HOW WE SHOULD SERVE GOD ON THE LORD’S DAY
By St. Thomas Aquinas (Decalog. 17)
Trans. by Philip Hughes, 1937
Man is bound to keep feast days holy. Now a thing is said to be holy in one of two ways, either because the thing is itself unspotted or because it is consecrated to God.
We must say something then of the kind of works from which we should
abstain on such days and also of the kind with which we should occupy ourselves.
First, by offering sacrifices. In chapter 28 of the Book of Numbers God commanded that everyday, in the morning and again in the evening, a lamb should be offered up, but that on the Sabbath this offering should be doubled. This teaches us that we too ought on the sabbath to offer a sacrifice, a sacrifice taken from all that we possess.
We make this sacrifice in three ways:
First, we ought to make an offering of our soul, lamenting our sins and giving thanks for the benefits we have received. Let my prayer, Lord, be directed as incense in your sight, Psalm 140 says. Feast days are instituted to give us spiritual joy, and the means to this is prayer. Hence on such days we should multiply our prayers.
Second, we should offer our body. I beseech you therefore brothers and sisters, says St. Paul to the Romans, by the mercy of God, that you offer your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God. And we should give praise to God. Psalm 50 says, the sacrifice of praise shall glorify me. Therefore on feast days hymns should be numerous.
And third, we should offer our goods, and this by giving alms by giving on feast days a double amount, for these are times of universal rejoicing.
Let us turn to the second way we ought to occupy ourselves on a feast day - by study of the Word of God. This indeed was the practice of the Jews, as we read in the 13th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The voices of the prophets, which are read every sabbath. Christians therefore,……ought on such days to meet together for sermons and for the Church s office. And likewise for profitable conversation. Here are two things truly profitable for the soul of the sinner, sure means to his amendment. For the word of God instructs the ignorant and stirs up those that are lukewarm.
And the third way to occupy ourselves on a feast day is the direct occupation with the things of God. This is done by those who are perfect. In Psalm 33 we read, Taste and see that the Lord is sweet, and this because He gives rest to the soul. For just as the body worn out with toil craves for rest, so too does the soul. Now the soul’s place is God. Be thou unto me a God, a protector and a place of refuge, Psalm 30 says.
But before the soul can attain to this peace, it must already have found peace in three other ways.
First, it must have peace from the uneasiness of sin. The heart of the wicked man is like a raging sea, which cannot rest , the Prophet Isaiah tells us.
Second, it must have peace from the attractions of bodily desires. For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh (Gal. v. 17).
And lastly, it must have peace from the cares of everyday life. Martha, Martha, you are careful and are troubled about many things (Luke x. 41). But after these are attained the soul shall truly rest in God. If you call the sabbath delightful, then shall you be delighted in the Lord (Is. Iviii. 14).
It is for this that the saints have left all things, for this is that treasure which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goes and sells all that he has, and buys (Matt. xiii. 44). For this is the peace of eternal life and of the joy that shall last forever, This is my rest for ever and ever: here I dwell, for I have chosen it (Ps. cxxxi. 4).