This Commandment of the Law rightly and in due order prescribes the external worship which we owe to God; for it is, as it were, a consequence of the preceding Commandment. For if we sincerely and devoutly worship God, guided by the faith and hope we have in Him, we cannot but honour Him with external worship and thanksgiving. Now since we cannot easily discharge these duties while occupied in worldly affairs, a certain fixed time has been set aside so that it may be conveniently performed.
The observance of this Commandment is attended with wondrous fruit and advantage. Hence it is of the highest importance for the pastor to use the utmost diligence in its exposition. The word Remembers with which the Commandment commences, must animate him to zeal in this matter; for if the faithful are bound to remember this Commandment, it becomes the duty of the pastor to recall it frequently to their minds in exhortation and instruction.
The importance of its observance for the faithful may be inferred from the consideration that those who carefully comply with it are more easily induced to keep all the other Commandments. For among the other works which are necessary on holydays, the faithful are bound to assemble in the church to hear the Word of God. When they have thus learned the divine justifications, they will be disposed to observe, with their whole heart, the law of the Lord. Hence the sanctification and observance of the Sabbath is very often commanded in Scripture, as may be seen in Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and in the prophecies of Isaias, Jeremias," and Ezechiel, all of which contain this precept on the observance of the Sabbath.
Rulers and magistrates should be admonished and exhorted to lend the sanction and support of their authority to the pastors of the Church, particularly in upholding and extending the worship of God, and in commanding obedience to the injunctions of the priests.
With regard to the exposition of this Commandment, the faithful are carefully to be taught how it agrees with, and how it differs from the others, in order that they may understand why we observe and keep holy not Saturday but Sunday.
The point of difference is evident. The other Commandments of the Decalogue are precepts of the natural law, obligatory at all times and unalterable. Hence, after the abrogation of the Law of Moses, all the Commandments contained in the two tables are observed by Christians, not indeed because their observance is commanded by Moses, but because they are in conformity with nature which dictates obedience to them.
This Commandment about the observance of the Sabbath, on the other hand, considered as to the time appointed for its fulfilment, is not fixed and unalterable, but susceptible of change, and belongs not to the moral, but the ceremonial law. Neither is it a principle of the natural law; we are not instructed by nature to give external worship to God on that day, rather than on any other. And in fact the Sabbath was kept holy only from the time of the liberation of the people of Israel from the bondage of Pharaoh. The observance of the Sabbath was to be abrogated at the same time as the other Hebrew rites and ceremonies, that is, at the death of Christ. Having been, as it were, images which foreshadowed the light and the truth, these ceremonies were to disappear at the coming of that light and truth, which is Jesus Christ. Hence St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, when reproving the observers of the Mosaic rites, says: You observe days and months and times and years; I am afraid of you lest perhaps I have laboured in vain amongst you. And he writes to the same effect to the Colossians.
So much regarding the difference (between this and the other Commandments) .
This Commandment is like the others, not in so far as it is a precept of the ceremonial law, but only as it is a natural and moral precept. The worship of God and the practice of religion, which it comprises, have the natural law for their basis. Nature prompts us to give some time to the worship of God. This is demonstrated by the fact that we find among all nations public festivals consecrated to the solemnities of religion and divine worship.
As nature requires some time to be given to necessary functions of the body, to sleep, repose and the like, so she also requires that some time be devoted to the mind, to refresh itself by the contemplation of God. Hence, since some time should be devoted to the worship of the Deity and to the practice of religion, this (Commandment) doubtless forms part of the moral law.
The Apostles therefore resolved to consecrate the first day of the week to the divine worship, and called it the Lord's day. St. John in the Apocalypse makes mention of the Lord's day; and the Apostle commands collections to be made on the first day of the week, that is, according to the interpretation of St. Chrysostom, on the Lord's day. From all this we learn that even then the Lord's day was kept holy in the Church.
In order that the faithful may know what they are to do and what to avoid on the Lord's day, it will not be foreign to his purpose, if the pastor, dividing the Commandment into its four natural parts, explain each word of it carefully.
In the first place, then, he should explain generally the meaning of these words: Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day.
The word remember is appropriately made use of at the beginning of the Commandment to signify that the sanctification of that particular day belonged to the ceremonial law. Of this it would seem to have been necessary to remind the people; for, although the law of nature commands us to devote a certain portion of time to the external worship to God, it fixes no particular day for the performance of this duty.
They are also to be taught, that from these words we may learn how we should employ our time during the week; that we are to keep constantly in view the Lord's day, on which we are, as it were, to render an account to God for our occupations and conduct; and that therefore our works should be such as not to be unacceptable in the sight of God, or, as it is written, be to us an occasion of grief, and a scruple of heart.
Finally, we are taught, and the instruction demands our serious attention, that there will not be wanting occasions which may lead to a forgetfulness of this Commandment, such as the evil example of others who neglect its observance, and an inordinate love of amusements and sports, which frequently withdraw from the holy and religious observance of the Lord's day.
We now come to the meaning of the word sabbath. Sabbath is a Hebrew word which signifies cessation. To keep the Sabbath, therefore, means to cease from labor and to rest. In this sense the seventh day was called the Sabbath, because God, having finished the creation of the world, rested on that day from all the work which He had done. Thus it is called by the Lord in Exodus.
Later on, not only the seventh day, but, in honour of that day, the entire week was called by the same name; and in this meaning of the word, the Pharisee says in St. Luke: I fast twice in a sabbath. So much will suffice with regard to the signification of the word sabbath.
In the Scriptures keeping holy the Sabbath means a cessation from bodily labor and from business, as is clear from the following words of the Commandment: Thou shalt do no work on it. But this is not all that it means; otherwise it would have been sufficient to say in Deuteronomy, Observe the day of the sabbath; but it is added, and sanctify it; and these additional words prove that the Sabbath is a day sacred to religion, set apart for works of piety and devotion.
We sanctify the Sabbath fully and perfectly, therefore, when we offer to God works of piety and religion. This is evidently the Sabbath, which Isaias calls delightful; for festivals are, as it were, the delight of God and of pious men. And if to this religious and holy observance of the Sabbath we add works of mercy, the rewards promised us in the same chapter are numerous and most important.
The true and proper meaning, therefore, of this Commandment tends to this, that we take special care to set apart some fixed time, when, disengaged from bodily labor and worldly affairs, we may devote our whole being, soul and body, to the religious veneration of God.
The second part of the precept declares that the seventh day was consecrated by God to His worship; for it is written: Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy works; but on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God. From these words we learn that the Sabbath is consecrated to the Lord, that we are required on that day to render Him the duties of religion, and to know that the seventh day is a sign of the Lord's rest.
This particular day was fixed for the worship of God, because it would not have been well to leave to a rude people the choice of a time of worship, lest, perhaps, they might have imitated the festivals of the Egyptians.
The last day of the week was, therefore, chosen for the worship of God, and in this there is much that is symbolic. Hence in Exodus,' and in Ezechiel the Lord calls it a sign: See that you keep my sabbath because it is a sign between me and you in your generation, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctify you.
It was a sign that man should dedicate and sanctify himself to God, since even the very day is devoted to Him. For the holiness of the day consists in this, that on it men are bound in a special manner to practice holiness and religion.
It was also a sign, and, as it were, a memorial of the stupendous work of the creation. Furthermore, to the Jews it was a traditional sign, reminding them that they had been delivered by the help of God from the galling yoke of Egyptian bondage. This the Lord Himself declares in these words: Remember that thou also didst serve in Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out from thence with a strong hand and a stretched out arm. Therefore hath he commanded thee that thou shouldst observe the sabbath day.
It is also a sign of a spiritual and celestial sabbath. The spiritual sabbath consists in a holy and mystical rest, wherein the old man being buried with Christ, is renewed to life and carefully applies himself to act in accordance with the spirit of Christian piety. For those who were once darkness but are now light in the Lord, should walk as children of the light, in all goodness and justice and truth, having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness.
The celestial sabbath, as St. Cyril observes on these words of the Apostle, There remaineth therefore a day of rest for the people of God, is that life in which, living with Christ, we shall enjoy all good, when sin shall be eradicated, according to the words: No lion shall be there, nor shall any mischievous beast go up by it, nor be found there; but a path shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way; for in the vision of God the souls of the Saints obtain every good. The pastor therefore should exhort and animate the faithful in the words: Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest.
Besides the seventh day, the Jews observed other festivals and holydays, instituted by the divine law to awaken the recollection of the principal favours (conferred on them by the Almighty).
But the Church of God has thought it well to transfer the celebration and observance of the Sabbath to Sunday.
For, as on that day light first shone on the world, so by the Resurrection of our Redeemer on the same day, by whom was thrown open to us the gate to eternal life, we were called out of darkness into light; and hence the Apostles would have it called the Lord's day.
We also learn from the Sacred Scriptures that the first day of the week was held sacred because on that day the work of creation commenced, and on that day the Holy Ghost was given to the Apostles.
From the very infancy of the Church and in the following centuries other days were also appointed by the Apostles and the holy Fathers, in order to commemorate the benefits bestowed by God. Among these days to be kept sacred the most solemn are those which were instituted to honour the mysteries of our redemption. In the next place are the days which are dedicated to the most Blessed Virgin Mother, to the Apostles, Martyrs and other Saints who reign with Christ. In the celebration of their victories the divine power and goodness are praised, due honour is paid to their memories, and the faithful are encouraged to imitate them.
And as the observance of the precept is very strongly assisted by these words: Six days shalt thou labour, but on the seventh day is the sabbath of God, the pastor should therefore carefully explain them to the people. For from these words it can be gathered that the faithful are to be exhorted not to spend their lives in indolence and sloth, but that each one, mindful of the words of the Apostle, should do his own business, and work with his own hands, as he had commanded them.
These words also enjoin as a duty commanded by God that in six days we do all our works, lest we defer to a festival what should have been done during the other days of the week, thereby distracting the attention from the things of God.
The third part of the Commandment comes next to be explained. It points out, to a certain extent, the manner in which we are to keep holy the Sabbath day, and explains particularly what we are forbidden to do on that day.
Thou shalt do no work on it, says the Lord, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.
These words teach us, in the first place, to avoid whatever may interfere with the worship of God. Hence it is not difficult to perceive that all servile works are forbidden, not because they are improper or evil in themselves, but because they withdraw the attention from the worship of God, which is the great end of the Commandment.
The faithful should be still more careful to avoid sin, which not only withdraws the mind from the contemplation of divine things, but entirely alienates us from the love of God.
But whatever regards the celebration of divine worship, such as the decoration of the altar or church on occasion of some festival, and the like, although servile works, are not prohibited; and hence our Lord says: The priests in the temple break the sabbath, and are without blame.
Neither are we to suppose that this Commandment forbids attention to those things on a feast day, which, if neglected, will be lost; for this is expressly permitted by the sacred canons.
There are many other things which our Lord in the Gospel declares lawful on festivals and which may be seen by the pastor in St. Matthew and St. John.
To omit nothing that may interfere with the sanctification of the Sabbath, the Commandment mentions beasts of burden, because their use will prevent its due observance. If beasts be employed on the Sabbath, human labor also becomes necessary to direct them; for they do not labor alone, but assist the labours of man. Now it is not lawful for man to work on that day. Hence it is not lawful for the animals to work which man uses.
But the Commandment has also another purpose. For. if God commands the exemption of cattle from labor on the Sabbath, still more imperative is the obligation to avoid all acts of inhumanity towards servants, or others whose labor and industry we employ.
The pastor should also not omit carefully to teach what works and actions Christians should perform on festival days. These are: to go to church, and there, with heartfelt piety and devotion, to assist at the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; and to approach frequently the Sacraments of the Church, instituted for our salvation in order to obtain a remedy for the wounds of the soul.
Nothing can be more seasonable or salutary for Christians than frequent recourse to confession; and to this the pastor will be enabled to exhort the faithful by using the instructions and proofs which have been explained in their own place on the Sacrament of Penance.
But not only should he urge his people to have recourse to that Sacrament, he should also zealously exhort them again and again to approach frequently the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The faithful should also listen with attention and reverence to sermons. Nothing is more intolerable, nothing more unworthy than to despise the words of Christ, or hear them with indifference.
Likewise the faithful should give themselves to frequent prayer and the praises of God; and an object of their special attention should be to learn those things which pertain to a Christian life, and to practice with care the duties of piety, such as giving alms to the poor and needy, visiting the sick, and administering consolation to the sorrowful and afflicted. Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this, says St. James, to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation.
From what has been said it is easy to perceive how this Commandment may be violated.
It is also a duty of the pastor to have ready at hand certain main arguments by which he may especially persuade the people to observe this Commandment with all zeal and the greatest exactitude.
To the attainment of this end it will materially conduce, if the people understand and clearly see how just and reasonable it is to devote certain days exclusively to the worship of God in order to acknowledge, adore, and venerate our Lord from whom we have received such innumerable and inestimable blessings.
Had He commanded us to offer Him every day the tribute of religious worship, would it not be our duty, in return for His inestimable and infinite benefits towards us, to endeavour to obey the command with promptitude and alacrity? But now that the days consecrated to His worship are but few, there is no excuse for neglecting or reluctantly performing this duty, which moreover obliges under grave sin.
The pastor should next point out the excellence of this precept. Those who are faithful in its observance are admitted, as it were, into the divine presence to speak freely with God; for in prayer we contemplate the divine majesty, and commune with Him; in hearing religious instruction, we hear the voice of God, which reaches us through the agency of those who devoutly preach on divine things; and at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we adore Christ the Lord, present on our altars. Such are the blessings which they preeminently enjoy who faithfully observe this Commandment.
But those who altogether neglect its fulfilment resist God and His Church; they heed not God's command, and are enemies of Him and His holy laws, of which the easiness of the command is itself a proof. We should, it is true, be prepared to undergo the severest labor for the sake of God; but in this Commandment He imposes on us no labor; He only commands us to rest and disengage ourselves from worldly cares on those days which are to be kept holy. To refuse obedience to this Commandment is, therefore, a proof of extreme boldness; and the punishments with which its infraction has been visited by God, as we learn from the Book of Numbers,' should be a warning to us.
In order, therefore, to avoid offending God in this way, we should frequently ponder this word: Remember, and should place before our minds the important advantages and blessings which, as we have already seen, flow from the religious observance of holydays, and also numerous other considerations of the same tendency, which the good and zealous pastor should develop at considerable length to his people as circumstances may require.