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The Lord's Day

as seen by the Catholic Church

(underlining added - my comments in square brackets)


 

There is biblical evidence to show that, by the end of the New Testament period, Christians had already decided on the first day of the week as the day to be consecrated in a special way to the Lord.

Thus, in Acts 20:17, there is a reference to Paul addressing the people of Troas when they gathered together to break bread on the first day of the week.

"On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them."

[See context in a modern translation - this was Saturday night]

When he wrote to the Corinthians, urging them to contribute to the collection for the Christians of Jerusalem, Paul said: "on the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up" - (1 Cor. 16/2) - an apparent reference to their weekly contribution when they came together as a community to celebrate the Eucharist. ["store it up" implies NOT giving it away at that time!]

These quotations would both refer to a practice already existing in the fifties of the first century AD.

In the Book of Revelation (1/10) St. John uses the expression "The Lord's Day". The use of this term, common in apostolic times, to designate SUNDAY (the first day of the week) has always been followed by the Church. Christians in the Roman Empire used these terms interchangeably.

The reason for the change from the Jewish Sabbath would have been a deliberate move by Christians to distinguish themselves from Judaism, and to assert their independence as a distinct religious group with its own identity.

In the first 20 years of its existence, when the young Church was almost exclusively Jewish in its composition, the followers of Jesus were thought of as another Jewish sect, and apparently still thought of themselves as a group within Judaism.

During this time, they continued to observe the synagogue services on the Sabbath, to take part in the temple sacrifices and religious observances, and generally to practise their Jewish faith.

Jewish Christians seemed to have continued to observe the Sabbath rest on Saturday in preparation for the celebration of the Christian festival of the resurrection on Sunday. For these Christians both days were regarded as festivals. As the number of Gentile Christians increased, the observance of Saturday as a day of rest or festival diminished. For the Gentile Christians it never had any significance.

It was only when the large influx of Gentiles (pagans) into the Church began, due chiefly to the missionary labours of St. Paul, that the infant Church was forced to re-evaluate its position vis-a-vis Judaism.

The assembly of apostles and elders at Jerusalem in 49 or 50 AD took the momentous decision that the Christians were no longer bound by the requirements of Jewish religious law. (Acts Ch. 15).

[...that they abstain from pollutions of (food offered to) idols, and from fornication, and from blood, for Moses in old time has in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day. Verses 20-21].

Those Jewish-Christian traditionalists and extremists who were insisting that Gentile Christians should continue to observe the Law of Moses in its entirety would certainly have included the Sabbath observance among their demands.

[They did not because it was being observed].

This is what led Paul to assert that no-one may be called into account for not observing the Sabbath: 'Therefore, let no-one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a sabbath." (Col. 2/16).

[These are ritualistic ceremonies, not the Sabbath of the Ten Commandments].

Not only was the seventh day of the week (the Sabbath of the Jews) NOT observed as a Christian feast, every effort to make the Lord's Day the same as the Sabbath, was, in fact, strenuously resisted.

The first day of the week (Sunday) was chosen as the day set aside for the Lord because this was the day on which Christ rose from the dead - the event which was the very foundation of the Christian faith.

Around the turn of the second century, Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch (died around 110 AD) wrote in his letter to the Magnesians,

'Those who used to live according to the old order of things have entered upon a new hope They no longer keep the Sabbath but the Lord's Day, the day when our own lives were raised by Christ and by His death."

The question still remains: by what authority did the Church make this change? My answer would be that the leaders of the Church felt free to make such a decision by virtue of the authority vested in them by Christ Himself (Matt. 18/18).

A questioner might well persist: but surely this mandate would not justify them in altering God's own law enshrined in the Ten Commandments, one of which states, "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20/8).

The reason that the Ten Commandments retain a permanent, eternal validity, while so many of the other Jewish religious laws became obsolete with the coming of Christ, is that they are in essence an expression of the "natural law", that is, a statement of what conforms with human nature and the human conscience. They express what every right conscience instinctively acknowledges to be right and wrong.

The Commandment concerning the Sabbath observance is no exception. The essence of this Commandment is that man should acknowledge God's dominion and honour Him in a special way. The specification of a particular day (for example, the Sabbath) is accidental to the main purpose of the Commandment.

It is for this reason that the leaders of the Church in the first century, felt free to change this aspects of God's Commandment. while still upholding the spirit and purpose of the law. The actual day they considered to be of secondary importance.

The Christian observance of the first day of the week was never questioned until 1860 when an American woman, Mrs. Ellen White, claimed that an angel had appeared to her and told her that the whole of Christendom was wrong in this matter and had been wrong for 1800 years. [Seventh-day Baptists etc. were around in 1600AD] People who appreciate even the basic notions of Christianity, and Christ's promise to guide His Church for all time (Matt. 28/20) will realise that Mrs. White's claim cannot be seriously considered.

Attempts by modern sects to re-establish an observance of Saturday as a kind of "Christian Sabbath" have no historical basis, and are contrary to the spirit of the early Church which insisted that the Lord's day - SUNDAY - was not a continuance of the Jewish Sabbath.

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