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Apostolic Letter

on keeping the Lord’s Day holy


Commentary given during a press conference for the presentation of the papal document at the Holy See Press Office on July 7th 1998 and published in the Osservatore Romano on July 8th. English translation from the original Italian.

1. The Apostolic Letter “Dies Domini” on keeping holy the Lord’s Day, can be placed first of all within the framework of preparations for the Great Jubilee of 2000.The approaching third millennium , the Pope says, “calls believers to reflect upon the course of history in the light of Christ, and also invites them to rediscover with new intensity the meaning of Sunday: its "mystery", its celebration, its significance for Christian and human life.” (n. 3).

Sunday is described by the Pope as an indispensable element of the identity of the Christian and of the Church as she presents herself to the generations of the new millennium (n. 30).

Pilgrimage, the sense of time, rest, salvation and liberation, jubilee and joy are aspects common to both Sunday and the Jubilee for which we are preparing. The better we celebrate Sunday, the better we will celebrate the Jubilee.

2. The Letter takes as its point of reference the Second Vatican Council, in particular the Council’s liturgical reform, referring to and quoting its texts, confirming its directives. With the Council, the Church “made provision for the reform of the liturgy, the <source and summit> of her life…The best preparation for the new millennium therefore, can only be expressed in a renewed commitment to apply, as faithfully as possible, the teachings of Vatican II to the life of every individual and of the whole Church.” (TMA n. 19, 20).

3. The Letter takes up and develops from beginning to end, the central theme of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: the liturgy is the carrying out, in time, of the history of salvation.

The wondrous works God carried out in the past to save his People (the Old and New Testament), find their summit in the paschal mystery of Christ perpetuated in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist during which Christians relive the paschal experience of Emmaus and show themselves to the world as Church.

4. The Letter deals with the theme of Sunday from various aspects: historical, biblical, patristic and juridical, but its characterising element is a constant reference to concrete celebration and to post-Conciliar liturgical-pastoral practice. As the Pope himself explains, the text of the Letter is drawn from his own direct pastoral experience: “Many of the insights and intuitions which prompt this Apostolic Letter have grown from my Episcopal service in Krakow and, since the time when I assumed the ministry of Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter, in the visits to the Roman parishes which I have made regularly on the Sundays of the different seasons of the Liturgical Year.” (n. 3).

5. From this viewpoint of reference to liturgical pastoral since the Council, several interesting elements may be highlighted:

a) It is clearly stated that the essential feast-day for Christians is Sunday, the day of salvation, relived above all through participation in the Sunday Mass.

Confirmed therefore the pre-eminence of Sunday (the weekly Easter celebration) and the pre-eminence of the annual Easter celebration (n. 79) over other celebrations, popular traditions or customs typical to a specific country which could distort Sunday. These traditions must not intrude on Sunday, rather they must be made to point towards it. (n. 80)

b) Numerous indications regarding the concrete celebration of the Eucharist, with frequent references to the directives given by the Sacrosanctum Concilium document and the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, render this Letter, more than thirty years after the Council and on the threshold of the third millennium, an important liturgical-pastoral catechesis on the implementation of that reform. The Pope addresses to everyone, priests and faithful, a call to verify aspects of the celebration of the Sunday Mass: “more than thirty years after the Council, we need to assess”:

- the manner in which the Word of God is proclaimed and listened to;

- the relationship between a liturgical celebration and a lived experience;

- the responsibility of ministers in studying the Sacred Scriptures, leading the prayers and expressing the contents (homily) of the Word of God;

- the singing during the liturgy and the joy it should express;

- fidelity to baptismal promises (conversion);

- active participation in the Eucharist.

Interesting and significant is also the Pope's frequent reference to the parish as the reference point for the Sunday Mass and for Christian life. (nn. 40,50,51)

c) Weekly rest for Christians is seen essentially in relation to God, to celebrate His saving works, a time to rediscover the values of the spirit, dialogue and solidarity with others, to lighten the burden of daily concerns, to discover anew joy and hope (nn. 67,83,84). Christian rest is therefore distinct from the week-end, it is not just any kind of interruption of work (n. 17).

The Letter also gives useful insights into the social aspect of this rest, the need to guarantee the Sunday rest of the poorer categories, and into the superficial and questionable manner in which society today lives free time. (nn. 65, 66, 82).

d) In the face of creation, today too often disfigured, the Letter underlines the ecological value which can be given to the weekly rest. We are all encouraged to rediscover and enjoy the beauty of nature just as God the Creator looked at his “very good” work, gazing at it with joyous delight. (n. 11).

e) With regard to televised Eucharistic celebrations, the emphasis is on the sick or other members of the faithful prevented for some other reason from taking part in Mass, in these cases radio and television are a precious help. However, apart from the literal significance, one senses an awareness of the importance acquired by these broadcasts in recent years. They are in fact the only means of entering every home, even the home of the non-believer or the person who is just curious.

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It is on our keeping holy the Lord’s Day that the future of the Church depends rather than on the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

The Jubilee of 2000, the Pope says at the end of his Letter, will pass, “as we look to other jubilees and other solemn events. As the weekly “solemnity” however, Sunday will continue to shape the time of the Church’s pilgrimage, until that Sunday which will know no evening” (n. 87).


Titular Bishop of Martirano
Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations