentees, however, can fulfill the latter by participating in a Eucharistic celebration during the week (footnote 18, pp. 223-224). This development, to say the least, creates a striking dichotomy between assembly and Eucharist, besides providing a subtle rationale to justify the absence from the former and the transference of the obligations of the latter. One wonders, what is left of the Sunday precept? It is interesting to notice by way of contrast, that W. Rordorf, a Calvinist, argues that the Lord’s Supper is the very raison d’etre of Sunday worship: "If we do not celebrate any Lord’s Supper on Sunday, we have basically no right to call Sunday the ‘Lord’s day’ (or dirnanche domenica), for the very thing which should make it the Lord’s day, namely the Lord’s Supper, is lacking" (Sunday, pp. 305-306). Rordorf’s argument derives from his contention that the Lord’s Supper was initially celebrated exclusively on Sunday and thus it was the core of Sunday worship. While it is true that the Eucharist later became the essence of Sunday worship, we have shown that this was not the case in New Testament times. The rite was then celebrated at indeterminate times and apparently within the context of a supper meal.
(20) W. Rordorf, Sunday, p. 157; see above footnote 5.
(21) Ephraem Syrus. Hymni et sermones, ed. T. J. Lamy, T, 1882, pp. 543-544; for other references, see above footnote 5.
(22) Leo the Thracian justifies the prohibition of agricultural work on Sunday by appealing to the Jewish hallowing of the Sabbath. Cf. T. Zahn, Geschichte des Sonntag, 1878, p. 77, footnote 44.
(23) W. Rordorf, Sunday, p. 299.
(24) Exodus 31:13; Leviticus 19:3,30; Isaiah 56:4; 58:13; Ezekiel 20:12; 22:26; 23:38; 44:24-25.
(25) K. Barth, Church Dogmaticis, 1961, III, p. 50.
(26) Calvin emphasizes this meaning of the Sabbath rest, saying: "Under the rest of the seventh day, the divine Law giver meant to furnish the people of Israel with a type of the spiritual rest by which the believers were to cease from their works and allow God to work in them. . . . We must rest entirely in order that God may work in us (Institutes, 1972, II, pp. 339-340).
(27) Chrysostom, De baptismo Christi homilia 1, Pa 49, 364. 4; Nehemiah 9:14.
(28) P. Massi, La Domenica, 1967, p. 366.
(29) A. M. Dubarle, "La Signification religieuse du sabbat dans la Bible," Le Dimanche, Lex Orandi 39, 1965, p. 52.