This past Sunday saw the conclusion of chapter 48 of the Holy Rule, which treats of daily manual labour. As the old adage says “idleness is the devil’s playground”; in this chapter the holy patriarch sets about regulating the monks’ time with work and sacred reading for the hours that they are not engaged with the opus Dei.
The concluding section discusses what the monks are to do on Sunday. The monks, says St. Benedict, are to dedicate themselves especially to reading, though the holy father does allow for human weakness and assigns some task for those who are unable or unwilling to read, though nothing too burdensome.
The question of how to sanctify Sunday has been on my mind quite a bit these past few years, especially since becoming a novice oblate. In my current place of employment it is not always possible to have Sunday off. Even formerly living and working in a nominally Catholic country, I was expected to work Sundays. It is a sign of the times when one requests Sundays off for the reason that Sunday became a “day of rest” and sees that request denied time and time again. Nowadays it seems to me to almost be a privilege to have Sundays off. Either you have the right job or you have to toil on the Lord’s Day. Mammon must get his due. Welcome to post-Christian society. When did we Christians become so complacent that even Sunday rest was taken from us? When one is in a position where one is obliged to work Sundays, is that something one must simply resign to, or should one be vocal about it? When you have small children and try to instill in them some notion of the sacredness of Sunday, how do you explain to them the fact that you have to work?
What exactly does it mean to sanctify the Lord’s day? The day is His; He has given it to us to enter into His rest. It is a day when we are to give the Lord His due, even more so than any other day of the week. It is a day of worship. I know many for whom that simply means going to Mass, ticking off the box, and that is it; afterwards, business as usual. Yet is that all there is to it?
Is Sunday for my convenience, or is it for the Lord? Over the past few years we have tried to avoid as much as possible anything of the weekly, mundane routine, especially shopping. We try to have a special lunch on Sundays as well. It is immensely convenient to go shopping on Sundays, particularly on those that I don’t work, but is that in keeping with the spirit of the law? Is there anything so important that it can’t be put off for one day? Is Sunday a day for secular entertainment?
Is just going to Mass enough? Do I go to Mass at my convenience, or do I make it the central part of the day, orienting the rest by it? My wife and I, being novice oblates, try to at least say Vespers together (sadly, no one offers solemn Vespers near us) on the Sundays that I do not have to work.
I don’t think it was by chance that St. Benedict chose Psalm 118 for the Little Hours of Sunday in the Benedictine Office. This Psalm is a panegyric to the Law, to the Torah, and we Catholics see it apply to the Torah Incarnate, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps here is a good place to start, to meditate on the meaning of keeping the Lord’s day holy.
This is all still relatively new to us, and we are still trying to figure it out, trying to figure what works best for the family as well. I would like to hear from any of my readers, to know what you do to sanctify Sunday.