You sometimes encounter the charge that the Catholic Church wrongly "changed the sabbath" from Saturday to Sunday. This claim is often made by Seventh-Day Adventists, for example. But even if one isn't accusing the Church of wrongdoing, the question can still arise: Why do Catholics worship on Sunday rather than Saturday? Here's the story . . .
What Day the Sabbath Is
First, let's clear away a potential source of confusion. While it's true that people sometimes speak of Sunday as "the Christian sabbath," this is a loose way of speaking. Strictly speaking, the sabbath is the day it always was--Saturday--though it should be noted that traditionally Jewish people have celebrated the sabbath from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Sunday is a distinct day, which follows the sabbath. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
2175 Sunday is expressly distinguished from the sabbath which it follows chronologically every week; for Christians its ceremonial observance replaces that of the sabbath. In Christ's Passover, Sunday fulfills the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces man's eternal rest in God. For worship under the Law prepared for the mystery of Christ, and what was done there prefigured some aspects of Christ.
Why We Celebrate Sunday
That same paragraph explains why we celebrate on Sunday. For Christians the ceremonial observance of Sunday replaces that of the sabbath. Properly speaking, we're not celebrating the sabbath on Sunday. We're celebrating something else, but it's something that the sabbath points toward. As the Catechism says, the Jewish sabbath announces man's eternal rest in God and prefigures some aspects of Christ. Sunday thus fulfills what the sabbath pointed toward.
The Lord's Day
What we are celebrating instead of the sabbath is "the Lord's day." That's something Christians have celebrated since the first century. In fact, in the very first chapter of Revelation, we read that John experienced the inaugural vision of the book on "the Lord's day." He writes:
I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet [Revelation 1:9-10].
And he goes on to describe the vision of Jesus Christ he received. For our purposes, the important thing to note is that he speaks of the Lord's day as an already-established thing. He expects his readers to know what it is. So, when is it?
By the Way . . .
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