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Keeping holy the Sabbath

After attending Sunday Mass, how can we bring Jesus’ presence that we just experienced forward into our celebration of the Sabbath?

The Catholic Voice recently spoke with Father Damien Cook, pastor of St. Philip Neri-Blessed Sacrament Parish in Omaha, who shared his reflections on the Sabbath and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. 

In this third and final segment in a series, Father Cook talks about how to reflect on the riches of our eucharistic celebration and the Word of God in Scripture to make God present in our lives on the Sabbath, and every day of the week.

Q. We are given the commandment to “Keep holy the Sabbath,” but living up to that commandment can be a challenge given the busyness of modern life. We often leave Mass and head right off to a busy schedule of activities. But what should we be doing? How can we savor and reflect on the love of Jesus that we just experienced during Mass?

We’re all built different, and I don’t think our culture helps. It seems like many of us fly by the seat of our pants just because we’re so busy. But the spirit of the Sabbath, of taking time, isn’t supposed to be just for the Sabbath, but hopefully a lesson to infuse the rest of the days.

There are countless ways to honor the Sabbath and I certainly don’t know them all. But I would say that reflecting on what you received at the Mass is really important. St. Benedict always talked about prayer being like a cow chewing his cud, which isn’t the most romantic of thoughts, but you have to constantly keep digesting. Mass isn’t meant to be a fast food meal that you just eat on the run and it’s gone. It’s meant to be a sumptuous meal that you’re still talking about. You’ve just been given a feast, a banquet. It’s almost a disservice if we don’t revisit it later in the day by asking that simple question, “Where did God love me in the Mass?” Or, “Where did I receive love?” Or, “What lifted me up in joy through the Mass?” 

We also can take the opportunity at the dinner table, to go beyond just praying the standard blessing, and connect the meals of the day back to the eucharistic meal by asking a simple question at the table before we eat, as part of the blessing, “What are you grateful for?” You’re tying what you should be reflecting on before the Mass back to your home life. Just asking that question evangelizes people to think in a way they may not normally think. And certainly we need to hear that ourselves and to think about it and express it.

It’s also important to take part in genuine leisure. God actually gave the Sabbath day for real leisure. It’s always difficult in our culture to differentiate between what refreshes the spirit and what is just a diversion. For a lot of people, that may be reading, taking a nap, playing a board game or cards as a family or with friends, but with a real sense of leisure.

Creating something is also a really great thing. Some people would say, “Well, that’s work.” But creating something can be uplifting. So draw a picture, write a poem, make up a story, write a letter, build something out in the workshop, plant something in the garden. I think building up creation with the Lord is something that he’d desire – not something onerous, which is what we’re trying to avoid, but a positive kind of activity where you feel good and healthy and rested.

Q. What about the rest of the week? Obviously we’re encouraged to go to daily Mass if possible. But are there other ways, throughout the rest of the week, to continue to grow and benefit spiritually? What do you recommend for the rest of the week?

I think one of the best kept secrets in our Catholic tradition is what’s called the Liturgy of the Hours. I think that the Liturgy of the Hours, which offers Scripture and some readings and some intercessory prayer, could be a beautiful way for those who can’t get to daily Mass easily.

First of all, it’s not a whole hour. I think people get intimidated hearing that, because they think you have to pray every hour on the hour or for a whole hour. There are certainly different lengths and someone doesn’t have to do all of them. There are typically five times of the day, including early morning, morning, sometime in the daytime, evening, and night. I think even picking one of those can be a beautiful practice. They use the Psalms, and they’re really an extension of the Mass and lead back to the Mass. In some ways, it’s a Liturgy of the Word, but done privately or with others.

People often think of this as being only for religious communities or for priests, but I’m a big believer in trying to encourage people – it really is encouraged by the Vatican, too – for all the faithful to try praying the Liturgy of the Hours, even just one of them a day.

Q. That sounds like a good way to draw ourselves away from the many things that occupy our minds all day long and give us a structured way to turn our thoughts back to the Lord.

Absolutely. Other than going to daily Mass, which is the supreme gift, another devotional practice is the Angelus, where we say some Hail Marys along with particular readings about the incarnation, or special readings during Lent and Easter. That’s done at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m., but it doesn’t have to be exactly those hours. It could just be morning, lunchtime and evening. But there’s something beautiful about those hours, just stopping during the day, that sanctifies time. When I hear the church bells ring at six or noon or six as some parishes still do, we can stop as a family or as a classroom, or just privately at work for a moment and pray these prayers, again, inviting the Lord into my day and thanking him for the day.