And Jesus answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees saying: Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?--LUKE xiv. 3.

Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, because he did these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them: My Father worketh until now; and I work.--John 16, 17


The incident related in today's Gospel took place while our Lord was on His way from Galilee to Jerusalem for the last time, about three months before He suffered. The Pharisees had laid a plot to catch Him in fault, so that they could have something whereof to accuse Him before the people and justify their own hatred and persecution of Him. On a Sabbath day they prepared a supper to which Jesus was invited, and at which they had present a man afflicted with dropsy. As the Saviour was about to enter the supper room, He beheld the sick man who had been placed very conspicuously before Him. The Pharisees and lawyers, who held it was not lawful to heal on the Sabbath day, watched to see what our Lord would do. He first cured the sick man, and then proved to His hypocritical observers that their own ideas of the observance of the Sabbath were both erroneous and inconsistent.

There are many Pharisees in our own day who likewise think that the Sabbath is to be kept with an external rigor and outward observance as severe as that of those ancient hypocrites, and who at the same time are just as far removed from true charity and the spirit of the Gospel of Christ as were those others. Let us therefore see what this Commandment requires of us, and what it forbids.

I. What the Third Commandment requires, 1. The natural law requires that man should at some special times devote himself to the worship of His Creator. Just when this should be is left to the positive law to determine. 2. The Commandment given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai designated the seventh day in the week as the Lord's day, since it was on that day that God rested from the work of creation and delivered the Jews from the bondage of Pharaoh. Besides the Sabbath the Jews also had many festival days, such as the Pasch, Pentecost, Tabernacles, etc., on which the special divine benefits to their race were commemorated. 3. The Church, from the very times of the Apostles substituted Sunday for Saturday as the Lord's day, because it was on the first day of the week that our Lord rose from the dead and the Holy Ghost came down upon the Apostles. In addition the Church has appointed various Holydays, i.e., days of special observance, in commemoration of the chief mysteries of our religion. 4. To keep holy the Lord's day means to sanctify it by religious exercises and devout practices. The chief means of keeping Sunday holy is to hear Mass, i.e., to assist devoutly at the unbloody sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ, which all who have reached the use of reason are obliged to do, unless legitimately excused. Other good works by which the Sunday is sanctified are: (a) attendance at sermons, and devotions, such as vespers and benediction; (b) going to confession and Communion; (c) special prayers and works of charity. 5. Excuses from the observance of Sunday are physical or moral impossibility.

II. What the Third Commandment forbids, 1. This precept prohibits in the first place servile works, i.e., works in which the body is more engaged than the mind, such as digging, sewing, and the like, as well as such distracting occupations as trading, buying, selling, and the like. To engage in these occupations without necessity for a considerable length of time, say two hours, on Sunday is gravely to violate the third precept. 2. Reasons that permit of servile work on Sunday are: (a) necessity of our position in life; (b) works of charity, such as helping the sick, as our Lord did, as stated in today's Gospel; (c) works of piety, such as decorating the Church, playing the organ, etc. 3. Innocent pleasure and recreation are not forbidden on Sunday, provided they do not interfere with the religious duties of the day. Dangerous diversions and places of amusements, however, are especially out of order on Sunday.

EXHORTATION. 1. We should sanctify the Lord's day, as far as possible, in the ways explained above. 2. We should avoid, on the one hand, a heathen idea of Sunday which would make it a day of revelry and licentiousness, and on the other hand, the rigorism of the Pharisees who forbade the most necessary works of charity on the Sabbath day. 3. So important is this Commandment that it begins with the imperative, Remember. If people observe this precept, they are likely to observe the others; but if they neglect it, the others will also most likely be more or less neglected.

Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part III

Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days shall thou labor and do all thy works; but on the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on if, neither thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.(1)


This Commandment of the Law rightly and in due order prescribes the external worship which we owe to God and which is, as it were, a consequence of the preceding Commandment. For if we sincerely and devoutly yield internal worship to God, guided by the faith and hope we have in Him, we cannot but honor Him with external worship and thanksgiving.(2) Now since we cannot easily discharge these duties whilst occupied in worldly affairs, a certain fixed time has been set aside so that it may be conveniently performed.


The observance of this Commandment is attended with much fruit and advantage. Hence it is of the highest importance that the pastor use the utmost diligence in its exposition. The word "Remember," with which the Commandment commences, must animate him to the zealous performance of this duty; for if the faithful are commanded to "remember" this Commandment, it becomes the duty of the pastor to recall it frequently to their minds in exhortation and instruction.

The importance of its observance may be inferred from the consideration, that those who faithfully comply with its injunctions are more easily induced to keep all the other Commandments. For among the other works of piety by which the Sabbath is to be sanctified, the faithful are bound to assemble in the church to hear the word of God. When they have thus learned the justifications of the Lord, they "will be disposed to observe with their whole hearts His holy Law. Hence the sanctification of the Sabbath is very often commanded in Scripture, as may be seen in Exodus,(3) Leviticus,(4) Deuteronomy,(5) and in the prophecies of Isaias,(6) Jeremias,(7) and Ezechiel,(8) all of which contain this precept which commands the observance of the Sabbath.(9) 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 spiritual injunctions of the pastor.


This Commandment is like the others, not in so far as it is a precept of the ceremonial law, but only as it is a natural and moral precept. The worship of God and the practice of religion, which it comprises, have the natural law for their basis. The unbidden impulse of nature prompts us to give some time to the worship of God; and this is a truth demonstrated by the unanimous consent of all nations, who, accordingly, consecrated public festivals to the solemnities of religion and divine worship. 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 and invigorate its energies by heavenly contemplation. 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.


The Apostles therefore resolved to consecrate the first day of the week to the divine worship, and called it "the Lord's day." St. John in his Apocalypse makes mention of "the Lord's day";(12) and the Apostle commands collections to be made "on the first day of the week,"(13) that is, according to the interpretation of St. Chrysostom, on the Lord's day. From all this we learn that even then the Lord's day was kept holy in the Church.


In order that the faithful may know what they are to do and what to avoid on the Lord's day, it will not be found foreign to his purpose, if the pastor, dividing the Commandment into four parts, explain each word of it carefully.


In the first place, then, he will explain generally the meaning of these words: "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day." The word "remember" is appropriately made use of at the beginning of the Commandment to signify that the sanctification of that particular day belonged to the ceremonial law. Of this it would seem to have been necessary to remind the people, for, although the law of nature commands us to give religious worship to God, it fixes no particular day for the performance of that duty.

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."(14)

Finally, we are taught, and the instruction demands our serious attention, that there are but too many circumstances 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.


We now come to the meaning of the word "Sabbath." Sabbath is a Hebrew word which signifies cessation. To keep the Sabbath, therefore, means to cease from labor and to rest. In this sense the seventh day was called the "Sabbath," because God, having finished the creation of the world, rested on that day from all the work which He had done.(15) By this name the Lord calls it in Exodus.

Later on, not only the seventh day, but, in honor of that day, the entire week was called "the Sabbath"; 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."


In the Scriptures keeping holy the Sabbath means a cessation from bodily labor and worldly business, as is clear from the following words of the Commandment: "Thou shalt do no work on it." This alone, however, does not comprise the meaning of the Commandment, otherwise, it would have been sufficient to say in Deuteronomy, "observe the day of the Sabbath"; "but it is added, "and sanctify it"; and these additional words prove that the Sabbath is a day sacred to religion, set apart for works of piety and exercises of devotion.

We sanctify the Sabbath fully and perfectly, therefore, when we consecrate it to God by duties of piety and religion. This in evidently the Sabbath, which Isaias calls "delightful";(18) for when thus spent, it is the delight of God and of His faithful servants. And if to this religious and holy observance of the Sabbath we add works of mercy, the rewards proposed to our piety in the same chapter are numerous and most important.(19)

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 undisturbed by worldly cares, we may devote our whole being, soul and body, to the religious veneration of God.


The second part of the precept declares that the seventh day was consecrated by Almighty God to His worship: "Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy works; but on the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God." From these words we learn that the Sabbath is consecrated to the Lord, that we are required on that day to render Him the duties of religion, and to know that the seventh day is a sign of His rest.


This particular day was fixed for the worship of God, because it would not have been well to leave to a rude people the choice of a time of worship, lest, perhaps, they might have been led to imitate the festivals of the Egyptians.


The last day of the week was, therefore, chosen for the worship of God, and in its choice there is much that is symbolic. Hence in Exodus,(20) and in Ezechiel(21) 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."(22)

It was a sign that man should dedicate and sanctify himself to God, since even the very day is dedicated 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 hand of God from the galling yoke of Egyptian bondage. This the Almighty 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." (23)

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, the soul is renewed to life, and carefully applies itself 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.(24)


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,"(25) is that life which we shall enjoy with Christ, in the fruition of all good, when sin shall be no more, according to these words of Isaias: "No lion shall be there, nor shall any mischievous beast go up by it, nor be found there; but a path and a way shall be there, and it shall be called the holy way";(28) for in the vision of God the souls of the saints obtain every good. The pastor therefore will exhort and animate the faithful in the words of the Apostle: "Let us hasten therefore to enter into that rest."(27)


Besides the seventh day, the Jews observed other festivals (28) which were instituted by the divine law, and the end and aim of which was to awaken in the people the recollection of the principal favors conferred on them by the Almighty.


But the Church of God has in her wisdom ordained that the celebration of the Sabbath should be transferred to Sunday.

For, as on that day light first shone on the world, so by the resurrection of our Lord 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 Apostle 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 for other reasons; for on that day the work of the creation commenced, and on that day the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles.


From the very infancy of the Church and in the following centuries other days were also appointed by the Apostles and the holy Fathers to be kept sacred, in order to commemorate piously and devoutly the special gifts bestowed on us Christians. Among these days the most conspicuous are those which were instituted to honor the mysteries of our redemption. In the next place are the days which are dedicated to the most blessed Virgin Mother, to the Apostles, Martyrs and other Saints who reign with Christ. In the celebration of their victories the divine power and goodness are praised, due honor is paid to their memories, and the faithful are encouraged to the imitation of their virtues.


And as the observance of the precept is very strongly assisted by these words: "Six days shalt thou labor, but on the seventh day is the Sabbath of God," the pastor should therefore carefully explain them to the people. They implicitly admonish him that the faithful are to be exhorted not to waste their lives in indolence and sloth, but that each one, mindful of the words of the Apostle, should "do his own business, and work with his own hands, as he had commanded them."(29)

These words also enjoin as a duty commanded by God that "in six days we do all our works," and admonish us not to 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.


The third part of the Commandment comes next to be explained. It points out, to a certain extent, the manner in which we are to keep holy the Sabbath day, and explains particularly what we are forbidden to do on that day. "Thou shalt do no work on it," says the Lord, "thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates."

These words teach us, in the first place, to avoid whatever may interfere with the worship of God on the Sabbath day. 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 from the worship of God, which is the great end of the Commandment. The faithful should be still more careful not to profane the Sabbath by sin, which not only withdraws the mind from the contemplation of divine things, but entirely alienates us from the love of God.(30)


But whatever regards the celebration of divine worship, such as the decoration of the altar or church on occasion of some festival, and the like, although servile works, are not prohibited; and hence our Lord Himself says: "The priests in the temple brake the Sabbath, and are without blame."(31)

Neither are we to suppose that this Commandment forbids attention to those things on the Sabbath, which if neglected on that day will be lost. Their preservation is no violation of the Commandment, and is expressly permitted by the sacred canons. There are many other things which our Lord declares lawful on festivals and which may be seen by the pastor in St. Matthew and St. John.


To omit nothing that may interfere with the sanctification of the Sabbath, the Commandment mentions beasts of burden, because their use will prevent its due observance. If beasts be employed on the Sabbath, human labor also becomes necessary; for they do not labor alone, but assist the labors of man. Now it is not lawful for man to work on that day. Hence it is not lawful for the animals to work which man uses.

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 in our service.


The pastor should also not omit to inform the faithful how in work and action they are to sanctify festival days. These means are: to go to church, and there, with heartfelt piety and devotion, to assist at the celebration of the holy Sacrifice of the Mass;(32) to approach frequently the Sacraments of the Church, instituted for our salvation, to heal our spiritual maladies.(33)

Nothing can be more seasonable or salutary than frequent recourse to the tribunal of penance; 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 will he urge his people to have recourse to the Sacrament of Penance--he will also zealously exhort them again and again, to approach frequently the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

On festival days the faithful should also listen with attention and reverence to sermons; nothing is more intolerable, nothing more unworthy of a Christian than to despise the words of Christ, or hear them with indifference.(34) The faithful should also give themselves to frequent prayer and the praises of God; and an object of our special attention should be to learn those things which pertain to a Christian life, and to practice with care the duties of Christian piety, viz., giving alms to the poor, visiting the sick, administering consolation to the afflicted and the suffering. "Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this," says St. James, "to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation."(35)

From what has been said it is easy to perceive how this Commandment may be violated.


It is also a duty of the pastor to have ready at hand certain main arguments by which he may especially impress on the minds of the faithful the conviction that this Commandment is to be observed with pious zeal and the greatest exactitude.


To the attainment of this end it will materially conduce, if he make them understand and see clearly, how just and reasonable it is to devote certain days exclusively to the worship of God in order to acknowledge, adore, and venerate Him from whom we have received such innumerable and inestimable blessings. Had God commanded us to offer Him on each day of our lives the tribute of religious worship, would it not be our duty, in return for the inestimable and infinite benefits which His bounty has showered on us, to endeavor to obey the command with promptitude and alacrity? But now that the days specially consecrated to His worship are but few there is no excuse for neglecting this duty, which moreover obliges under grave sin.(36)


The pastor will next point out the importance of a faithful compliance with this precept. Those who are faithful in its observance are admitted, as it were, into the divine presence to speak freely with God; for in prayer we contemplate the divine majesty, and commune with Him; in hearing religious instruction, we hear the voice of God, which reaches us through that of his pious and zealous minister; and at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we adore Christ the Lord, present on our altars. Such are the blessings enjoyed by those who faithfully observe the Third Commandment.


But those, who altogether neglect its fulfillment resist God and His Church, they heed not God's command, and are enemies of His holy laws, of which the easiness of the command is itself a proof. We should, it is true, be prepared to undergo the severest labor for the sake of God; but in this Commandment He imposes on us no labor; He only commands us to rest and disengage ourselves from worldly cares on those days which are to be kept holy. To refuse obedience to this Commandment is, therefore, a proof of extreme boldness; and the punishments with which its infraction has been visited, as we learn from the Book of Numbers,(37) should be a salutary admonition to Christians.

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 will develop at length to his people as circumstances may require.

1.Exod. xx. 8.
2. See C. of Trent, decret. de ciborum delectu et festis diebus, last session, towards the end; St. Thomas, IIa. IIae., q. 122. art. 4; de consecrat. dist. 3. in many chapters.
3. Exod. xvi. 20, 31.
4. Lev. xvi. 19, 23, 26.
5. Deut. v.
6. Isa. Ivi. 58, 66.
7. Jerem. 17.
8. Ezech. xx. 22, 23, 46.
9. On preaching the word of God see C. of Trent, sess. 5. c. 2; the admirable work of St. Charles Borrom. in the Acts of the Church of Milan; see also the Acts of the Church of Bologna.
10. Apoc. i. 10.
11. "Chrysost, hom. 13. in Corinth; Amb.; Theophylact.; Can. Apost. c. 67; Ignat., Epist. ad Magnes.; Just. apol. 2; Tertul., in apol. c. 16; de Coron. milit. c. 3; de idol. c. 14; Cyp., epist. 33; Clement. Alex., lib. 5. Strom. well before the end; Orig. hom. in Exod.
12. I Kings, xxv. 31.
13. Gen. ii. 3. Exod. xx. 21. Deut. v. 12.
14. Luke xviii. 12.
15. Deut. v. 12.
16. Isa. Iviii. 13.
17. Isa. lviii.6.
18. Exod. xxxi. 13.
19. Ezech. xx. 12.
20. Deut. v. 15.
21. Deut. v. 13.
22. Eph.v.8.
23. Heb. iv. 9.
24. Isa. xxxv. 9.
25. Heb. iv. II.
26. Concerning these festivals see Leviticus xxiii.. Numbers xxix., Deut. vi. For their meaning see Cyril, de adoratione in spiritu et veritate, I. 17; St. Thomas, la. IIae., q. 102, art. 4. ad 10.
27. I Thess. iv, II.
28. See Aug., tract 3 in Joan.; in Ps. xxxi. serm. I; lib. de decem chordis c. 3.
29. Matt. xii. 5.
30. C. of Agath. c. 47; C. of Orleans, c. 8; C. of Trib. c. 35; de cons. dist. i. cap. Missas; cum ad celebrandas; omnes fideles.
31. Aug., de Eccl. dogm. c. 53; quoted in de cons. dist. 2. c. quotidien.
32. Justin., Apol. 2; Act. xx. 7; Aug., lib. 50. horn. 26; quoted I. q. lib. cap. interroga.
32. James i. 27. This was the practice of the early Christians, as we learn from Just., Apol. 2; Tertull. in Apol.; in lib. ad martyres; in lib. 3. ad uxorern, near the end.
33. See de consecr. dist. i; in decret. Titul. de feriis; C. of MaCon II, ec. i, 7; C. of Tribur. c, 35; Ignat., in ep ad Philip.; Leo, serm. 3, de quadrag.; Aug., serm. 251. de temp.

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