In 1998 Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic letter Dies Domini on keeping the Lord’s Day holy. The aim of the Letter is not just to increase Sunday Mass attendance but also to encourage the faithful to observe the whole of Sunday “with conviction of soul” and to live the day “in all its depth” (30).
The Letter explains the relationship between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Sunday. Christians are urged to gather for worship, as Christ’s followers have done for nearly 2000 years, to be nourished at the table of the word and the table of the eucharist.
This lengthy missive contains enough material for weeks of preaching and spiritual reflection. This brief overview of its five chapters indicates some of the key issues dealt with.
· The Day of the Lord speaks of God’s work of creation and of the Sabbath as the day on which God takes joyous delight in all of creation. The universe and history belong to God. The God of creation is also the God of Exodus, and the crowning event in the divine plan of salvation is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus the Sabbath passes over to Sunday as the day for remembering God’s wondrous deeds.
· The Day of Christ is our weekly Easter, the day of resurrection. Thus Sunday is also the day of the new creation and, as the eighth day, an image of the age to come. As ‘sun-day’, it draws attention to Christ, light of the world, and to the fire of the Holy Spirit. It is the day of faith.
· The Day of the Church refers to the day when the Church assembles for the celebration of eucharist. In the Sunday eucharist, Christians participate in the paschal mystery, and the mystery of the Church is made present. The Sunday eucharistic assembly is a sacrament of unity and should not be fragmented into separate groups, movements or associations. The experience of communion with Christ and our brothers and sisters sends us out to evangelise and bear witness. Because of the links between Sunday, eucharist, resurrection, and Church, participation in the Sunday Mass is an obligation. Where the absence of a priest prevents eucharist, it is still recommended that the faithful assemble on Sunday.
· The Human Day looks at Sunday as a day of joy and rest from work: the right of workers to rest presupposes their right to work! It is also a day of solidarity, suitable for works of mercy, charity and the apostolate.
· The Day of Days evokes the sweep of time which begins and ends in Christ, the Alpha and Omega. The annual cycle of the liturgical year is based on the rhythm of Sundays.
The Letter concludes: “May the men and women of the third millennium come to know the risen Christ… and be ever more effective in building the civilisation of love” (87).