Has Sunday lost its sense of sacredness?
By luke eggleston / sun staff writer
In 1998, the late and beloved Pope John Paul II saw a pressing need in the church. He wasn’t identifying anything new but perhaps something that had been recently lost: the primacy of Sunday.
Nearly 10 years later the apostolic letter the pope issued, Dies Domini (“On Keeping the Lord’s Holy Day”), has largely gone unheeded, according to Father Joseph Scardella, the Syracuse Diocese’s director of the Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy and RCIA.
Father Scardella is a strong proponent of Sunday. He believes the Lord’s Day has been lumped in with Monday through Saturday.
“We have made Sunday just another day of the week. We no longer consider Sunday as a sacred Sabbath,” Father Scardella said. “It’s the day off from work but from your normal job, not from other things. There are way too many activities on Sundays, even for kids.”
In the letter, the late pope placed in the foreground the sacred nature of Sunday, describing it as a “weekly echo of the first encounter with the Risen Lord, unfailingly marked by the joy with which the disciples greeted the Master: ‘The disciples rejoiced to see the Lord (Jn 20:20).’”
Father Richard Prior, pastor at Holy Family Church in Fairmount, noted that Christians would do well to take advantage of each opportunity to worship. Sunday, however, holds a particularly pivotal place.
“God thinks it’s pretty important. He put it in the top 10 — it’s number three [among the Ten Commandments],” Father Prior said. “If God thinks it’s important then it probably is.”
The Kaye family, which attends St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott, makes Mass and family time a priority each Sunday.
Nine-year-old Joshua Kaye plays both baseball and basketball and is also an altar server. Jenna Kaye (14) swims competitively for both the Union-Endicott varsity program and for the regional club team. The latter takes the family on the road for weekend meets.
Jannine Kaye said that her family’s first priority on the road is to find a local church and attend Mass.
“I think it’s the least we can do,” she said. “We have such busy days. We need to give back to God preferably the whole day. He’s given so much to us.”
Sunday is also a time to re-establish spiritual priorities.
“We try to make it a time of family, regrouping and focusing on what’s important — God and family,” Kaye said.
Recognition of Sunday’s importance was once administered with a heavy hand. Emperor Constantine demanded that the citizens and subjects of the Roman Empire adhere to strict laws forbidding even menial tasks on Sundays. The “blue laws” instituted in the U.S. also strictly prohibited certain kinds of activities on Sunday.
Since blue laws were repealed or fell into disuse, however, Sundays present more distractions for people. Currently, blue laws are more or less employed and enforced regionally. Meanwhile, shopping malls and department stores generate opportunities for family members to split off into different directions away from the church and from home. Young people, who comprise a significant segment of the service industry workforce, must often choose between church and family on the one side and their jobs on the other.
Father Scardella recalls the Sundays of his youth as days for family.
“When I was a kid the stores weren’t open on Sunday. The only thing that might be open on Sunday was a pharmacy in case you needed medication. Once we lost the blue laws it was a slippery slope and everything started falling in on Sundays,” Father Scardella said. “Many youths have to choose between Sunday and their jobs. We shouldn’t make people make that choice.”
Other activities such as sports also rob youths of the opportunity to prioritize Sunday Mass, according to Father Prior.
Father Prior believes a start would be for Catholic high school athletic programs to forego games or practices scheduled for Sunday.
“It starts with our own Catholic high schools. Don’t schedule practices or games on Sunday morning or even early afternoon,” Father Prior said.
Father Scardella had similar experiences when he was the pastor at Our Lady of Pompei in Syracuse.
“I remember when I was a pastor at Our Lady of Pompei I said to one of the kids [who attended Our Lady of Pompei Elementary School] at report card time, ‘You’ve done very well on your religion paper,’ and I said to him — just jokingly — ‘if you’d gone to Mass on Sunday you’d probably have gotten 100.’ He said, ‘Mass on Sunday? Sunday’s our hockey day,’” Father Scardella said.
He also remembered an unsuccessful campaign he waged to regulate the time of CYO basketball games held on Sunday.
While Father Scardella is not advocating a return to the days of blue laws, he believes it is crucial for the church to begin teaching Sunday as a priority and to return it to its rightful status as the Lord’s Day.
“I think it’s something that has to change within the church. I think we have to get back to an understanding of what Sunday as Sabbath means, that church is the number one priority and family is second and that it’s a day of rest and refreshment. It’s not a day to run to hockey games or softball games. It’s a day of rest,” he said.
In his own catechetical classes, Father Scardella heavily stresses the importance of Sunday. He noted that the same approach could be utilized in the pulpit.
“I think the pastors need to help people really understand the importance of Sunday as a day of rest and a day of worship,” he said. “That means spending quality time with your family. In the past generation you never missed Sunday dinner. Sunday dinner was always dinner with the family. And a lot of extended families got together on Sundays for dinner. That doesn’t happen anymore because everybody’s going every which way and people have to do laundry and grocery shopping and things that they used to do during the week. They shouldn’t do it on Sunday.”
Father Prior said that pastors must underscore the sacredness of Sunday.
“Sunday Mass is a chance for a personal encounter with Jesus,” he said. “It’s a chance for conversion and to move closer to God.”
He noted that Sundays are a critical day of the week for a Christian.
“In our weekly preaching we need to begin focusing on our own personal responsibility and the sacrament,” he said. “It’s not like going to a concert — it’s participatory.”
Father Scardella noted that Sunday is also a crucial day of rest. Its importance is made even more profound in the modern world of bustle and distraction.
“One, it draws our attention away from church and it become less of a priority for people. And the second thing is psychological. We don’t take a break and we need to take a break,” Father Scardella said. “We live in a such a fast-paced society that we need to take a break and recognize the Sabbath. The Sabbath is meant to rest and refresh and we don’t do that. People are running themselves ragged on Sundays and they’re tired on Monday. I think that psychologically, religiously, spiritually we need to take that space and we don’t take that space.”
Moreover, in his letter, the late pope addressed the matter of rest, noting that rejuvenation can lead to a strengthened and enhanced faith.
“The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11): rest is something ‘sacred,’ because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God,” Pope John Paul II wrote.