I don't like being told what to do or when to do
it, do you? For me, that includes when to work or relax, when
to sleep or eat, or even when to pray.
Maybe you feel the same wayespecially about
Sunday. Have you ever felt that you had to pray on Sunday
by going to Mass? Have you experienced Sundays when you didn't
want to go and almost felt forced to attend Mass? After all,
there's so much else to do: visit your friends, go shopping
or see a movie at a mall, hang out in chat rooms on the Web
and, above all, play or watch football.
Part of the problem may be the very words we use:
Yes, there's a commandment to keep the Lord's Day holy, but
it's a choice that benefits youspiritually, mentally
and physically. That's what this Youth Update invites
you to consider.
What's a Sabbath?
Mass is part of the Catholic Sunday, but we all
have more choices to make that day. Putting aside a special
day to rest and think about your relationship with God has
a very long history that didn't start with Christianity. It
comes from our Jewish ancestors and was part of the world
that Jesus, a devout Jew, knew.
The idea of setting one day aside comes from the
very first book of the Bible. In Genesis 2:2-3, we read that
God spent six days creating the world. Then the tempo changed.
"So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because
on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation."
It's with Moses and the Ten Commandments that God
lays down the requirement of worship on one day above all
others: "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. Six days you
may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the
sabbath of the Lord, your God....In six days the Lord made
the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them;
but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has
blessed the sabbath day and made it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11).
The point of the first two books of the Bible, Genesis
and Exodus, seems to be that the sabbath is holy because of
what the Israelites were told not to do, in addition to the
rules for what they should do.
God told the Israelites that on the sabbath they
were not to do any work. In the difficult physical life which
the Israelites led, taking a day off was a real break. Being
told not to work must have been a source of great joy for
But God also told them to keep the sabbath holy
because he had consecrated one day of the week. God sanctified
that day, which became Saturday in our work week. The Jewish
sabbath, to be specific, goes from sundown Friday night to
sundown Saturday night. (Islam has established a different
The Jewish sabbath was to be a day of joy, of prayer,
of meals with family and of spending time together away from
the normal pressures and obligations of the work week. There
are several Gospel scenes where Jesus can be seen praying
on the sabbath in synagogues and spending time with his family
Sunday originally was celebrated by the Egyptians,
Greeks and Romans as "the day of the sun." Christians transformed
the day of the sun into a weekly celebration of the resurrection
of Jesus, the Son of God. Pope John Paul II reminds us of
this when he says, "It is Easter which returns week by week."
One New Testament account tells us that the Christians
met to break bread "on the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7),
which they called the "Lord's Day." For a time, it appears
that Christians who were of Jewish origin marked both the
Jewish Saturday and the Christian Sunday (maybe anticipating
our own two-day weekend!).
Sunday seems to have become the Christians' special
day for two reasons. First, they wanted to distinguish themselves
from the Jewish sabbath on Saturday. Second, Sunday was the
day Jesus rose from the dead, so it was natural to celebrate
the resurrection every week on the day when Jesus first came
back to life.
One early Christian writer, Justin Martyr, put the
idea of the "sun's day" and the "Son's day" together: "Sunday...is
the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter
made the universe, and Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the
dead on the same day." Jesus, the Son of God, fills our lives
with light, similar to the way the sun pushes back the darkness
of night, which can symbolize sin.
These ideas seem to go together neatly, but it was
hard for Christians in the first few centuries of the Church
to share the Eucharist on Sunday. For about three centuries,
Christianity was an illegal religion in the Roman Empire.
To be a Christian was to be a criminal.
Until the 300s when Christianity was tolerated and
then made the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christians
had to work on Sunday. They probably attended the Eucharist
early in the morning or late at night. In the city of Rome
itself, they crowded in the catacombs underground to avoid
being caught. (And we think we have a tough time getting to
In the year 321, the emperor Constantine, who was
a follower of Christianity, declared that the "venerable day
of the sun," Sunday, would be a day off for everyone. But
it wasn't until the year 506 that a Church council laid down
a rule that Christians had to attend Mass every Sunday.
Sunday All Week
All Catholics are expected to go to Mass on Sunday,
but we should go because we want to, not just because
we have to. Now, let's be honest: Some Sundays we just
don't feel like going to church. Or we have so many other
things going on that we can't quite fit Mass into our schedules.
But there are several ways to make Mass and Sunday special.
Make Mass the focus of the week before. All you
do directs you toward the celebration of who you are, who
Jesus is and why he died for you. You can reflect at Mass
on how God helped you during the past week and when you could
have done better work as a Christian. Could you have been
more open to someone who is different than you? Could you
have tried to reach out to someone who hurt you?
Then make Mass a reservoir for the coming week.
Remember at Mass that you've been baptized as God's child.
God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.
Well, God created you too (only more recently), so on the
seventh day you can think about what being created by God
means to you.
If you have been confirmed, on Sunday think about
that extra help the Holy Spirit can give you. Remember that
every Sunday celebrates the first Easter, when Jesus died
for you and rose so you could be forever happy. Resolve to
do better the next week in living your Christian life.
Let Sunday recharge your batteries for Monday through
Saturday, just as the earliest Christians tried to do.
Instead of "fitting Mass in," see if you can change
your schedule to work around Mass. Make it the focus of the
Going to Mass when you don't want to may not be
such a bad idea. You might fall into a rhythm, creating a
regular time when God can speak to you. You never know what
might strike you from a homily or the readings or even one
of the hymns.
You can become more involved at Mass itself. Become
an altar server. Practice your public speaking skills by volunteering
as a lector. If you're a "people person," join the group that
says "Welcome to Mass" and helps people find seats or hands
out missalettes or bulletins.
Day of Rest
From the early days of Sunday sabbath, it was a
day not only to attend the Eucharist, but also to rest. Now
that didn't mean simply to sit around and do nothing.
The Church's leaders wanted Christians essentially
to do what the Jews were doing: taking a break from their
busy schedules, spending time with each other, catching up
with the people they lived with but too frequently during
the week just raced by on their way from one thing to another.
In some ways, your life may mirror this need. All
during the week you might juggle school, homework, chores,
sports practices and games, meetings at church or with some
group to which you belong. Your parents, brothers and sisters
might become blurs you run past on your way from here to there.
Your parents might be stressed out, too. They might
feel bad that they can't spend more time with you, even though
they're making sacrifices like working two jobs or extra hours
to pay the bills for their families.
Some of those early Church leaders had advice for
their own people that we could use today. They wanted Sunday
to be a day of rest that was not just physical, but also spiritual.
They want you to recharge your emotional batteries, to just
Sometimes you might feel that there's so much to
do (class projects, e-mail, games, extra work to get ready
for the SAT), that you can't afford to lose Sunday. I used
to think that way in high school, too, until I started to
burn out. I learned that if you take some time off to relax,
even one afternoon a week, you actually are fresher and sharper
for all your other activities during the rest of the week.
Pope John Paul II put it this way when he said we
have to "rediscover Sunday": "Do not be afraid to give your
time to Christ!...Time given to Christ is never time lost,
but is rather time gained."
Maybe Sunday is also a day to take a break from
sin. Now I'm not saying that we're breaking the law or God's
commandments every minute from Monday morning to Saturday
night. But we rest in God best when we follow God's plan for
us. So Sunday could be a day to listen to God and try to get
in touch with God's plan for you.
Seize the Day!
You can also start a weekly Sunday tradition by
taking one action that sanctifies the day and yourself. The
Book of Isaiah says that one way of sharing yourself is to
put another person's interests ahead of your own: "If you
hold back your foot on the sabbath from following your own
pursuits on my holy day,...if you honor [the Lord's day] by
not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking
with malicethen you shall delight in the Lord" (Isaiah
Sharing a little bit of yourself and your time is
one way to make the sabbath holy. How about calling your grandmother
and filling her in on your life? Perhaps there's a soup kitchen
in your neighborhood that could use an extra pair of hands.
If your parents need a break, you could babysit your younger
brother or sister (even if you think he or she is a pest).
Thank somebody you might normally take for granted.
And if you ever feel guilty about taking time out
for yourself and others on Sunday, remember that even God
took a day off after creating the world. If God deserved a
break, don't you?
Bianca Sabrkmani (14), Jessica Martin (16)
and Tricia Moye (15), all of St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church
in Winter Park, Florida, worked at a fast pace to preview
this issue, suggest improvements and ask the questions you
might have posed. Walt Smith, parish youth minister, gathered
the group on Youth Update's behalf.