Monday, October 5, 2015

The Law of Rest and the Lord's Day

Thirty-Second in a Series on Catholic Morality

 Fr. John H. Stapleton

Noon Rest From Work
Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)
The last of the three Commandments that refer directly to God prescribes a rest from toil, and profane works; and, in commemoration of the mystical repose of the Lord after the six days' creation, designates the Sabbath or seventh day as a day that shall be set apart and made sacred to God. The peculiarity of the commandment is that it interferes with the occupations of man, intrudes upon his individual affairs and claims a worship of works. The others do not go thus far, and are satisfied with a worship of the heart and tongue, of affections and language.

Leaving aside for the moment the special designation of a day devoted to this worship, the law of rest itself deserves attention. Whether the Saturday or Sunday be observed, whether the rest be long or brief, a day or an hour, depends entirely on the positive will of God. More than this must be said of the command of rest; that law grows out of our relations with God, is founded in nature, is according to the natural order of things.

This repose means abstention from bodily activity. The law does not go so far as to prescribe stagnation and sloth, but it is satisfied with such abstention as is compatible with the reasonable needs of man. Of its nature, it constitutes an exterior, public act of religion. The question is: Does the nature of our relations with God demand this sort of worship? Evidently, yes. Else God, who created the whole man, would not receive a perfect worship. If God made man, man belongs to Him; if from that possession flows a natural obligation to worship with heart and tongue, why not also of the body? God has a Maker's right over us, and without some acknowledgment on the part of the body of this right, there would be no evidence that such a right existed. There is no doubt but that the law of our being requires of us an interior worship. Now, if that spirit of homage within us is sincere, it will naturally seek to exteriorize itself; if it is to be preserved, it must "out." We are not here speaking of certain peculiarly ordered individuals, but of the bulk of common humanity. Experience teaches that what does not come out either never existed or is not assured of a prolonged existence. Just as the mind must go out of itself for the substance of its thoughts, so must the heart go out to get relief from the pressure of its feelings. God commanded this external worship because it alone could preserve internal affections.

Again, there are many things which the ordinary man ignores concerning God, which it is necessary for him to know, and which do not come by intuition. In other words, he must be taught a host of truths that he is incapable of finding out by himself. Education and instruction in religious matters are outside the sphere of his usual occupations. Where will he ever get this necessary information, if he is not taught? And how can he be taught, if he does not lay aside occupations that are incompatible with the acquisition of intellectual truths? He is therefore forced by the law of his being, and the obligation he owes his Maker, to rest from his everyday labors, once in awhile, in order to learn his full duty, if for nothing else.

Pagans, who never knew the law of Moses, serve neither Saturday nor Sunday; neither do they give an entire day, at fixed intervals to the exterior worship of the Deity, as we do. But a case will not be found where they did not on certain occasions rest from work in order to offer the homage of their fidelity to their gods, and to listen, to instruction and exhortation from their holy men. These pagans follow the natural law written in their souls, and it is there they discover the obligation they are under to honor God by rest from labor and to make holy unto Him a certain space of time.

The third article of the Mosaic Code not only enunciates the law of rest, but says just how much time shall be given to its observance; it prescribes neither a week nor a few hours, but one day in seven. If you have a taste for such things and look well, you will find several reasons put forth as justifying this special designation of one day in seven. The number seven the Jews regarded as a sacred number; the Romans, as the symbol of perfection. Students of antiquity have discovered that among nearly all peoples this number in some way or other refers to the Deity. Science finds that nature prefers this number; light under analysis reveals seven colors, and all colors refer to the seven orders of the solar spectrum; the human voice has seven tones that constitute the scale of sound; the human body is renewed every seven years. Authorities on hygiene and physiology teach that one day in six is too much, one day in eight is too little, but that one day in seven is sufficient and necessary for the physical needs of man.

These considerations may or may not carry conviction to the average mind. On the face of it, they confirm rather than prove. They do not reveal the necessity of a day of rest so much as show its reasonableness and how it harmonizes with nature in its periodicity, its symmetry and its exact proportion to the strength of man. As for real substantial reasons, there is but one - good and sufficient - and that is the positive will of God. He said: keep this day holy; such is His command, and no man should need a better reason.

The God-given law of Moses says Saturday, Christians say Sunday. Protestants and Catholics alike say Sunday, and Sunday it is. But this is not a trifling change; it calls for an explanation. Why was it made? What is there to justify it? On what authority was it done? Can the will of God, unmistakably manifested, be thus disregarded and put aside by His creatures? This is a serious question.

One of the most interesting things in the world would be to hear a Protestant Christian, on Protestant grounds, justify his observance of the Sunday instead of the Sabbath, and give reasons for his conduct. "Search the Scriptures." Aye, search from Genesis to Revelations, the Mosaic prescriptions will hold good in spite of all your researches. Instead of justification you will find condemnation. "The Bible, the Bible alone" theory hardly fits in here. Are Papists the only ones to add to the holy writings, or to go counter to them? Suppose this change cannot be justified on Scriptural grounds, what then? And the fact is, it cannot.

It is hardly satisfactory to remark that this is a disciplinary injunction, and Christ abrogated the Jewish ceremonial. But if it is nothing more than this, how came it to get on the table of the Law? Its embodiment in the Decalogue makes it somewhat different from all other ceremonial prescriptions; as it stands, it is on a par with the veto to kill or to steal. Christ abolished the purely Jewish law, but he left the Decalogue intact.

It is true that Christ rose from the dead on Sunday; but nowhere in writing can it be found that His resurrection on that day meant a change in the Third Commandment. In the nature of the event, there is absolutely no relation between it and the observance of Sunday.

Where will our friend find a loop-hole to escape? Oh! as usual, for the Sunday as for the Bible, he will have to fall back on the old Church. What in the world could he do without her? He will find there an authority, and he is obliged to recognize it, even if he does on ordinary occasions declaim against and condemn it. Incidentally, if his eyes are open, he will discover that his individually interpreted Bible has failed most woefully to do its work; it condemns the Protestant Sunday.

This day was changed on the sole authority of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, as the representative of God on earth, to whose keeping was confided the interpretation of God's word, and in whose bosom is found that other criterion of truth, called tradition. It is Tradition that justifies the change she made. Deny this, and there is no justification possible, and you must go back to the Mosaic Sabbath. Admit it, and if you are a Protestant you will find yourself in somewhat of a mess.

A logical Protestant must be a very uneasy being. If the Church is right in this, why should she not be right in defining the Immaculate Conception? And if she errs here, what assurance is there that she does not err there? How can he say she is right on one occasion, and wrong on another? What kind of nonsense is it that makes her truthful or erring according to one's fancy and taste? Truly, the reformer blundered when he did not treat the Sunday as he treated the Pope and all Church authority, for it is papistical to a degree.

The Third Commandment bids us sanctify the Lord's day; but in what that sanctification shall consist, it does not say. It is certain, however, that it is only by worship, of one kind or another, that the day can be properly kept holy to the Lord; and since interior worship is prescribed by the First Commandment, exterior and public worship must be what is called for. Then, there are many modes of worship; there is no end to the means man may devise of offering homage to the Creator.

The first element of worship is abstention from profane labor; rest is the first condition of keeping the Sabbath. The word Sabbath itself means cessation of work. You cannot do two things at the same time, you cannot serve God and Mammon. Our everyday occupations are not, of their nature, a public homage of fidelity to God. If any homage is to be offered, as a preliminary, work must cease. This interruption of the ordinary business of life alone makes it possible to enter seriously into the more important business of God's service, and in this sense it is a negative worship.

Yet, there is also something positive about it, for the simple fact of desisting from toil contains an element of direct homage. Six days are ours for ourselves. What accrues from our activity on those days is our profit. To God we sacrifice one day and all it might bring to us, we pay to Him a tithe of our time, labor and earnings. By directing aright our intentions, therefore, our rest assumes the higher dignity of explicit, emphatic religion and reverence, and in a fuller manner sanctifies the day that is the Lord's.

We should, however, guard ourselves against the mistaken notion that sloth and idleness are synonymous of rest. It is not all activity, but the ordinary activity of common life, that is forbidden. It were a sacrilegious mockery to make God the author of a law that fosters laziness and favors the sluggard. Another extreme that common sense condemns is that the physical man should suffer martyrdom while the soul thus communes with God, that promenades and recreation should be abolished, and social amenities ignored, that dryness, gloom, moroseness and severity are the proper conditions of Sabbatical observance.

In this respect, our Puritan ancestors were the true children of Pharisaism, and their Blue Laws more properly belong in the Talmud than in the Constitution of an American Commonwealth. God loves a cheerful giver, and would you not judge from appearances that religion was painful to these pious witch-burners and everything for God most grudgingly done? Sighs, grimaces, groans and wails, this is the homage the devils in hell offer to the justice of God; there is no more place for them in the religion of earth than in the religion of heaven.

Correlative with the obligation of rest is that of purely positive worship, and here is the difficulty of deciding just what is the correct thing in religious worship. The Jews had their institutions, but Christ abolished them. The Pagans had their way - sacrifice; Protestants have their preaching and hymn-singing. Catholics offer a Sacrifice, too, but an unbloody one. Later on, we shall hear the Church speak out on the subject. She exercised the right to change the day itself; she claims naturally the right to say how it should be observed, because the day belongs to her. And she will impose upon her children the obligation to attend Mass. But here the precepts of the Church are out of the question.

The obligation, however, to participate in some act of worship is plain. The First Commandment charges every man to offer an exterior homage of one kind or another, at some time or another. The Third sets aside a day for the worship of the Divinity. Thus the general command of the first precept is specified. This is the time, or there is no time. With the Third Commandment before him, man cannot arbitrarily choose for himself the time for his worship, he must do it on Sunday.

Public worship being established in all Christian communities, every Christian who cannot improve upon what is offered and who is convinced that a certain mode of worship is the best and true, is bound by the law to participate therein. The obligation may be greater if he ignores the principles of religion and cannot get information and instruction outside the temple of religion. For Catholics, there is only one true mode of public worship, and that is the Sacrifice of the Mass. No layman is sufficient unto himself to provide such an act of religion. He has, therefore, no choice, he must assist at that sacrifice if he would fulfill the obligation he is under of Sunday worship.

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