I was speaking with an older gentleman the other day about Sundays, and he said that when he was growing up Sundays were absolutely sacrosanct: “Church first, then family meals, football and a good nap,” he said. “Sundays reminded us of what was most important, and what you do on Sunday marks out your priorities.”
But secularization (here meant as a socially definable process that breaks down/privatizes those elements of culture shaped by a religious ethos) has, combined with the strong force of capitalism, progressively digested the liturgical and biblical shape of time that once held sway.
Bl. John Paul II once wrote an Apostolic Letter on this topic that has yet to detonate in the Church.
In the 1980s I studied at the University of Hartford’s Center for Judaic Studies. I took a class in Talmud one year, and I’ll never forget one particular comment made by the Israeli Rabbi who taught it. In talking about non-negotiable observance of the Sabbath (Shabbat), he commented that those allow work to overtake all seven days of the week, even if they are being paid immense sums of money to do so, are considered slaves in the Jewish view of the world.
We then read parts of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s brilliant book to confirm the meaning of this insight.
Christians mark Sunday as the day consecrated to God precisely because God chose it as the Day which saw Christ rising from the dead. It’s the 8th day of creation, the dawn of eternal life, a foretaste of the Paschal Feast of heaven when redeemed humanity will be gathered together in one voice to sing of Christ to the Father. On Sunday we shabbat, we ‘cease’ all our toil and labor to gratefully admire the beauty of God’s creation and re-creation as a Family of families gathered around one Table to feast on Christ’s sacrificial love.
To cease gathering is to cease being a family and a return to being orphans living in exile. As the Abitene martyrs (d. 304 a.d.) put it when being questioned as to why they would risk their lives for Sunday worship, Sine dominico non possumus, ‘We cannot live without Sunday.’
A recent article reminded me of all this, and it offers some useful perspectives that are, appropriately, Jewish:
For those of us who came of age in the past decade, two forces have us racing to keep up: First, we are immersed in a 24-hour cycle of news and information with a constant flow of tweets and text messages, cellphones clutched tightly in our hands like Linus’s blanket. And second, we’re starting our adult lives in a world without enough decent-paying jobs, where we might become the first generation in memory to have less opportunity than our parents. Read more…