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The Sabbath in the light of the Gospel



"Does Christian Sunday worship rightly replace the Sabbath observance?"


1. In the light of the Gospel, what is the significance of the Old Testament sabbath observance?

a. A remembrance of and reverence for the greatness of God's work of Creation:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it. Exodus 20:8-11

"In speaking of the sabbath Scripture recalls creation:"(1)

b. A sign of the covenant between God and Israel

"God entrusted the sabbath to Israel to keep as a sign of the irrevocable covenant. The sabbath is for the Lord, holy and set apart for the praise of God, his work of creation, and his saving actions on behalf of Israel."(2)

c. A memorial of God's freeing of Israel from slavery

You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord you God brought you out thence with mighty hand and outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:15

"Scripture also reveals in the Lord's day a memorial of Israel's liberation from bondage in Egypt."(3)

d. A day of rest, dedicated to the praise of God and a refreshing of man's spirit, and a building up of God's people

The seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Exodus 31:15


2. Which aspects of the sabbath observance are essential, permanent elements and which aspects have been fulfilled and concluded by Christ in the New Covenant?

Several essential elements exist, and take on further significance in view of the Redemption worked by Christ:

a. Reverence for God's work of Creation, particularly the New Creation given birth at the Resurrection.

The Resurrection broadens man's understanding of the significance of God's Creation, for the first Creation was a foreshadowing of the even greater splendor of God's re-Creating the universe in Christ.

b. A sign of the New Covenant established by God in Christ.

Jesus Christ in His life, death and Resurrection, gives the sabbath and the entire Old Covenant its ultimate meaning and fulfillment. The Old Covenant both foreshadowed and was ordered to Christ. In the light of the Resurrection all things, including man's worship of God, are made subject to Christ and serve to glorify Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, for in him all things were created... 1 Colossians 1:15-16

He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. 1 Colossians 1:18

"The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath." Mark 2:27-28

c. A memorial of God's freeing man from the slavery of sin and death.

God's freeing of Israel from her Egyptian captors was given its greatest significance in Christ's freeing of man from slavery to sin and death.

d. A day of rest, dedicated to the praising of God, the refreshing of man's spirit, and the building up of God's people.


3. What supernatural signs did God give the newly formed Church either to confirm ongoing sabbath observance or to inaugurate a new observance?

a. Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday.

b. The risen Christ first appeared to His followers on a Sunday.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead on Sunday, the first day of the week, and appeared first to those who were preparing to anoint his body.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb taking the spices which they had prepared. Luke 24:1

And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Matthew 28:9

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and others.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." John 20:19

c. On the following Sunday, Jesus again appeared to the disciples.

A week later, the disciples were once more in the room, and this time Thomas was with them. Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood before them. "Peace be with you," he said. John 20:26 (NAB)

d. At Emmaus Christ celebrated the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper, on a Sunday.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. Luke 24:30-31

e. Christ gave authority and a multitude of spiritual gifts to His disciples on Sundays.

Jesus empowered the disciples to understand the Scriptures.

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures... Luke 24:45

"Thus it is written that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead on the third day... You are witnesses of this. See, I send down upon you the promise of my Father. Remain here in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." Luke 24:46-49

f. On Sunday Christ gave His disciples the "Great Commission".

He commanded them to preach the Gospel, and promised them His unfailing presence.

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." Matthew 27:18-20

And He gave them the promise of the Holy Spirit and the authority to forgive sins in His name.

Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when he had said this he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." John 20:21-23

And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high. Luke 24:49

g. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on Sunday.

On the seventh Sunday after the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:1-4

h. The first great conversion and baptism of thousands of new believers occurred on Sunday.

Immediately upon receiving the Holy Spirit, Peter gave a powerful address on the Gospel, resulting in the conversion and baptism of many.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. Acts 2:41


4. What was the understanding of the Apostles and the rest of the early Christian Church regarding this matter?

a. Many early converts from Judaism continued for a while to attend the synagogue or temple on the Sabbath. And why not? It was the house of God, and the Old Covenant —fulfilled by the New— was proclaimed and preached in the synagogue and temple. At first there was little or no thought given to separating from the Jews, as many Jews were converting to the new faith.

But this attendance in no way signified that the Apostles or their flock subjected their faith to the requirements of the Old Covenant as interpreted by the Jews. To the contrary! These Jewish converts, as well as their gentile brothers, gathered often daily, but especially on Sundays, for "the apostles' instruction and the communal life, ...the breaking of bread and the prayers." (Acts 2:42).

The New Testament does not provide any evidence that the Apostles instructed believers to continue observance of the weekly sabbath. But it does show that there were explicit teachings regarding the Eucharist and the Agape, both of which were especially celebrated on Sundays. As history testifies, Christians more or less gradually abandoned the synagogue and temple because of the pre-eminent place given every Sunday by that first, glorious Easter Sunday.

b. Much independent historical evidence is available to demonstrate that beginning very early, the early Church gradually replaced the Sabbath observance with Sunday worship.

"Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the sabbath, but the Lord's Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death."(4) St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (c. 35-107)

"We all gather on the day of the sun, for it is the first day [after the Jewish sabbath, but also the first day] when God, separating matter from darkness, made the world; and on this same day Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead."(5) St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165)

"When we ponder, O Christ, the marvels accomplished on this day, the Sunday of your holy resurrection, we say: 'Blessed is Sunday, for on it began creation... the world's salvation... the renewal of the human race... On Sunday heaven and earth rejoiced and the whole universe was filled with light. Blessed is Sunday, for on it were opened the gates of paradise so that Adam and all the exiles might enter it without fear.'"(6)

"The Lord's day, the day of Resurrection, the day of Christians, is our day. It is called the Lord's day because on it the Lord rose victorious to the Father. If pagans call it the "day of the sun," we willingly agree, for today the light of the world is raised, today is revealed the sun of justice with healing in his rays."(7) St. Jerome (c. 342-420)

The faithful in Jerusalem were 'one heart and one soul'. At first they continued to attend the services in the Temple with their neighbors and, following the example of our Lord, also went to the synagogues. But they had their own meetings, too, usually on the first day of the week, where they could worhip God according to their belief in Christ. Besides this, they met frequently, if not daily, in private for the 'breaking of bread', that is, for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which was usually preceded by the Agape, or Love-Feast.(8)

In New Testament times, Sunday replaced the Jewish Sabbath. St. Paul and the Christians of Troas assembled on the first day of the weel "to break bread" (Ac. 20:7), and the apostle bade his converts put by their alms on this day (1 Co. 16:2). St. John called it "the Lord's Day," which the Western Church later translated Dominica, the title still used for Sunday in official ecclesiastical Latin.

The immediate reason for the substitution of Sunday for the Sabbath was to commemorate the Resurrection of Christ from the dead on the first day of the week...

Before the year A.D. 100, we already have record of the Sunday practice of assisting at Mass in the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. It is expressed in mandatory form.(9)

Since the patristic age, Christianity saw in Sunday a weekly commemoration of the new creation—hence the close connection that the Fathers made between Sunday and baptism, and especially between Sunday and the Eucharist, so that St. Augustine in one place uses the word "sacrament" for Sunday, as the one day on which the faithful come into closest contact with the mysteries of Redemption.

It is not surprising that gradually the Church came to legislate attendance at Mass on all Sundays of the year, partly arising from neglect of revealed expectations by the people on the Lord's Day.

While participation in the Eucharist has always been considered the primary Christian responsibility on Sunday, the earliest ecclesiastical and civil laws prescribed the observance of Sunday as a day of rest consecrated especially to the service of God. It was enjoined by the Council of Elvira in Spain (306), and by the Emperor Constantine in a law prmulgated in 321, commanding abstention from work, including legal business, for townspeople, permitting farm labor.(10)


5. What is the teaching of the Church in this century, and does it conform to early Christian practice?

Following the apostolic tradition that originated on the very day of Christ's resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every seventh day, which day is, therefore, rightly called the Lord's Day or Sunday. On this day, Christians must gather together to hear the word of God, to partake of the Eucharist, and, in this way, to call to mind the passion, resurrection, and glory of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God by whom they "have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3). Therefore, Sunday is the first of all feast days, to be presented to and urged upon the faithful as such, so that it may also become a day of gladness and rest from work. Other celebrations, unless they arereally of the very greatest importance, should not take its place, since it is the foundation and nucleus of the whole liturgical year.(11)

The Gospel reports many incidents when Jesus was accused of violating the sabbath law. But Jesus never fails to respect the holiness of this day. He gives the law its authentic and authoritative interpretation: "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27). With compassion, Christ delcares the sabbath for doing good rather than harm, for saving life rather than killing. The sabbath is the day of the Lord of mercies and a day to honor God.(12)

The day of Christ's Resurrection is both the first day of the week, the memorial of the first day of creation, and the "eighth day," on which Christ after his "rest" on the great sabbath inaugurates the "day that the Lord has made," the "day that knows no evening."(13)

Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ:(14)


Personal thoughts...

The seventh-day Sabbath observance found its consummation and completion in the Resurrection. This event, which eclipses even the creation of the universe, follows upon and supercedes the Sabbath. In it the New Creation is brought to light, and in it all things were made new in Christ. Therefore, the "Lord's Day", which commemorates God's completion of the New Creation, replaces the Sabbath, which commemorated the completion of the First Creation.

From the day of the Resurrection the first Christians exulted in the Risen Christ, and commemorated the cause of their joy on that great Sunday and on subsequent Sundays. Easter Sunday and all Sundays testify to the power of God, and to the hope for eternal life shared by the followers of Christ.

The early Church embraced the sign of the Resurrection and understood Sunday to have become the "Lord's Day", on which God is due the most especially profound praises and worship. The source and summit of this new worship from the beginning has been the Eucharist, revealed initially at the Last Supper. On the following Sunday, the day of His Resurrection, Jesus appeared to two of His disciples and again presented this sacred offering.

Ever since that great First Sunday of the New Creation, the Church has never failed to joyfully partake of that holy meal in honor of her divine Husband and His great Easter Sunday.


(1)Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2169.

(2)Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2171.

(3)Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2170.

(4)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Magn. 9, 1: SCh 10, 88.

(5)St. Justin, I Apol. 67: PG 6, 429 and 432.

(6)Fanqîth, The Syriac Office of Antioch, vol. VI, first part of Summer, 193 B. Excerpted from Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1167

(7)St. Jerome, Pasch.: CCL 78, 550.

(8)Laux, Fr. John, Church History, p. 9. Tan Books and Publishers, Rockford, IL. 1989.

(9)Didache, XIV, 1. Hardon, Fr. John, The Catholic Catechism, p. 314. Doubleday, New York, NY. 1981.

(10)Hardon, Fr. John, The Catholic Catechism, p. 315. Doubleday, New York, NY. 1981.

(11)Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Liturgy, V, 106. (from Hardon, The Catholic Catechism, p. 316).

(12)Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2173.

(13)Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1166.

(14)Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2175.