Dear Fr. Leo,
Do we worship on Sunday because that is the day that Our Lord rose from the dead? In rising from the dead, did he cancel the Old Testament practice of observing the Sabbath on Saturdays? Is that why we call it the Lord’s Day? – S
These are three good questions. I’ll take the first and third together and then the second.
It helps to remember that the first Christians were all Jewish. First-century Judaism was a very heterogeneous thing.
There were many parties within the Jewish household, including the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Essenes, the Zealots, and yes, even the Christians. In fact, we read in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline letters that many Christians, St. Paul included, were Pharisees. For quite some time, early Christians remained good, practicing Jews. Thus, they would go to synagogue on Saturday and, in addition, would gather to share their stories, break the bread, and were sent out to live and proclaim the resurrection. They celebrated this on Sunday precisely because that was the day on which the resurrection took place. The appellation of Sunday as “The Lord’s Day” came later as a matter of course.
It would be a bit of a stretch to say that Jesus canceled the Old Testament practice of celebrating the Sabbath on Saturday by rising from the dead. In point of fact, observant Jews still do so. Instead, over time it became increasingly difficult for Christians to remain within the Jewish household of faith for two reasons.
First, the doctrine of the Trinity was perceived as an expansion of monotheism which was incompatible with Jewish thought.
They just couldn’t wrap their head around the doctrine of the Trinity.
Second, one of the thorniest questions that plagued the early Church was whether or not a Gentile had to become Jewish in order to become Christian.
The question was settled at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). The Apostles ruled that no such burden should be placed on them, but that they should “abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.” (Acts 15:29) With the acceptance of the Gentiles into the Church without restricting them to the requirements of the Mosaic Law, eventually Jewish Christians found themselves no longer welcome at the synagogue. This did not happen all at once, but the split had become definitive by the time the Gospel of John was written.
Dear Fr. Leo,
Recently a friend of mine had the priest come over and bless their new home. I had never thought about that before. I can understand blessing churches and shrines and such, but why houses? – P
In the Church, we sanctify (“bless”) three primary things: people, time, and places.
To sanctify someone or something means that that person, place, or thing is dedicated to God. For example, we sanctify people through Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony, and religious profession. We sanctify some people in the Church so that all people in the Church can be holy. Likewise, the Church is sanctified as the holy People of God so that all humanity can be holy.
In the same way, we sanctify time. We have holy seasons (Advent, Lent, Christmas, Easter), Holy Week, holy days (The Lord’s Day), holy hours, etc. We set aside specific times for God so that all time can be holy.
Finally, we sanctify places. We set aside churches, shrines, chapels, and especially homes. Why? Because it is in the home that the Church exists first and in its most basic form.
If it’s not happening at home, what we do in Mass on Sunday will have only a limited effect. By blessing the home, we make sure the family affirms that their home is a holy place, a place of prayer and of sacrifices of daily life that make us a priestly people.
The advice I give to families is to sanctify what the Church sanctifies. As people dedicated to God, set aside sacred time and sacred space within the home. Set a specific time each day when the whole family gathers for prayer. I suggest right after dinner. In the same way, set aside sacred space. You have a place to eat, sleep, watch TV, perhaps even a home office and a workout room. Where does individual and family prayer take place? Get creative. Keep it simple. By setting aside a little time, all the time in the home becomes holy. By setting aside a special place for prayer, the entire home becomes a sacred dwelling.
Got a question about the Church or the Faith? Fr. Leo Walsh, JCL, STD, is your local canon lawyer and theologian. He currently serves in the Archdiocese as Judicial Vicar and Pastor of St. Patrick’s in Anchorage. Email your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org.