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The Day of the Lord

Known more commonly as Sunday, the "Lord's Day" is considered the Christian Sabbath; the day in which we rest from our work and spend time with God in prayer and liturgy. Among Catholics, there is the obligation to be present at Mass. The Lord's day is, theologically the most important day of the week, and borrows from its Jewish forebears some of its significance, while departing from it in other ways. But, since this sabbath has its roots in the Jewish sabbath, why was there a change?

Primarily, the change is due to a radical new emphasis- namely that Sunday is the day of a new creation brought about by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, whereas the Jewish sabbath on Saturday reverences God's rest after Creation in the book of Genesis. Christians emphasized this "new creation" because it brought about a substantial change in the universe and in one's ultimate destiny. The resurrection of Jesus Christ not only has bearing on history - many of us would not be here if it were not for that historical event - but it also opens up the "gates" of heaven for us so that salvation is a very real possibility. All of this makes the day of Jesus' resurrection, Sunday, the epicenter of Christian life. The sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross of Calvary is re-presented at each Sunday Mass, bringing about the presence of Christ in a real, substantial way. This was, for the early Christians, everything. Sunday represented not only the beginning of the week (which is still in most of our calendars) but also the final day of the week, its summation. It was, in a very real sense, an interior necessity for the early Christians, not simply an obligation.

Now, Sundays seem like more of an excuse to have a lazy day at the end of a hectic, stressful week. There is some truth to that, of course. One should rest, trying to remain at home for the day with family. But we shouldn't forget (or rather, we should remember) that Sunday belongs to the Lord, and that we need to take the time to acknowledge that before him at Mass and in our own personal prayer.

The main inspiration for this is a story I came across while reading Joseph Ratzinger's A New Song for the Lord. The story serves as a sort of starting point for Ratzinger's reflections on the significance of Sunday in Christian liturgy and prayer. The story, which is somewhat famous, is that of the Martyrs of Abitinae. In 303 A.D., the emperor Diocletian began ordering the destruction of the scriptures and of places of worship within the empire. He also prohibited Christians from assembling to worship God. While the then-bishop of Abitinae gave the scriptures to the authorities, some Christians continued to assemble illegally, with a priest named Saturninus. They were arrested and brought before local authorities, who then sent them to Carthage, the remains of which are in modern-day Tunisia. Eventually, they were brought before Anullinus, the proconsul at the time. Dativus, one of the accused, was interrogated and had declared himself to be a Christian. Initially, he refused to give up the name of the priest, even in the midst of torture. Eventually, when questioned again concerning who "instigated" the illegal assemblies, Dativus replied, "The priest Saturninus and all of us." Soon after his reply, he was taken to prison where he succumbed to the wounds he sustained while being tortured.

Saturninus, the priest, was then tortured, but he would not divulge anything. Neither would the rest of the accused. One of the Christians, Emeritus, said that the assembly has taken place in his own house. When questioned why he had disobeyed the edict of the emperor, he replied, "Sine dominico non possumus." Roughly, this means "Without the gift of the Lord, without the Lords day, we cannot live." The crime which they had committed, celebrating the Eucharist, was a capital offense. Emeritus and the other Christians knew what this confession meant; they knew that they were at the brink of death, yet they stood firm in the face of those who kill the body, knowing that they cannot kill the soul. These men and women are remembered as brave Christians who not only lived and died their faith, but who really understood and treasured the Lord's day and everything it entailed. Their feast is celebrated on February 12th, the day of their trial and likely martyrdom.

Often times, we forget the real significance of Sunday, even amongst believing and practicing Christians. It is easy for us to turn it into a day of doing "whatever." In our culture, where process, technology, and self-will reign supreme, Sunday is seen as a quick intermission between work and overindulgence, with little meaning. Hopefully we as Christians can hearken back to the days of the martyrs, where Sunday had real, true meaning; a meaning worth dying for.


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