Each issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
Easter All Year Long
The Lord's Dayas Sunday was called
from Apostolic timeshas always been accorded special attention
in the history of the Church because of its close connection with
the very core of the Christian mystery. Sunday recalls the day of
Christ's Resurrection. It is Easter which returns week by week,
celebrating Christ's victory over sin and death, the fulfillment
in him of the first creation and the dawn of "the new creation"
(cf. 2 Cor 5:17).
In commemorating the day of Christ's Resurrection
not just once a year but every Sunday, the Church seeks to indicate
to every generation the true fulcrum of history, to which the mystery
of the world's origin and its final destiny lead.
The fundamental importance of Sunday
has been recognized through two thousand years of history and was
emphatically restated by the Second Vatican Council:
"Every seven days, the Church celebrates the Easter mystery. This
is a tradition going back to the Apostles, taking its origin from
the actual day of Christ's Resurrectiona day thus appropriately
designated 'the Lord's Day.'"
The Second Vatican Council teaches that
on Sunday "Christian believers should come together, in order to
commemorate the suffering, Resurrection and glory of the Lord Jesus,
by hearing God's Word and sharing the Eucharist, and to give thanks
to God who has given them new birth to a living hope through the
Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (cf. 1 Pt 1:3).
Sunday is a day which is at the very
heart of the Christian life. The rediscovery of this day is a grace
which we must implore. Time given to Christ is never time lost,
but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed
our whole life may become more profoundly human.
Celebrating the Creator's work
"In the beginning, God created the
heavens and the earth." The poetic style of the Genesis story
conveys well the awe which people feel before the immensity of creation
and the resulting sense of adoration of the One who brought all
things into being from nothing.
"God saw that [the world he created]
was good" (Gn 1:10,12, etc.). Coming as it does from the hand of
God, the cosmos bears the imprint of his goodness. It is a beautiful
world, rightly moving us to admiration and delight, but also calling
for cultivation and development. At the "completion" of God's work,
the world is ready for human activity. "On the seventh day God finished
his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from
all his work which he had done" (Gn 2:2).
The "work" of God is in some ways an
example for man, called not only to inhabit the cosmos, but also
to "build" it and thus become God's "co-worker."
The exhilarating advance of science,
technology and culture in their various formsan ever more
rapid and today even overwhelming developmentis the historical
consequence of the mission by which God entrusts to man and woman
the task and responsibility of filling the earth and subduing it
by means of their work, in the observance of God's Law.
The divine rest of the seventh day speaks,
as it were, of God's lingering before the "very good" work (Gn 1:31)
which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a gaze full
of joyous delight. This is a "contemplative" gaze which does not
look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already
been achieved. It is a gaze which God casts upon all things, but
in a special way upon man, the crown of creation.
All human life, and therefore all human
time, must become praise of the Creator and thanksgiving to him.
But man's relationship with God also demands times of explicit prayer,
in which the relationship becomes an intense dialogue, involving
every dimension of the person.
"The Lord's Day" is the day of this
relationship par excellence when men and women raise their song
to God and become the voice of all creation. This is precisely why
it is also the day of rest. The interruption of the often oppressive
rhythm of work expresses the dependence of man and the cosmos upon
God. Everything belongs to God! The Lord's Day returns again and
again to declare this principle within the weekly reckoning of time.
Day of the Risen Lord
and of the life-giving Spirit
Although the Lord's Day is rooted in the
very work of creation and even more in the mystery of the biblical
"rest" of God, it is nonetheless to the Resurrection of Christ that
we must look in order to understand fully the Lord's Day. This is
what the Christian Sunday does, leading the faithful each week to
ponder and live the event of Easter, true source of the world's
According to the common witness of the
Gospels, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead took place
on "the first day after the Sabbath" (Mk 16:2,9; Lk 24:1; Jn 20:1).
On the same day, the Risen Lord appeared to the two disciples of
Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-35) and to the eleven Apostles gathered together
(cf. Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19).
A week lateras the Gospel of John
recounts (cf. 20:26)the disciples were gathered together once
again, when Jesus appeared to them and made himself known to Thomas
by showing him the signs of his Passion.
The day of Pentecostthe first
day of the eighth week after the Jewish Passover, when the promise
made by Jesus to the Apostles after the Resurrection was fulfilled
by the outpouring of the Holy Spiritalso fell on a Sunday
(cf. Acts 2:1, Lk 24:49; Acts 1:4-5).
This was the day of the first proclamation
and the first Baptisms: Peter announced to the assembled crowd that
Christ was risen and "those who received his word were baptized"
(Acts 2:41). This was the epiphany of the Church, revealed as the
people into which are gathered in unity, beyond all their differences,
the scattered children of God. It was for this reason that, from
Apostolic times, "the first day after the Sabbath," the first day
of the week, began to shape the rhythm of life for Christ's disciples
(cf. 1 Cor 16:2).
In effect, Sunday is the day above all
other days which summons Christians to remember the salvation which
was given to them in Baptism and which has made them new in Christ.
"You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised
with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from
the dead" (Col 2:12; cf. Rom 6:4-6).
The liturgy underscores this baptismal
dimension of Sunday, both in calling for the celebration of Baptismsas
well as at the Easter Vigilon the day of the week "when the
Church commemorates the Lord's Resurrection," and in suggesting
as an appropriate penitential rite at the start of Mass the sprinkling
of holy water, which recalls the moment of Baptism in which all
Christian life is born.
When he appeared to the Apostles on
the evening of Easter, Jesus breathed upon them and said: "Receive
the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven;
if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (Jn 20:22-23).
The outpouring of the Spirit was the great gift of the Risen Lord
to his disciples on Easter Sunday.
It was again Sunday when, 50 days after
the Resurrection, the Spirit descended in power, as "a mighty wind"
and "fire" (Acts 2:2-3), upon the Apostles gathered with Mary. Pentecost
is not only the founding event of the Church, but is also the mystery
which forever gives life to the Church.
Such an event has its own powerful liturgical
moment in the annual celebration which concludes "the great Sunday,"
but it also remains a part of the deep meaning of every Sunday,
because of its intimate bond with the Paschal Mystery. The "weekly
Easter" thus becomes, in a sense, the "weekly Pentecost," when Christians
relive the Apostles' joyful encounter with the Risen Lord and receive
the life-giving breath of his Spirit.
heart of Sunday
Sunday is not only the remembrance of
a past event: It is a celebration of the living presence of the
Risen Lord in the midst of his own people.
For this presence to be properly proclaimed
and lived, it is not enough that the disciples of Christ pray individually
and commemorate the death and Resurrection of Christ inwardly, in
the secrecy of their hearts. Those who have received the grace of
Baptism are not saved as individuals alone, but as members of the
Mystical Body, having become part of the People of God.
It is important therefore that they
come together to express fully the very identity of the Church,
the ekklesia, the assembly called together by the Risen Lord
who offered his life "to reunite the scattered children of God"
(Jn 11:52). They have become "one" in Christ (cf. Gal 3:28) through
the gift of the Spirit.
This ecclesial dimension intrinsic to
the Eucharist is realized in every Eucharistic celebration. But
it is expressed most especially on the day when the whole community
comes together to commemorate the Lord's Resurrection.
Significantly, the Catechism of the
Catholic Church teaches that "the Sunday celebration of the
Lord's Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church's life."
For Christian families, the Sunday assembly is one of the most outstanding
expressions of their identity and their "ministry" as "domestic
churches," when parents share with their children at the one table
of the word and of the Bread of Life.
We do well to recall in this regard
that it is first of all the parents who must teach their children
to participate in Sunday Mass; they are assisted in this by catechists,
who are to see to it that initiation into the Mass is made a part
of the formation imparted to the children entrusted to their care,
explaining the important reasons behind the obligatory nature of
When circumstances suggest it, the celebration
of Masses for Children, in keeping with the provisions of the liturgical
norms, can also help in this regard.
Risen Lord as word and bread
As in every Eucharistic celebration,
the Risen Lord is encountered in the Sunday assembly at the twofold
table of the word and of the Bread of Life.
It should also be borne in mind that
the liturgical proclamation of the word of God, especially in the
Eucharistic assembly, is not so much a time for meditation and catechesis
as a dialogue between God and his People, a dialogue in which the
wonders of salvation are proclaimed and the demands of the Covenant
are continually restated.
On their part, the People of God are
drawn to respond to this dialogue of love by giving thanks and praise,
also by demonstrating their fidelity to the task of continual "conversion."
The Sunday assembly commits us therefore to an inner renewal of
our baptismal promises, which are in a sense implicit in the recitation
of the Creed, and are an explicit part of the liturgy of the Easter
Vigil and whenever Baptism is celebrated during Mass.
Receiving the Bread of Life, the disciples
of Christ ready themselves to undertake with the strength of the
Risen Lord and his Spirit the tasks which await them in their ordinary
life. For the faithful who have understood the meaning of what they
have done, the Eucharistic celebration does not stop at the church
In coming to know the Church, which
every Sunday joyfully celebrates the mystery from which she draws
her life, may the men and women of the Third Millennium come to
know the Risen Christ. *
This short presentation of
the pope's apostolic letter Dies Domini is intended not as
a substitute for reading the complete document but as an overview
of some major points. The full text is available on the Vatican's
Web site, www.vatican.va,
or for sale in print at Catholic bookstores like St. Francis Bookshop,
1618 Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45210 (phone: 1-800-241-6392).
Next: The BibleHow the Many
Versions Came About
(by Arthur Zannoni)