Summary: The Sunday celebration, that of the new Sabbath, is the eighth day described by the Fathers of the Church.
Monday of 5th week in Course
7 February 2011
Spirit of the Liturgy
The great myths of Mesopotamia were myths of creation. Gods battled and slew each other, and the cosmos was formed from the dead body of a god. And it was pretty rank and fetid. That’s the way pagans look at their world. By contrast, the Hebrews’ God, our God, made the world out of a formless void, order from chaos. With St. John we see the “let us” of Genesis as the loving dialogue of the Trinity, forming all of creation into something that is good. And, with the last act of creation, the forming of man and woman, the Trinity could say it is very good.
But the placement of man and woman into a world of time and space was not enough. Because of their rebellion, God went one step further in love. He sent the second person of the Trinity to be human, so that we humans could become divine. “When the eternal Word assumed human existence at his Incarnation, He also assumed temporality. He drew time into the sphere of eternity,” and became the bridge between time and eternity. “In the Son, time co-exists with eternity. . .In the Word incarnate, who remains man forever, the presence of eternity with time becomes bodily and concrete.” (SoL at 92)
Now the Body of Christ, the Church, participates in this mystery. The special structure of the Church’s time “demands a sign, a time specially chosen and designated to draw time as a whole into the hands of God.” This is “one of the marks of the Bible’s universalism.” Time is cosmic, so the Church’s time is cosmic. There is a rhythm of the day, as the earth rotates about its axis. In that time, the Church lifts her hands to God seven times in the Liturgy of the Hours, and once in the Holy Mass. There is a lunar rhythm that gives us, by the phases of the moon, our seven-day week, where we celebrate and fast on the day of betrayal, Wednesday, and on the day of redemption, Friday, and on the day of Resurrection, the Lord’s Day. There is a solar rhythm that is marked by the revolution of the earth about the sun, a rhythm that has a tempo kept by the signs of the zodiac. Even this is subsumed into the rhythm of Jesus Christ’s redemptive plan, for the highest of high holy days, the Triduum, is always celebrated under the sign of the male lamb–Aries, under the first full moon of spring.
As we have seen, our orientation of prayer–toward the rising sun as a sign of Resurrection and Second Coming–is radically opened toward this sensitivity to time. This is how time and space “are interconnected in Christian prayer. Space itself has become time, and time has. . .become spatial, has entered into space.” So also history interrelates with the cosmos. Each year we commemorate the resurrection of Christ, we also are one more year along in the inevitable movement of the cosmos toward the union of God and the world in the General Judgement. We are each year one step closer “toward the New City whose light is God himself.” Then time will become eternity, just as every time we gather to pray in Christ, “eternity is imparted to time.”
The Seventh Day Adventists sometimes run ads in the media that tell all that the Catholic Church subverted the Sabbath by moving it from the 7th day to the first day of the week, Sunday. They believe it is a return to paganism. Nothing can be further from the truth. Scripture and Tradition affirm that the movement to Sunday happened very early. “The covenant was raised up to a new level through the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection.” We do not celebrate the Old Covenant of signs here; we celebrate the New Covenant of sacramental reality. The “day of resurrection is the new Sabbath. It is the day on which the Lord comes among his own and invites them into his ‘liturgy’, into his glorification of God, and communicates himself to them.” The Lord’s Day is the third day of the Old Testament, which was a day of God’s manifestation to man in power. It is the third day that Jesus predicted would be his rising Day. Seen from the cross, it is that third day in which defeat was manifest as victory. In terms of the secular schedule, it is the first day of the week, but not of the work week. It is a day of celebration and festival, which the Fathers called the “eighth day.” They saw the whole history of the world as a seven day week corresponding with the seven ages of a man’s life. The eighth day is the beginning of the eternal union with God. It was to symbolize this entry into a new world that the old baptistries were built with eight sides. Baptism is birth into the new life, into that eighth day that is God’s definitive time of triumph and union with man.