Moral Briefs – Chapter L – Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonThe 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.