How Sunday came to be the Lord’s Day
By Father Jim Baron
“We celebrate Sunday because of the venerable resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we do so not only at Easter but also at each turning of the week.” — Pope Innocent I
This Sunday we celebrate the Feast of the Resurrection of the Lord, also known as Easter. This is the most important celebration of the Christian year because in this we celebrate the Paschal Mystery: Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection from the dead. It is this solemnity that makes every other celebration meaningful. Christmas, All Souls, the Annunciation, and every other holy day draws its significance from the fact that Jesus rose victorious from the grave. Without Easter, nothing shines so brightly. With Easter, every joy and hope is given unbounded significance. Easter Sunday is the point of reference for the entire year, because that first Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead is the point of reference for all of history.
In the book of Genesis, we see creation happen within a biblical framework of seven days. This seven-day week is how the people of God ordered their lives. God began his creation on the first day, and himself rested on the seventh day or Sabbath. We know that Jesus was crucified and died on a Friday. His body was placed in a tomb and rested there on the Sabbath, Saturday. This is important. As God rested on that first Sabbath, God Incarnate rested again in death on that day of the week. But he then rose from that “sleep” the very next day. But Jesus rose to a new way of living ushering in a new creation. What had been the first day of the week, the day of the first creation, is now also the eighth day of the new creation. (This is why baptismal fonts have traditionally had eight sides, as a reminder that in baptism we die and rise with Christ, therefore we are made a new creature.)
In his Apostolic Letter “Dies Domini,” Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “Although the Lord’s Day is rooted in the very work of creation and even more in the mystery of the biblical “rest” of God, it is nonetheless to the resurrection of Christ that we must look in order to understand fully the Lord’s Day. This is what the Christian Sunday does, leading the faithful each week to ponder and live the event of Easter, true source of the world’s salvation.” (n. 19).
In addition to the Lord Jesus’ resurrection from the dead happening on the first day of the week, so also his appearance to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, his reappearance exactly a week later with Thomas and the rest of the apostles, and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Christians immediately began observing Sunday as a day of great significance and therefore set apart from the rest of the week, which itself is an important thing to remember. Sunday as part of the weekend did not always exist. It only became a day off of work because Christians started to live it differently. They started to live this day differently because it is the day Jesus rose from the dead and ushered in a new creation.
Even when the public calendars of the Greeks and Romans did not make gathering for the Mass easy, they would meet before sunrise in order to offer worship to God and participate in the feast of our redemption. In short order, Sunday became the point of reference for the rest of the week and a full day of thanksgiving, praise, mercy, and rest.
Lest all of this become just an intellectual abstraction, it is important that we do things to set these feast days apart — Easter and the Sundays throughout the year — and make them stand out. It is not just enough to “know” that these are important days. We have to “feel” their importance as well. This is part of the importance of feasting — our mouths on good food, our ears on good music, our eyes on beautiful art, our hearts on the goodness of family and friends. These things not only express our joy, they also shape our subconscious and engage us more deeply in the joy of what we celebrate.
There are many beautiful traditions that touch this reality. These cultural and familial points of reference add much to how we extend the mysteries we celebrate into the history of our lives. Painting eggs, gathering with loved ones, decorating with flowers, singing old songs, enjoying delicious foods, all have a place especially in the celebration of Easter. Jesus rose in the flesh and we look forward to the resurrection of our bodies. We enjoy bodily goods in such a way we get even a small taste of the joys of heaven.
May this Easter Sunday, the entire Easter season (50 days, even longer than Lent!), and every Sunday throughout the year be filled with great joy in the Risen Lord Jesus!
(Father Jim Baron is Director of Mission and Strategic Planning for the Diocese of Colorado Springs.)