A mother and her toddler attend Mass at Toronto's St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica Sep. 30, 2016. Photo by Michael Swan

Angela Saldanha: What happened to Sabbath day?

By  Angela Saldanha, Guest Columnist
  • March 4, 2019

My daughter, skyping from her home in Switzerland, remarked how quiet it was.  Very little traffic about, she said — all shops shut.

Why? I asked. On Thursday?

Ascension Thursday, mom. Holy Day of Obligation. 

My mind zipped back to school days and what we kids irreverently termed, “A day of Ob.” Missing Mass on those days, said the nuns, meant mortal sin.

There used to be 36 of these days. Pope Pius reduced them to 10. In Canada there are now only two besides Sunday: Christmas and the Jan. 1 Feast of Mary, Mother of God. Other feasts are observed on the nearest Sunday. Unhappily, Sunday Mass attendance for many is no longer seen as an obligation. Sunday is a holiday, not necessarily a Holy Day.

Yet the Sabbath is a day set apart by God. He Himself rested from His labours on the seventh day.  Deuteronomy says: “Keep the Sabbath day to make it holy as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour. … But the seventh is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall do no work.”

Refraining from work makes time for worship. Time to rest weary bodies and minds. Theologian Marva J. Dawn spoke of keeping the Sabbath “wholly.” Not just go-to-Mass-and-that’s-it, but treat the whole day as the special day it is.

Old Testament laws regarding Sabbath observance were strict. Not only was work forbidden for man and beast, so was travel “beyond a Sabbath Day’s journey.” So was “idle talking!” This requirement for rest was extended even to the land — every seventh year, fields were left fallow, so the Earth could rest and renew itself.

In childhood, I loved Sundays. I didn’t fully appreciate the Latin Mass, but I never missed it. A Sunday that didn’t begin with church just didn’t feel right. 

I’d finish homework on Saturday and relish the freedom to “wholly” enjoy Sunday. Lunch was always special — roast duck (home-reared) or a succulent squab. After lunch, mom, dad, siblings and I would squeeze into the little old convertible that leaked when it rained, and head off into the countryside. We’d cruise past fields of sugarcane, past the lake with the snorting water buffaloes, past the Parsi Tower of Silence with the circling vultures. We’d climb our favourite hill; picnic, fly kites. 

Sometimes, instead of picnicking, we’d go visiting. Sunday was, still is, a good day for connecting with friends and family.

When the kids were young, Sunday was Family Day.  Afternoons would be spent visiting relatives or playing family games. (Remember Monopoly, anyone?) Desmond and I still observe our decades-old tradition of Sunday afternoon Scrabble.

How have we allowed such a good thing to get away from us? When did Sabbath observance cease to be seen as obligatory? When did going to Mass get replaced by going to the mall?   

In times past, even the busiest of us managed to get groceries done on the other six days. We just had to — there was no option. We got essential chores done, too, so that we could rest on the Sabbath. Now, we’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded that the only day we have for shopping and “doing stuff” is Sunday.

And we’re immeasurably the poorer for it. Back to Monday routine, without a real break, we’re exhausted physically, mentally, spiritually.   

For many, a work-free Sunday is simply out of the question. But maybe, if we examine the day closely, we might find there’s the possibility of salvaging at least a part of it. A mini Sabbath is better than no Sabbath at all, if we make the effort to do something special with those hours. Let the laundry wait, and the mall. Do something with family or friends, something we don’t normally find time for on weekdays. Go visiting. Play games. Walk in the woods. Listen to the birds.

Listen to the kids!

God’s commandment to “Do no work” exists for good reason. Sabbath matters. Strive to keep it as wholly and as holy as you can. 

And — thank God it’s Sunday!

(Saldanha is a writer who lives in Brechin, Ont.)

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