The Catechism of Trent
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.
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) .
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.