“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”
– Psalm 118:24
Time, for the Christian, has a particular importance. Indeed, we know time began with the creative act of God and tends toward that end when He brings all things to completion.
After creating the universe, Genesis tells us that God “rested” on the seventh day. Pope St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, notes that:
“The divine rest of the seventh day does not allude to an inactive God, but emphasizes the fullness of what has been accomplished. It speaks, as it were, of God’s lingering before the ‘very good’ work (Genesis 1:31) which his hand has wrought, in order to cast upon it a ‘gaze full of joyous delight.’ This is a ‘contemplative’ gaze which does not look to new accomplishments but enjoys the beauty of what has already been achieved.”
The work of Creation described in Genesis was marred by Original Sin. It was, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “in the fullness of time” that God sent His Son to redeem the world. Christ’s Passion and Resurrection established the order of grace and made eternal salvation possible for us. It was only fitting that the Christian community would celebrate Sunday, the day of Christ’s Resurrection, as the Lord’s Day. As John Paul II notes, “In celebrating Sunday, both the ‘first’ and the ‘eighth’ day, the Christian is led towards the goal of eternal life.” Christ is both the fulfillment of the old covenant, hence the “eighth day,” but also the source of the new covenant and the new beginning, and a “first day.”
Cultivating a Religious Life
Responding to the Third Commandment of the Decalogue, which enjoins on us the obligation to “keep holy the Lord’s day,” Catholics are obliged to attend the Holy Sacrifice of Mass on Sunday and to rest. St. John Paul II teaches that Christians, “are obliged in conscience to arrange their Sunday rest in a way which allows them to take part in the Eucharist, refraining from work and activities which are incompatible with the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, with its characteristic joy and necessary rest for spirit and body.” As Christ said in Mark 2:27, “[T]he sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” As humans, we truly need not only to offer adoration and prayer to God, but to rest, and to do so regularly! The Catechism explains in paragraph 2184: “The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.”
In addition to Sundays, the liturgical calendar of the Church includes other festive occasions that are especially worthy of observance by the Christian community. Easily the most familiar of these is the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas! Falling on December 25, Christmas rarely takes place on a Sunday, but it remains a holy day of great significance regardless. The Church presents to us several other such Holy Days of Obligation: Mary, Mother of God (January 1), the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15), All Saints’ Day (November 1), and the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (December 8). The last of these, the Immaculate Conception, is actually the patronal feast day of the United States.
Observing the Lord’s Days at Holy Spirit Preparatory School
In discussing the responsibilities around Sunday, the Code of Canon Law, 1247, also mentions the Holy Days of Obligation:
“On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass. Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.”
The Holy Days of Obligation are of such significance in the life of the Church that they are lived as Sundays; indeed, they are also “the Lord’s Day” in an important way.
Inspired by this theological understanding and the canonical expectations of the Church, Holy Spirit Preparatory School has decided that all of these Holy Days of Obligation should be days off from the routine of the school day. We hope you and your family will be able to enjoy these as days of “relaxation of mind and body” and of worshiping God at Mass. The day before each of these feasts, we hope to offer a vigil Mass at the campus chapel after school, in order to facilitate participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. May God bless the Holy Spirit Prep community and all our families!
Thomas Cole is the Dean of Academics and Chair for the Department of Theology & Humanities at Holy Spirit Preparatory School.