“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” The third commandment is one of the “ABCS of Catholicism” that Christians will learn from a young age. The commitment to attend Mass every Sunday is a staple of most Catholic families, and helps to instill a regular commitment to the faith of the Church, parish life, and forming a family with prayer and worship at the center.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states clearly the importance of this obligation: “Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and his Church.” (CCC 2182). In other words, the Sunday obligation not only benefits yourself, but your fellow Catholics as well.
This part of the commandment the University of Dallas holds quite well. At the hours of 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., students will flock to the Church of the Incarnation to fulfill their obligations. Many also go off campus to Mass, from the much beloved Cistercian Abbey all the way to St. Basil, a Byzantine Catholic parish. It is also a common sight to see UD students out on the Mall after Mass talking with friends or eating brunch, a true display of the fellowship that binds UD together.
Yet the commandment to keep the Sabbath entails more than Sunday mass. It also asks Christians to refrain from unnecessary work and to devote time to the contemplation of the divine. The Catechism reasons that “Just as God ‘rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done’, human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social and religious lives” (CCC 2184).
This teaching brings up an obvious question: Does UD actually keep the Sabbath?
One perspective would say no. Before or after Mass, spots around campus share a common scene: students cramming for Monday exams, writing essays they should have started two weeks ago or just getting ahead on school work for the week. Some may make the conclusion that UD students will attend Mass to check the Sunday box but then ignore the rest of the commandment to get work done that was neglected the week before.
Yet some would not consider studying to count as “work” according to the Sabbath. Catholic Answers, a popular Catholic apologetics website, argues in an article titled “Is it sinful to study on a Sunday?” that studying may not be considered a violation of the Sabbath, especially in light of deadlines or events earlier in the week that prevent one from studying prior. This can also be the case if the studying is related to the affairs of the Church, such as theology or philosophy.
Debates aside, I decided this past week to get enough work done during the week so that I would not have to do any school work on Sunday. I found the effects to be almost immediate. For one, I was able to focus more during the Sunday liturgy and could pay more attention to the prayers and the homily without being anxious about losing time for studying.
I teach a catechist class with another UD student on Sunday as well; with no school work to do, I could devote more time to planning the class for the day, as well as be more engaged with and have fun with the students, making the class far more enjoyable and feel less like a chore. I then closed out the evening by hanging out with my roommates, followed by spiritual reading and night prayers, which can be hard to come by amidst the chaos of the school week.
I think UD would tremendously benefit by fostering a “Sabbath culture” that encourages students to truly keep the Lord’s Day. Getting work done earlier in the week would help prevent procrastination and keep students on track as big deadlines and exams approach. Overwhelmed freshmen would get a day to recharge and more time to connect with their peers. And upperclassmen, who get more spread out living both on and off campus, would have a consistent day to hang out with friends and maintain the connections they’ve formed through their time at UD.
Keeping the Catholic obligation in mind, a culture of keeping Sunday holy would also encourage healthy events to spend time in rest and leisure. Brunch groups, Bible study sessions, outdoor activities and late night cocktail parties are a few possible ways to provide students with much needed rejuvenation that avoids the excesses that can come from wild parties on Friday nights.
It certainly is a lot to ask to make such a drastic cultural change, and there are days where such a dedication may not be possible. But I can attest that from this week alone, making Sunday a true Sabbath and putting aside unnecessary work has made me feel more rested, more motivated for the upcoming week, and most importantly, given me encouragement to better walk in the Way of the Lord. As a campus, we should work together to truly make Sunday the Lord’s Day.