Give 'Em A Break

A story from the world of higher education caught my eye and started me thinking about the nature of Sunday observance among Roman Catholics. Inside Higher Education reported on a meeting of Roman Catholic bishops and university presidents to consider how their colleges and universities may preserve academic freedom while also remaining faithful to church teaching. That is a riddle that has long affected most Christian institutions of higher learning – not particularly helped by world-viewitis or the notion that the Bible speaks to all of life. But Roman Catholics have faced this difficulty more acutely of late owing to John Paul II’s encyclical, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which calls upon Roman Catholic schools to remain faithful to church teaching at least in theology departments if not more widely across the campus. (If some of the statements expressed at the conference are indicative of Roman Catholic fidelity, the problem of adjusting church dogma and academic freedom will likely be easy. The first principle adopted by this group – we welcome “all students into a vibrant campus community that celebrates God’s love for all” – won’t force timid administrators and faculty to double down on the church’s catechism or much reason to refuse conclusions from most faculty.)

But aside from the intellectual work of the conference’s participants, what was fairly remarkable was that the meeting the reporter covered took place on Sunday. Granted, Roman Catholics have never been as anal about the Lord’s Day as Reformed Protestants (some say the real anal-retentive award for the fourth commandment belongs to the Puritans, but we all know that no can define Puritanism). At the same time, well before Willow Creek offered services for seekers and those sensitive to them, Rome was providing the Mass at different times during the weekend to accommodate the faithful who preferred other activities on Sunday morning.

Even so, if Rome is not sabbatarian as Reformed understand that notion, the Roman Catholic church does teach about the sanctity of Sunday and the need to set it aside for worship and rest. According to the Catechism:

2189 “Observe the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Deut 5:12). “The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord” (Ex 31:15).

2190 The sabbath, which represented the completion of the first creation, has been replaced by Sunday which recalls the new creation inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.

2191 The Church celebrates the day of Christ’s Resurrection on the “eighth day,” Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord’s Day (cf. SC 106).

2192 “Sunday . . . is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church” (CIC, can. 1246 § 1). “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass” (CIC, can. 1247).

2193 “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body” (CIC, can. 1247).

2194 The institution of Sunday helps all “to be allowed sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives” (GS 67 § 3).

2195 Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day.

This is not as strict as the Shorter Catechism on the fourth commandment – “spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy.” But it does tell Roman Catholics that the should attend Mass on Sunday – a rite of obligation – and that they should not work or make demands on others to work (like buying a new flat screen television to watch oversized and overpaid men play football in an oversized bowl). In addition, this teaching would certainly be a tonic for Sabbath-challenged evangelicals.

In which case, why couldn’t the Roman Catholic bishops and presidents have conducted their meetings and delivered their papers on Saturday? If they still had business, they could likely have reconvened on Monday and devoted Sunday to worship and rest. Since they were not Puritan and were meeting in Washington, D.C. they may have even taken in an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery. But surely they could have rested from their weekday activities for the holy day known as Sunday.