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From the bishop: April 2014 FAITH Grand Rapids column

Keep Holy the Lord’s Day

My dear friends,

When I was a child, Sunday was a special day. Catholics — 65 percent to 70 percent of them — went to church on Sunday morning (there were no Saturday Vigil Masses). We dressed in “our Sunday best.” Churches were packed. Sunday afternoon was a great time to play or read a book (or do homework — ugh). But on many Sundays our family would travel to be with other relatives for dinner, or our family would entertain them. Children got to see grandparents, aunts and uncles, and play with their cousins.
The word Sabbath in Hebrew means “rest.” In the Jewish law, it was the seventh day of the week, or Saturday, and a day of religious worship. Among Christians, it is recognized as a day of rest and worship or the first day of the week, Sunday. Fifty or sixty years ago, it was generally accepted that God had asked us to make one day holy, to set aside one day of the week to give him the worship and the priority that is his due, to join together to pray with other Catholics in fulfilling this duty and to rest and renew ourselves spiritually, mentally and physically. Stores, banks, businesses and libraries were closed. Only drugstores remained open. It was unthinkable to do laundry or housecleaning, wash the car or cut the grass. Today’s Church law still affirms these values by stating that Catholics “are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.” (Code of Canon Law, canon 1247)

Nowadays, though, Sunday seems like just another day. People are busy doing work and chores. Parking lots at supermarkets and shopping malls are filled with cars. More Americans work at their jobs on Sunday than ever before. Few families have time for family dinners, visiting with grandparents or playing with cousins. Fewer Catholics see Sunday as a day of rendering worship to God or a day for rest.

Times have changed. Parents try to balance work demands with family time and obligations. Children are busier than ever before: school, music, art, Scouts and so on. Child and teen sports games and practices often conflict with Sunday Mass and encroach more and more on the Lord’s Day. Sunday has become another day for catching up on errands and chores. There are also more subjective reasons: I’m tired; I don’t feel like going; Mass is boring; the music and homilies are poor; the parish is not welcoming; I can pray just as well at home or outdoors; missing Mass is not a serious sin anymore.

Without responding directly to the considerations listed above, I would like to offer some positive reasons for going to Mass. One reason would be the Third Commandment: “Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” We might say that God has “wired” us human beings for worship. God has inscribed upon our hearts the duty, even the desire, to render to public, outward, regular worship as a sign that we ac-knowledge that God matters to us — that he is in charge. Going to Mass helps to reinforce this perspective in our lives.

Second, at the Last Supper when Jesus instituted the Eucharist, he said, “Do this in memory of me.” When we go to Mass we are doing what Jesus commanded. It is a command to offer our love and ourselves with Christ to the Father, and to receive the Father’s love in return. We receive Christ’s body and blood, whole and entire, soul and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine. The Eucharist is the bread of life, the food for our journey in faith. It unites us with Christ and with each other, helps us grow as disciples, cleanses us from sin and gives us a foretaste of the future life and glory to come.

Third, at Mass we hear proclaimed the word of God himself. God created each of us out of love, and he has a special message for us. When we listen to the readings, the homily and the prayers at Mass, God is able to speak to us the words we need to hear, words that can change our lives in a profound way.

Fourth, at Mass we experience Jesus through others who believe as we do. He is present in the congregation, as he promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt. 18:20) We give support and encouragement to each other as we pray and worship God together, so that we might go forth and live out the Gospel. The Mass brings us together in the Body of Christ and helps us to see that we are not alone in witnessing to our Catholic faith.

I could go on, but the point is this: The Mass offers union with Jesus Christ in so many wonderful ways! It offers spiritual support and nourishment, divine wisdom, a purpose to life and the pledge of a life that will never end. May Sunday, the Lord’s Day, help us “tend” the spiritual side of our lives, give thanks to God for his blessings and draw us closer to the Lord!

Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend David J. Walkowiak

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