What does the Third Commandment mean? How do I keep a day holy?

The Catechism starts its reflection on the Third Commandment with the scriptural meaning of the Sabbath. Exodus 20:8-11 states that the Sabbath was the seventh day on which the Lord rested after the work of the previous six days. Deuteronomy 5:12 adds that the Sabbath is a day of our renewing the covenant with God. The Sabbath is connected to creation and covenant.

God’s “rest” on the seventh day was his contemplative gaze enjoying the good of creation, especially its crown in man and woman. It was not a matter of divine inactivity, but rather the deeper “work” of contemplation and the restful act of loving us (cf. CCC, nos. 2184-2185). This is true also of ourselves. If we never stop working, when would we ever have time to contemplate and worship God and nourish a love relationship with him or with anyone else? Every human person, having been created by God, owes him worship and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done and continues to do.

The scriptural history of the Sabbath demonstrates that it was a day of worship of God and relaxation with one’s family: “Then [on the Sabbath] you shall delight in the Lord / and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth” (Is 58:14). At their liturgies, the people of ancient Israel remembered the great works God performed on their behalf. They looked back on their history and family roots in the light of God’s plans for them. They sang praises to God for his love and mercy. They recalled, “Everything belongs to God!” The Christian Sunday carries forward Sabbath themes of contemplative rest and worship.

The Third Commandment calls us to keep holy the Sabbath day. For Christians, the observance of the Sabbath is transferred to Sunday, the day that Jesus rose from the dead. God, through the Church, obliges us to make Sunday holy by participation in the Eucharist and by our being prayerfully reflective as far as possible. Sunday observance fulfills the interior law inscribed in the human heart to render to God visible and public worship as a sign of radical dependence upon God and as gratitude for all the blessings we have received.

Every seven days, the Church celebrates the Easter mystery. This tradition goes back to the time of the Apostles. It takes its origin from the actual day of Christ’s Resurrection. Sunday extends the celebration of Easter throughout the year. It is meant to be illumined by the glory of the Risen Christ. It makes present the new creation brought about by Christ.

Sunday also recalls the creation of the world. The Genesis account of creation, expressed in poetic style, is a hymn of awe and adoration of God in the presence of the immensity of creation.

The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council explained how we should celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday, or its vigil on Saturday evening:

The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ’s faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators. On the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action, conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s Body. They should give thanks to God. Offering the immaculate victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also together with him, they should learn to offer themselves. Through Christ, the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all. (SC, no. 48)

Our presence at Eucharist must be more than a passive experience of the work of the priest and the music from the choir. We should join actively in the worship, where everyone present pours out adoration of and love for God. The more we meditate upon what we are doing, the more we will worship in spirit and truth and benefit from the grace that flows from the Eucharist. We will grow in our love and worship of God as well as in respect and love for one another.

You can read more from the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, order your own copy, or read questions about it at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website.

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