The forgotten day of Sunday

 

I gave you six days to work, I kept the seventh for myself, and no one wishes to grant it to me. This is what weighs down the arm of my Son so much.“~ Our Lady of La Salette

We wish our readers continued blessings during this Christmas Season! Christmas is only beginning, not ending! It is no wonder that today’s world regularly claims to be “depressed”. They have only one day of Christmas after all. Even if the Christ Child is now born, should that stop our Christmas joy? Do we only celebrate the birth of a child on the day he is born? It is rather a very joyous atmosphere for many more days to come. The same applies to only the greatest extent for Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every Christmas Day is also quite unique in our age for a far different reason. When we go about traveling to Holy Mass and our families on this day, we see that virtually all of the stores and shops are closed. The vast majority have thankfully left their material interests aside for a day to enjoy the blessed company of family and friends and to (hopefully) attend Holy Mass in commemoration of the Birth of our Savior. It would seem, however, that Christmas Day is the only day of the year that the world still respects enough to keep holy. The commands of the Lord’s Day do not oblige only on this Christmas Day, but on every Sunday. In the post-Christian West, unfortunately, Sunday has become like any other day of the week. Businesses and worldly merriment continue on as usual. It is no surprise to see so much of the world economy in such a dire state. God does not bless such abuse of His day!

The famous Maria Von Trapp explained in her book, Around the Year with the Trapp Family, about the stark difference she encountered with the post-World War II Sundays in America as compared to the joyous Sundays in pre-Vatican II Catholic Austria. The Calvinist excesses in the West combined with Vatican II and the emergence of a proposed Freemasonic political “New World Order” have slowly but surely led to a materialistic, atheistic observance of Sunday. We are now imitating the Communist Soviet Union in this way!

Excerpts from Mrs. Von Trapp’s work:

“Our neighbors in Austria were a young couple, Baron and Baroness K. They were getting increasingly curious about Russia and what life there was really like. One day they decided to take a six-weeks trip all over Russia in their car. This was in the time when it was still possible to get a visa. Of course, at the border they were received by a special guide who watched their every step and did not leave them for a moment until he deposited them safely again at the border, but they still managed to get a good first-hand impression. Upon their return they wrote a book about their experiences, and when it was finished, they invited their neighbors and friends to their home in order to read some of their work to them. I shall always recall how slowly and solemnly Baron K. read us the title “The Land Without a Sunday.” Of all the things they had seen and observed, one experience had most deeply impressed them: that Russia had done away with Sunday. This had shocked them even more than what they saw of Siberian concentration camps or of the misery and hardship in cities and country. The absence of Sunday seemed to be the root of all the evil.

“Instead of a Sunday,” Baron K. told us, “the Russians have a day off. This happens at certain intervals which vary in different parts of the country. First they had a five-day week, with the sixth day off, then they had a nine-day work period, with the tenth day off; then again it was an eight-day week. What a difference between a day off and a Sunday! The people work in shifts. While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the over-all impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work, work. The atmosphere was one of constant rush and drive; finally, we confessed to each other that what we were missing most was not a well-cooked meal, or a hot bath, but a quiet, peaceful Sunday with church bells ringing and people resting after prayer.”

Here I must first tell what a typical Sunday in Austria was like in the old days up to the year before the second world war. As I have spent most of my life in rural areas, it is Sunday in the country that I shall describe.

First of all, it begins on Saturday afternoon. In some parts of the country the church bell rings at three o’clock, in others at five o’clock, and the people call it “ringing in the Feierabend.” Just as some of the big feasts begin the night before–on Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve, Easter Eve–so every Sunday throughout the year also starts on its eve. That gives Saturday night its hallowed character. When the church bell rings, the people cease working in the fields. They return with the horses and farm machinery, everything is stored away into the barns and sheds, and the barnyard is swept by the youngest farm-hand. Then everyone takes “the” bath and the men shave. There is much activity in the kitchen as the mother prepares part of the Sunday dinner, perhaps a special dessert; the children get a good scrub; everyone gets ready his or her Sunday clothes, and it is usually the custom to put one’s room in order–all drawers, cupboards and closets. Throughout the week the meals are usually short and hurried on a farm, but Saturday night everyone takes his time. Leisurely they come strolling to the table, standing around talking and gossiping. After the evening meal the rosary is said. In front of the statue or picture of the Blessed Mother burns a vigil light. After the rosary the father will take a big book containing all the Epistles and Gospels of the Sundays and feast days of the year, and he will read the pertinent ones now to his family. The village people usually go to Confession Saturday night, while the folks from the farms at a distance go on Sunday morning before Mass. Saturday night is a quiet night. There are no parties. People stay at home, getting attuned to Sunday. They go to bed rather early.

On Sunday everyone puts on his finery. The Sunday dress is exactly what its name implies–clothing reserved to be worn only on Sunday. We may have one or the other “better dress” besides. We may have evening gowns, party dresses–but this one is our Sunday best, set aside for the day of the Lord. When we put it on, we invariably feel some of the Sunday spirit come over us. In those days everybody used to walk to church even though it might amount to a one or two hours’ hike down and up a mountain in rain or shine. Families usually went to the High Mass; only those who took care of the little children and the cooking had to go to the early Mass. I feel sorry for everyone who has never experienced such a long, peaceful walk home from Sunday Mass, in the same way as I feel sorry for everyone who has never experienced the moments of twilight right after sunset before one would light the kerosene lamps. I know that automobiles and electric bulbs are more efficient, but still they are not complete substitutes for those other, more leisurely ways of living.

Throughout the country, all the smaller towns and villages have their cemeteries around the church; on Sunday, when the High Mass was over, the people would go and look for the graves of their dear ones, say a prayer, sprinkle holy water–a friendly Sunday visit with the family beyond the grave.

In most homes the Sunday dinner was at noon. The afternoon was often spent in visiting from house to house, especially visiting the sick. The young people would meet on the village green on Sunday afternoons for hours of folk dancing; the children would play games; the grownups would very often sit together and make music. Sunday afternoon was a time for rejoicing, for being happy, each in his own way.

Until that night at Baron K.’s house we had done pretty much the same as everybody else. Saturday we had always kept as “Feierabend” for Sunday. There was cleaning on Saturday morning throughout the house, there was cleaning in all the children’s quarters–desks and drawers and toys were put in order. There was the laying out of the Sunday clothes. There was the Saturday rosary, and then–early to bed.

On Sunday we often walked to the village church for High Mass, especially after we had started to sing. Later we used to go into the mountains with the children, taking along even the quite little ones, or we used to play an Austrian equivalent of baseball or volleyball, or we sat together and sang some of the songs we had collected ourselves on our hikes through the mountains. We also did a good deal of folk dancing, we had company come or we went visiting ourselves–just as everybody else used to do. And if anybody had asked us why we began our Sunday on Saturday in the late afternoon, why we celebrated our Sunday this way, we would have raised our eyebrows slightly and said, “Well, because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

(…..)

Even the younger ones knew that “to visit the sick” and “to help the poor” on Sunday corresponds to the character of a day of mercy–“dating back to the ninth century,” they would proudly explain to an unsuspecting uncle.

But, most of all and above all, the gay, joyful character of Sunday was jealously guarded, “because this is the day we should rejoice in the Lord.” The children would arrange folk dances with their friends, ball games in our garden, hikes through the mountains, and home music. Through all these activities, however, the contemplative character of Sunday was always evident, with the children demanding to read the Gospels together and to discuss the liturgy even during mealtime.

After our talk with Father Joseph, our previous observation of Sunday seemed to me like a house built on unprepared ground, until a true builder saw it, straightened it up, and put a strong foundation underneath.

And then we came to America.

In the first weeks we were too bewildered by too many things to notice any particular difference about the Sunday, but I remember missing the sound of the church bells. When I asked why the bells of St. Patrick’s Cathedral do not ring on Sunday morning, I was told, to my boundless astonishment, that it would be too much noise. These were the days when the elevated was still thundering above Sixth Avenue. Never before had we heard noise like this in the heart of a city!

Then we went on our first concert tour. As we were driving from coast to coast in the big blue bus, we tried to make the most of Sunday–as much as the situation permitted. On Saturday afternoon “Feierabend” was declared, and this meant no school (our children had their lessons in the bus and had to take tests twice a year). Then we met to prepare for Mass, as had become our custom under Father Joseph. Everyone took his missal and we either crowded together in the middle of the bus or met in a hotel room, all taking turns reading the texts of the Sunday Mass. This was followed by a more or less lively discussion and a question period led by Father Wasner. Sunday we would wear our Sunday dress, the special Austrian costume set apart for that day. But otherwise Sunday was the day when we were, perhaps, a little more homesick than on any other day, missing the church bells, missing the old-world Sunday.

As we got more used to being in America and as our English progressed, we made a startling discovery Saturday night in America! It was so utterly different from what we were used to. Everybody seemed to be out. The stores were open until ten, and people went shopping. Practically everybody seemed to go to a show or a dance or a party on Saturday night. And finally we discovered the consequence of the American Saturday night: the American Sunday morning. Towns abandoned, streets empty, everybody sleeping until the last minute and then whizzing in his car around the corner to the eleven o’clock Sunday service.

Once we were driving on a Sunday morning through the countryside in the State of Washington and we saw trucks and cars lined up along the fields and people picking berries just as on any other day. To see the farmers working on a Sunday all across the country is not unusual to us any more, and this happens not only during the most pressing seasons for crops.

When we lived in a suburb of Philadelphia in our second year in this country, we found that the rich man’s Sunday delight seemed to consist of putting on his oldest torn pants and cutting his front lawn, or washing his car with a hose, or even cutting down a tree (doctor’s orders–exercise!); while the ladies could be seen in dirty blue jeans mixing dirt and transplanting their perennials. There was none of that serenity and peace of the old-world Sunday anywhere until we discovered the Mennonites and the Pennsylvania Dutch. They even rang the church bells!

The climax of our discoveries about the American Sunday was reached when a lady exclaimed to us with real feeling, “Oh, how I hate Sunday! What a bore!” I can still hear the shocked silence that followed this remark. The children looked hurt and outraged, almost as if they expected fire to rain from heaven. Even the offender noticed something, and that made her explain why she hated Sunday as vigorously as she did. It explained a great deal of the mystery of the American Sunday.

“Why,” she burst out, “I was brought up the Puritan way. Every Saturday night our mother used to collect all our toys and lock them up. On Sunday morning we children had to sit through a long sermon which we didn’t understand; we were not allowed to jump or run or play.” When she met the unbelieving eyes of our children, she repeated, “Yes, honestly–no play at all.” Finally one of ours asked, “But what were you allowed to do?”

“We could sit on the front porch with the grownups or read the Bible. That was the only book allowed on Sunday.” And she added: “Oh, how I hated Sunday when I was young. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I would do the dirtiest work on Sunday, and if I should have children, they would be allowed to do exactly as they pleased. They wouldn’t even have to go to church.”

This was the answer. The pendulum had swung out too far to one side, and now it was going just as far in the other direction; let us hope it will find its proper position soon.

And then we bought cheaply a big, run-down farm in northern Vermont and set up home. By and by we built a house large enough for a big family, and a chapel with a little steeple and a bell. We could celebrate Sunday again to our heart’s content just as we were used to doing. Saturday is a day of cleaning and cooking in our home, and five o’clock rings in “Feierabend,” when all work ceases and everyone goes to wash up and dress. If there are any guests around the supper table, Father Wasner will announce that “after the dishes are done we will all meet in the living room, everybody with his missal, for the Sunday preparation, and everyone is heartily invited to join.” When we are all assembled, we start with a short prayer and then we take turns reading the different texts of the coming Sunday’s Mass, everybody participating in a careful examination of these texts. First we discuss briefly the particular season of the Church year. Then we ask ourselves how this Sunday fits into the season. Do the texts suggest a special mood? Some Sundays could almost be named the Sunday of Joy, or the Sunday of Confidence, the Sunday of Humility, the Sunday of Repentance. Everybody is supposed to speak up, to ask questions, to give his opinion. It is almost always a lively, delightful discussion. At the end we determine the special message of this Sunday and what we could do during the next week to put it into action, both for ourselves and for the people around us. After this preparation for Mass, we all go into the chapel, where we say the rosary together, followed by evening prayers and Benediction.

On Sunday we often sing a High Mass, either in our chapel or in the village church, and on the big Sundays of the year we sing vespers in the afternoon. We know this should become an indispensable part of Sunday, now even more so because the Holy Father has spoken.

I remember my astonishment when our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, found it necessary to say, in his address on Catholic Action in September, 1947 “Sunday must become again the day of the Lord, the day of adoration, of prayer, of rest, of recollection and of reflection, of happy reunion in the intimate circle of the family.” Such a pronouncement, I knew, is meant for the whole world. Was Sunday endangered everywhere, then ?

In the year 1950 we traveled through Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, through the Caribbean Islands and Venezuela, through Brazil and Argentina; we crossed the Andes into Chile, we gave concerts in Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia; and after many months of travel in South America, we went to Europe on a concert tour and sang in many European countries. And I came to understand that the Christian Sunday is threatened more and more both from without and from within–from without through the systematic efforts of the enemies of Christianity, and from within through the mediocrity and superficiality of the Christians themselves who are making of Sunday merely a day of rest, relaxing from work only by seeking entertainment. There was once a time, the Old Testament tells us, when people had become so lazy that they shunned any kind of spiritual effort and no longer attended public worship, so that God threatened them through the mouth of the prophet Osee: “I shall cause all her joy to cease, her feast days and her Sabbath, and all her solemn feasts.”

And now the words of our present Holy Father in his encyclical “Mediator Dei” sound a similar warning:

“How will those Christians not fear spiritual death whose rest on Sundays and feast days is not devoted to religion and piety, but given over to the allurements of the world! Sundays and holidays must be made holy by divine worship which gives homage to God and heavenly food to the soul….Our soul is filled with the greatest grief when we see how the Christian people profane the afternoon of feast days….”

Newspapers and magazines nowadays all stress the necessity of fighting Communism. There is one weapon, however, which they do not mention and which would be the most effective one if wielded by every Christian. Again the Holy Father reminds us of it: “The results of the struggle between belief and unbelief will depend to a great extent on the use that each of the opposing fronts will make of Sunday.” We know what use Russia made of the Sunday. The question now is:

And how about us–you and I?”

Dear readers, the world will not be converted until all nations keep holy the Lord’s Day. May our families and our chapels be the beginning of this great restoration! Let us observe Sunday as beautifully as little Therese:

“And if the great feasts came but seldom, each week brought one very dear to my heart, and that was Sunday. What a glorious day! The Feast of God! The day of rest! First of all the whole family went to High Mass, and I remember that before the sermon we had to come down from our places, which were some way from the pulpit, and find seats in the nave. This was not always easy, but to little Thérèse and her Father everyone offered a place. My uncle was delighted when he saw us come down; he called me his “Sunbeam,” and said that to see the venerable old man leading his little daughter by the hand was a sight which always filled him with joy. I never troubled myself if people looked at me, I was only occupied in listening attentively to the preacher. A sermon on the Passion of our Blessed Lord was the first I understood, and it touched me deeply. I was then five and a half, and after that time I was able to understand and appreciate all instructions. If St. Teresa was mentioned, my Father would bend down and whisper to me: “Listen attentively, little Queen, he is speaking of your holy patroness.” I really did listen attentively, but I must own I looked at Papa more than at the preacher, for I read many things in his face. Sometimes his eyes were filled with tears which he strove in vain to keep back; and as he listened to the eternal truths he seemed no longer of this earth, his soul was absorbed in the thought of another world. Alas! Many long and sorrowful years had to pass before Heaven was to be opened to him, and Our Lord with His Own Divine Hand was to wipe away the bitter tears of His faithful servant.

To go back to the description of our Sundays. This happy day which passed so quickly had also its touch of melancholy; my happiness was full till Compline, but after that a feeling of sadness took possession of me. I thought of the morrow when one had to begin again the daily life of work and lessons, and my heart, feeling like an exile on this earth, longed for the repose of Heaven—the never ending Sabbath of our true Home.”

~Steven C., “The Knight of Tradition”(On the feast of St. John the Apostle)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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