Sometimes, the joy busters of life get the better of me. But not lately.When I delve into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I really get a sense of the joie de vivre of Catholic life. Something that has had a real and practical application for my life is finding the joy of Sundays. After all, Sunday was the day that Jesus was raised from the death… and in so many ways, a thoughtful observance of Sunday can breathe life back into the other days of the week for me.
Tucked in the middle of a longer summary about Sundays, I came across this tiny, yet powerful phrase: the day of joy. I was immediately struck by how often I have revered Sunday as an obligation and a day of rest, but have not always consciously entered into it as a day of joy, save for major feast days. As it turns out, that is just one aspect of a bigger idea that describes Christian joy as proper to Sundays.
Let’s look at the full text of CCC 1193:
Sunday, the “Lord’s Day,” is the principal day for the celebration of the Eucharist because it is the day of the Resurrection. It is the pre-eminent day of the liturgical assembly, the day of the Christian family, and the day of joy and rest from work. [Emphasis mine.]
Let’s break that down by looking at how joy might be better nurtured in our Sundays.
There are four elements that characterize the celebration of the Lord’s day: the celebration of Mass, the day of Christian family, the day of joy, and rest from work.
For Catholics, the first element of attending Mass on Sundays is obvious. It’s not only a Precept of the Church (see CCC 2041) but it also follows the Third Commandment to “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Ex. 20:8.)
Sunday Eucharist is the great tradition handed down to us from the Apostles. There we gather for the handing on of the Word of God and for the sharing in Holy Communion. It is there that “the whole community of the faithful encounters the risen Lord who invites them to his banquet.” (CCC 1166).
We go to meet the Lord! To prepare to attend Mass on Sunday with the appropriate joy, it helps me to visualize my personal meeting with Jesus. Recall the resurrection accounts of Mary Magdalene and the Apostles upon meeting the Risen Jesus for the first time since Good Friday. What joy must have flooded their souls! The One Whom they longed for is now right in their midst!
How might I prepare to meet Christ in the Eucharist? Like I would meet my beloved one, by preparing with loving anticipation. When my thoughts long for this meeting, when I finally encounter “Him” – who invites me to “his banquet” – well, that’s deep, sweet, joy!
The second element of Sunday is the experience of Christian family. St. John Chrysostom (4th century bishop and Doctor of Church) had this to say about Mass attendance:
You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more: the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests.
Not only is Sunday Mass a precious meeting with the Lord, it is “something more”: a coming together in unity with the other members of our local church. This aids our understanding of “the day of the Christian family”. It not only refers to our nuclear families, but it also extends to the family of God into which we are baptized. We have a responsibility to them as well. Our participation in Sunday worship is “a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and to his Church.” (CCC 2182).
In an age when the idea of “Christian family” is under attack, Sundays are an opportunity to renew our commitment to that ideal. In our own homes, we can work toward not only worshipping together, but also praying together at times outside of Mass, and learning and sharing the faith together. The old adage that “the family that prays together stays together” is of great value.
Yet, as mentioned, we are also to embrace the family of God at large beyond our household. We cannot live the Christian life in a vacuum, cocooning away from the larger Body of Christ. We must maintain contact and connection… “a testimony of belonging.” Making friendly connections and getting involved in parish life makes what we do on Sundays more fruitful.
This brings us to the third element of Sunday as a day of joy. To further explore this idea, a search of the Catechism brings us to CCC 2185:
On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health. [Emphasis mine.]
Our joy is tied up in worship and in merciful service and in relaxation! We’ve already covered the idea of worship at Mass, and we’ll take up the question of relaxation next. But take note: here we see Sunday recommended for works of mercy. Now, when was the last time you heard that? (Need a refresher on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy? See CCC 2447.)
For many Christians, works of mercy may already be incorporated into weekly activities. But, for those with demanding familial and professional schedules, Sundays seems to be held out as a day to find time for such joy. I wonder what our world would be like if more of us, myself included, intentionally performed a work of mercy each Sunday, or a few Sundays a month?
The fourth element is the day of rest… harkening from the model of God who entered into rest after six days of Creation. (Gen. 2:2.)
In CCC 2184 and 2194, we read that the institution of Sunday rest helps all “to be allowed sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.”
What a gift rest is! What joy we have when we truly enter it in meaningful ways!
Unfortunately, despite all the so-called conveniences and advances of modern society, there exists acute pressure to make Sunday just another day of the week to work, shop, exercise, pay bills, etc., and, in general, to catch up!
But when we follow the Lord’s ways, we find joy. It takes deliberate action to try to live this way. Sunday observances become a necessary discipline of disciples of Jesus. Such discipline brings joy.
As we approach this Sunday, may we enjoy a day of grace and rest, and may we joyfully sing with the psalmist:
“This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Ps. 118: 24.)
The article was adapted for Amazing Catechists from a previous series that the author created and featured on CatholicExchange.com.