Why Saturday is still a Good Day to Rest. And Why Sunday is More Important
A few years ago, I got into a conversation with the relative of a friend. He had started attending a small church, where the pastor had insisted that Saturday was still the Sabbath, and that we ought not to be celebrating Sunday. While I knew that there were people who had believed this, it’s not a topic I had ever really researched or discussed. As far as I knew, there is no scriptural basis for making Sunday the new Sabbath; rather it was based on the tradition of the early church. So I did what I always did in these situations, I just started looking for the truth as I talked with the gentlemen, in the same way I might solve a math problem. As I was doing this, I realized I partly agreed with him. Allow me to share my thinking
The sabbath observance of the Jews was based upon Genesis Chapter 1, in which God creates the world over six days and rests on the seventh. He creates light on the first day- Sunday, and then creates various other things over the next several days, culminating with the creation of man as male and female in his image and likeness on the sixth day – Friday. This was God’s greatest act of creation (by the way, I take the fact that man was made on Friday as proof that man was made for the weekend.) After all this God rested on the seventh day, not because he needed to, but to set the example for man.
This was story of the first creation of man. However, Christians believe in a the story of the second creation of man, one that occurs in the New Testament. It is the story of Holy Week. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Sunday- the first day- to begin the work of the new creation. On Friday, the 6th day, he did his greatest work in history, the work of the redeeming mankind and all of creation. And then, just like the first story of creation, God rested from his labors on the 7th day, on Saturday, when he lay in the Tomb.
Then there was the another first day of the week. On Easter Sunday, the 8th day, the new 1st day, he rose from the tomb. He did work again. Sunday was not day for rest, but a day for work, but for a particular kind of work. And we celebrate Easter not as a day, but as a week. Thus, if we correspond these weeks to the eras of man found in the Theology of the Body, we see the following.
The Story of Creation in Genesis: Original Man
The Story of Redemption in the Gospels: Historical Man
The Story of the Resurrection and Easter Week: Final (Eschatological Man)
And Tradition bears this out in our understanding of the mass. The Liturgy is literally the work of the people. The people work on Sunday to give glory to God. Of course, Tradition has said that Sunday is the New Sabbath, but as I reflected on it, I though about it, it’s important to understand what that means.
CCC 347 Creation was fashioned with a view to the sabbath and therefore for the worship and adoration of God. Worship is inscribed in the order of creation. As the rule of St. Benedict says, nothing should take precedence over "the work of God", that is, solemn worship. This indicates the right order of human concerns.
CCC 349 The eighth day. But for us a new day has dawned: the day of Christ's Resurrection. the seventh day completes the first creation. the eighth day begins the new creation. Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption. the first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendour of which surpasses that of the first creation
If you have just one day to be free from mundane work to dedicate to God, then it makes sense for Christians to dedicate Sunday as that day instead of Saturday. In this way we say that Sunday is the new Sabbath.
But if we wish to imitate the work of Christ in Holy week, then it would make sense that we would labor until Friday, rest on Saturday, then work for God on Sunday. And since we have two days free, it makes sense to live life this way- to use Saturday as way to rest up for Sunday. That is, even for Christians, Saturday is, in a sense, still the ideal day to rest.
I find it helpful as well to remember the original meaning of work.
As regards bodily labor, even had man never fallen from the state of innocence, he would not have remained wholly idle; but that which would then have been his free choice and his delight became afterwards compulsory, and the painful expiation for his disobedience. (Rerum Novarum 17)
Work was meant not as a means to our daily bread, but the means of our self-expression. The follower in the dance does a great deal of work, but not as drudgery but to express herself, as a source of joy. In the same way the work we do on Sunday ought not to feel as an obligation but as a joy- expressing who we are as the follower of God.
To that end, having a day free from mundane and stressful drudgery before is very helpful. I once had a job that was Monday through Saturday. I would finish at 3 or 4 on Saturday, and it was very difficult to get ready for mass when I did not have enough rest the day before. I would say that a good rest would involve making sure one has enough ample time on Saturday to clear one’s mind and rest one’s body that we make work with abandon to celebrate God on Sunday,as well as time to plan on reflect on how we will spend that day glorifying God. So I am not in the least suggesting that we change what we do, save perhaps prepare more faithfully for the work of Sunday by making Saturday a day of rest.