Keeping Sunday holy during the pandemic
Today’s Catholic, Truth in Charity Column
Since apostolic times, Sunday has been considered “the Lord’s Day.” It is the day of Christ’s resurrection, “a weekly Easter,” in which we celebrate Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is the fundamental feast day of the Church. We have the duty to keep Sunday holy in obedience to the third commandment of the Decalogue: “Remember the Sabbath day in order to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The meaning of this precept was perfected when the Sabbath was moved to Sunday, the first day of the week, because of the Resurrection of our Lord.
The heart of our observance of the Lord’s Day is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Catechism teaches that “the Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and his Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life” (#2177). It was difficult for Catholics throughout the world when public liturgies were suspended this past spring. It is still difficult for millions of Catholics in various areas throughout the world who do not have the possibility to attend Sunday Mass because of a shortage of priests. They often gather on Sundays for Liturgies of the Word and rejoice when a missionary priest visits and celebrates Holy Mass for them. In the meantime, they strive to keep Sunday holy through prayer, charity, Christian fraternity and rest from labor.
We are blessed in our diocese and in most of our country to have Sunday Mass available because of a sufficient number of priests. Too often, we can take this blessing for granted. During the two months without Sunday Masses, I think many learned to appreciate this blessing even more. Even though the faithful are still dispensed from the Sunday Mass obligation because of the pandemic, so many choose to attend Sunday Mass, to worship God and to encounter the Risen Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Many have expressed gratitude that they are able to do so because of the precautions in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at our Sunday assemblies.
We bishops of Indiana had intended to modify the dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation on November, but we felt it was necessary to continue the dispensation as-is because of the rise of Covid cases in our state. This dispensation is in effect particularly for the protection of those most vulnerable to serious, life-threatening risks if they were to be infected. It is also given particularly for those who care for, or live with, these vulnerable individuals. There is also the concern that some parishes would have difficulty accommodating larger numbers of people while maintaining the necessary physical distancing in our churches. Thanks to the precautions we are taking and the cooperation of those attending Mass, I do not know of any virus-spread in our Catholic churches. The spread at church services in our diocese have taken place at non-Catholic churches where the precautions of mask-wearing and physical-distancing have not been required.
Some of the faithful have decided to attend Mass on another day of the week, rather than Sunday, since there are fewer people in attendance and, therefore, less risk. Many others availing themselves of the dispensation watch Sunday Mass live-streamed or on television. I encourage all who are not attending Sunday Mass in person during this time to participate in livestreamed or televised Masses, if possible, and to make a “spiritual communion.”
It is important that all Catholics keep holy the Lord’s Day. Sunday should be a day primarily dedicated to God. Those availing themselves of the dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation are still obliged to keep Sunday holy by means of prayer. For example, besides watching the above-mentioned Masses, individuals and/or families can pray with the Sunday readings, recite the holy rosary, or pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
We also keep Sunday holy by works of charity and abstention from work incompatible with the sanctification of the Lord’s day. It is a day of rest. It is a good day to relax with family and friends. It is a good day to enjoy more the beauties and wonders of nature. Some enjoy going for a walk and appreciating more the gift of God’s creation.
The observance of Sunday is not only an obligation, but it is also, as St. John Paul II taught, “a need arising from the depths of Christian life.” He described Sunday as “an indispensable element of our Christian identity.” We must all try to resist the temptation to treat Sunday like any other day of the week. We need to worship God, to rest and to celebrate joyfully our salvation in Christ. We need to be renewed by the weekly commemoration of Easter.