Spiritual and psychological benefits of sabbath worship


Weekend worship should enjoy a better reception than it gets. Martin Luther King said Sunday morning is the week’s most segregated time in America. Whites are in their churches and blacks are in theirs, all praying to the same God and perhaps even singing the same hymns. But how much more of a community, for which we earnestly pray, would it be if both were in the same building? This social justice column wants to know.

The Third Commandment that has us keep holy the sabbath should indeed get a better reception than the 23 percent of Catholics it gets from us these days. Both spiritually and psychologically, sabbath worship does good things for us. Regular worship firms up our relationship with God — you know, the one whose attention we always say we want — by putting us in touch formally with God. We speak to and listen to God who wants this connection much more than we do. It could be through formula or spontaneous prayer. We believe that God hears and listens to every word we utter, and we are right.

Psychologically we know that repeated, regular connection is imperative for any relationship. Even an atheist would admit that two people in a relationship must feed and nourish that bond continually if they want it to last.  Face to face contact, phone, email, other mail, social media linkup are some of the ways of staying in touch. Let that slide, and the relationship will, too, no matter how vibrant and mutually desired it was at the start. This is why married couples celebrate anniversaries and many other observances. Drop out of regular weekly worship and inevitably God becomes less important to us, despite any heartfelt resolve at the end of our last retreat or conscience exam.

Guys may not realize it, but women like to be seen in public with their main squeeze. Dressed up, walking together, maybe hand in hand advertises them to their neighborhood as a couple. They could do the same thing in the supermarket, but it’s not as good. Walking down the produce aisle is not walking up the aisle. Maybe that is why Christians a millennium ago started getting married in churches. In Europe the bride’s father in his home was the usual officiant before that.

In church as of a few years ago we say that Jesus, the Logos or Word of God, is consubstantial with the Father.  Some balk at this, wondering what it means. It used to be “one in being with the Father.” It was only the fourth century’s most controversial word in church-speak. The heretic Arius was afraid it would be blasphemous to put the Lord Jesus on the same par as God the Father, so he claimed a relationship of subordination. The Roman empire, with Christianity its newly unofficial religion, was split because people then took religion seriously.

Emperor Constantine, unbaptized since they did not have confession yet, did as most who were willing to gamble. He postponed his once-only absolution-initiation till his deathbed. Tired of the social upheaval, he convened history’s first ecumenical council in 325 at Nicea, a suburb of his capital city of Constantinople, or Byzantium as they called it then. Today it’s Istanbul. Bishops were required by the state to attend. Using Scripture they thrashed it out, ending with today’s formula of equality, thanks largely to the deacon Athanasius, later a bishop.

Indeed the sabbath should get a better reception. Originally the sabbath’s rest was the main concern. God rested on Saturday in Genesis’ first creation account, authored by Hebrew priests provoked that bosses were working the common people too hard. Take a day off at the end of the week and recoup. Six days of drudgery were enough to earn a living. We Christians took over much of our Hebrew ancestors’ practice: holy days of obligation were multiplied throughout Europe with obscure saints’ feast days to give people the same rest, making for only five workdays. Bishops cared about their flocks.

Our Prayer of the Faithful often has us asking God for many secular requests like world peace or fairness to desperate immigrants or an end to sexism, ageism or xenophobia. Since God is master of the universe, we should eagerly mix religion and politics in church. It is only partisan sides-taking politics that is barred. We would not have labor unions if 19th-century European and then American bishops had not intervened. Rest easy this sabbath.