It is not what we often make it out to be - a day of self-centered amusement, boredom or sloth. Guardini warns us that we must "understand what is at stake and realize its value for us . . ." Does our understanding of it go beyond the natural rest and slumber that renews life and rise to the Divine Repose of Love and become truly a response to the invitation "Come to Me . . . and I will give you rest"?
THE HOLY place, set apart from the rest of the world, came into being when God’s Son appeared on earth: when He was conceived in Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, lived among us in Palestine and in such a manner that it could be said: “There He is; there He goes.” Is there perhaps a holy time as well?
Again it is a question of a time not of man’s making. There exists no deed, no experience, no dedication by which man of himself can so sanctify a day or an hour that it becomes holy in God’s sight. God alone can sanctify a period of time by personally entering into it. I am “in time” because I live and unfold in time, act in it, experience destiny; but are such things conceivable of God? Our answer is spontaneous; it is “No.” God lives not only forever, but eternally; His life has nothing to do with time. He neither grows nor declines. develops nor changes all that would involve time but realizes His infinite essence wholly and perfectly in purest actuality. He did create time, as He created everything else that exists; more correctly, He created the world, which exists in time. Thus He is present in all time, in its smallest as in its largest fraction: in the day, hour, minute; in the infinitesimally brief flashes known to physicists, as well as in years, centuries, millennia and those no longer conceivable masses of time in which astronomers reckon. God fills them all, and no one period is holier than another. What is decisive is whether the universally governing sanctity of God is able to step to the fore in a specific instance, moving men and engraving itself into the historical memory.
We are not concerned here with the problem just stated. Such a “holy hour” could appear at any time: in the evolution of nature; in the relations between members of a family; in history. When the liturgy speaks of sacred time it means something specific, similar to the specificity of the sacred place. What it is, however, only revelation can say. And it does say, with all clarity: one of the seven days of the week is sacred to God, the day on which He “rested” after creating the universe.
The message given us by revelation is meant to be taken realistically. It signifies something mysterious, yes, but also something explicit. In the Book of Genesis God’s handiwork is described as being completed in the course of a week. Six days long God creates; on the seventh He rests. The biblical report has nothing to do with the question: when, in what period did the stars, plants, animals come into existence? “Week” does not signify a period of time in the ordinary sense of the word; it is rather a symbol for the wise, humanly intelligible order in which creation took place. But over and above this, the word “week” means something very precise: from the earliest beginnings of the world God arranged its seven days in such a fashion as to allow man six for his work; the seventh, however, He reserved for Himself, setting it apart because “on this day,” having completed creation, He entered into His rest.
The holiness of the Sabbath does not stem, then, from man’s repose. It is not a natural part of the rhythm of life: the idea, for instance, that man is bound, oppressed by his duties and objectives for six days and that on the seventh he is free to devote himself to holy acts. This is also true; in the rhythm of work and relaxation a mystery of religious repose really can be experienced. But what faith and the liturgy have in mind is something quite different: the sacredness of the Lord’s Day is due not to any experience of man, however holy, but to God and to His resting on that day. Or to put it more precisely, there exists for God in connection with creation a mystery known as “divine repose.” We cannot understand it what could it possibly mean, rest for the Omnipotent? When we accept this mystery on faith, however, we do sense the presence of something very profound. God is not only the eternal Spirit who is spoken of in philosophical absolutes; He is also the Acting One, of whom it may be said that He decides, that He rises, creates, forms, arranges, and that He rests. (See Gen. 2:2.)
It is this mystery of God’s rest which permeates the seventh day of the week, as the others are permeated by the mystery of divine activity. The whole week is a mystery; in fact, all time is. Not essentially, in itself; not through human life, but through divine creativeness. Hence it is a mystery which cannot be plumbed by geological or anthropological research. It can only be known through revelation.
Sunday has an almost sacramental character. In the sacrament, a natural process, like that of bathing or of confessing one’s guilt is related to the governing of grace. During the natural act, supernatural grace becomes effective, much as the movements of the soul activate the body. Something similar is to be found in the mystery of the Sabbath.
The natural tension caused by six days of work and its slackening on the day of rest create the form into which God has sunk the mystery of His repose in order to convey it to us. To keep the Sabbath is to become aware of the mystery of divine rest, to revere it and to express it in our arrangement of the day.
The thought is as beautiful as its realization is difficult. If discussed at all, it should not be distorted by day-dreams, but should be considered realistically.
Precisely because Sunday is not a product of the natural life-rhythm, it is vulnerable. The merely natural somehow manages to assert itself; the roots of Sunday, however, lie in revelation. Thus it is easily destroyed, in spite of the important natural need which it also meets. Other considerations economic, social or what have you constantly shove it aside. Work gnaws at it; amusement elbows its way into it, crowding out holiness; the significance of “keeping holy” is itself misunderstood and rest is imposed with a resultant boredom that is worse than if work had continued. Thus Sunday poses a real problem, which each of us must solve according to his own particular circumstances.
The day is important for the individual, but above all for the family. We must understand what is at stake, realize its value for us, and tackle the problem as energetically and wholeheartedly as we do other matters important to us.
One more point. From the liturgy it is clear that the day does not begin with the morning, nor with midnight, but on the evening before, with the vigil. There is a profound insight in this. It is not a question of the astronomical, but of the living day. The one is a mathematically exact fraction of time, which begins with a certain second, regardless of what takes place in it; whereas the other, living day, is a continuously renewed life-form. Then when does it begin? We could say at the moment of our deepest sleep, when life is at its stillest, on condition that our sleep itself begins and moves and ends properly. Then the day would stretch from this moment to a corresponding moment in the following night. That moment is unknown. We do not “accomplish” sleep; it is something that happens to us. Hence we must place the beginning we sought somewhere before the moment of falling asleep. Sleep is profoundly influenced by the hours that immediately precede it; therefore the problem of Sunday begins on Saturday evening, and it is up to each of us to see how he can meet its sacred challenge.