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Sabbath and Sunday

Seventh-Day Adventists say Catholics should not work on Saturday: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work" (Ex. 20: 8-10). They say the Sabbath is a "perpetual covenant": "Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the sabbath . . . as a perpetual covenant . . . And he gave to Moses...the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God" (Ex. 31: 16-18); "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.'" (Matthew 5:17-18). Is there any merit to this?

The Sabbath was a sign of the Old Covenant with the Jews. Under the New Covenant, the first day, or the eighth day, is the new Sabbath. The Sabbath was never abolished, it was just changed to a new day. Jesus, as God, has full authority over the whole law, and had the authority to change that law. Adventists claim Jesus honored the Sabbath by resting in the tomb until Sunday, in order to work His miracle then. But Jesus had nothing against working miracles on the Sabbath. He cured the man with the withered hand (Matt.12:9-14), and the woman who had curvature of the spine (Luke 13:10-17). He also healed a blind man on the Sabbath (John 9:1-33). Jesus let his disciples work on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-8), saying that "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (Matt. 12:8). "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, could make the Sabbath any day of His choosing.

The Old Testament Sabbath was a shadow and prefiguring of something better: "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are only a shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ" (Colossians 2:16-17). Here, Paul says the legal observances of the Law, in particular the calendar, are no longer binding, including the Saturday Sabbath: "But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and destitute elemental powers? Do you want to be slaves to them all over again? You are observing days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid on your account that perhaps I have labored for you in vain" (Gal. 4:9-11). The New Covenant did not do away with the Sabbath, it made it even greater: "Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers" (Jeremiah 31:31-32).

What about the "perpetual covenant?" This applies only to the Israelites. Circumcision is also called an everlasting covenant: "You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you . . . both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant" (Gen. 17:11-13). But this applies only to the Jews. (See also Ex. 29:9, 30:8; Ez. 46:14-15).

The Lord's Day, or the first day of the week, replaced the Sabbath. Acts tells us that the early Christians "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:42-46). And this was done on the Lord's Day: "On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread" (Acts 20:7). The collection was also to be taken up on Sunday, the day of worship: "On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come" (1 Cor. 16:2).

Why did the early Christians make the switch from Sabbath to Sunday? Because the Lord rose from the dead on Sunday. Pentecost also fell on the first day of the week. The Old Sabbath was dedicated to God's completed work of creation, because it was on the seventh day that God rested. The New Sabbath is dedicated to God's work of redemption, because it was on the first day that Jesus rose from the dead. Matthew 5:17-18 states: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished." Of course, the moral law has never been and will never be done away with. But the ceremonial law is not permanent, and there was a change with the coming of Christ. The observance of the Sabbath gave way to Sunday worship.

The book of Revelation describes the Mass. There is the reading of God's Word (chapters 2 -5), and the partaking of the Lamb's supper (chapter 19), all taking place on the Lord's Day: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet" (Rev. 1:10).

Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to the Magnesians 8 [A.D. 110]) "Those who were brought up in the ancient order of things [i.e. Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death".

The Didascalia (Didascalia 2 [A.D. 225]) "The apostles further appointed: On the first day of the week let there be service, and the reading of the Holy Scriptures, and the oblation, because on the first day of the week our Lord rose from the place of the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week he ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear at last with the angels of heaven".

Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures 4:37 [A.D. 350]) "Stand aloof from all observance of sabbaths and from calling any indifferent meats common or unclean".

John Chrysostom (Homilies on Galatians 2:17 [A.D. 395]) "You have put on Christ, you have become a member of the Lord and been enrolled in the heavenly city, and you still grovel in the Law . . . Why do you keep the sabbath and fast with the Jews?".

Augustine (The Spirit and the Letter 24 [A.D. 412]) "Well, now, I should like to be told what there is in these Ten Commandments, except the observance of the sabbath, which ought not to be kept by a Christian".

Catholic Tracts

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