The Sabbath

In 1998, Pope John Paul II wrote a letter on, “Keeping the Lord’s Day Holy (Dies Domini). The purpose of his letter was to encourage Catholics to honor their Sunday obligation of Eucharistic celebration in memory of the resurrection of Jesus: “At Sunday Mass, Christians relive with particular intensity the experience of the Apostles on the evening of Easter when the Risen Lord appeared to them as they were gathered together” (#33).

While the Pope encouraged Christians to keep Sunday, he recognizes that Jesus and his disciples kept the Sabbath and that many of his followers observed both the Sabbath and Sunday even unto the 4th century. The Sunday memorial of the Resurrection, which began as “a spontaneous practice later became a juridically sanctioned norm”(#30), and as the “custom” grew more widespread, Sunday slowly replaced the Sabbath as the holy day for Christians.

In time, many Christians forgot that the Sabbath was God’s gift to them as well as to the Jews, a gift given to the whole of the human race in creation. Now, since Vatican II and the publication of the document Nostra Aetate with its emphasis on the need for Christians to pursue Jewish studies as an essential component of Christian self-understanding, a new movement to reclaim the beauty of the Sabbath has taken place. The Pope writes, “In order to grasp fully the meaning of Sunday, therefore, we must re-read the great story of creation and deepen our understanding of the theology of the ‘Sabbath’ (#8). He insists that,

“The Sabbath is rooted in the depths of God’s plan. This is why, unlike many other precepts, it is set not within the context of strictly cultic stipulations but within the Decalogue, the ‘ten words’ which represent the very pillars of the moral life inscribed on the human heart. In setting this commandment within the context of the basic structure of ethics, Israel and then the Church declare that they consider it not just a matter of community religious discipline but a defining and indelible expression of our relationship with God announced and expounded by biblical revelation. This is the perspective within which Christians need to rediscover this precept today (#13).”

Though the Pope does not encourage Christians to keep both the Sabbath and Sunday as two holy days, yet he recognizes that

“there have always been groups within Christianity which observe both the Sabbath and Sunday as ‘two brother days'” (#23).

We, at Bat Kol Institute do that. We celebrate the Sabbath in recognition that God has sanctified the seventh day with a special blessing and made it ‘his day’ par excellence, a day to celebrate God’s covenant with humanity and to reenact the dialogue of the covenant, which is the dialogue of ‘marriage’ (#14). During our study sessions in Jerusalem, we mark the entrance into the Sabbath with a festive meal and a sharing and reflection on the Torah portion of the week. We encourage all our alumnae/alumni and friends to do the same. To help them, we post on our website a two page commentary on the Torah portion of the week.

We also celebrate Sunday, the day on which the faithful are led “to ponder and live the event of Easter” (#19). Since the Eucharistic assembly is the heart of Sunday (Chapter 3), we take advantage of our unique position in Israel to celebrate Sunday liturgies in places made holy by the footsteps of Jesus, such as, the Mount of Olives, the Tomb of the Resurrection, Tabgha, Capernaum, and Nazareth.

Sabbath observance brings religion back into the home and enhances our Sunday worship. The two days illuminate each other.