The Third Commandment

The Third Commandment declares, Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. The Catholic Church tells us that we have an obligation to go to Mass every Sunday. It is an obligation that most of us fulfill willingly, but many people don’t understand why the Church requires this of us.


For Christians throughout much of the United States, the idea that stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues would be closed on Sundays seems like a quaint relic of a long-forgotten age. Yet as late as 1980, most businesses in and around Texas were closed on Sunday, and many counties throughout the South still restrict (or ban outright) liquor sales on the Sabbath.


In Europe, though, secularization is much further advanced, and yet, in most European countries, most businesses are still closed on Sunday. Here in the United States, the closing of businesses on Sundays was enforced through "blue laws," which were primarily Protestant (especially Puritan) in origin, but in Europe, the Catholic Church has been the major force restricting commerce on Sunday.


For the Jews, the Sabbath was Saturday; Christians, however, transferred the Sabbath to Sunday, the day of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead. The Church tells us that we have an obligation to fulfill the Third Commandment by refraining from unnecessary work on Sunday and by participating in the Mass, our chief form of worship as Christians.


Sundays were seen, by the early church, as the first day of the new creation, or eighth day; as they were made doubly holy, by the resurrection of Christ, who is God come in the flesh. The resurrection, of Jesus Christ, was the completion of his work, of salvation, and fulfillment of the Mosaic law, on earth.


If we follow the logic of the Gospel of St. John that “The word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” then Christ is God, in the flesh, and the author of the law.


From the earliest days of the Church, Christians have understood that being a Christian isn’t a private matter. We are called to be Christians together; while we can and should engage in the private worship of God throughout the week, our primary form of worship is public and communal, which is why Sunday Mass is so important.


The world needs people courageous enough to witness that Christ has first place in their lives. That all these things that the secular world deems so important are merely passing. Our Christian vocation calls u to be leaven in the world. The best place to begin as individuals and as a community is by “keeping holy the Lord’s Day.”