By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 30, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The first of the two appearances of Christ described in today’s Gospel occurs Easter evening, “the first day after the Sabbath,” and the second appearance, the one in which the episode with Thomas takes place, occurs “eight days later,” that is, again on the first day after the Sabbath.
The insistence on the chronological date of the two appearances shows the Evangelist John’s intention to present Jesus’ meeting with his followers in the cenacle as a prototype of the Church’s Sunday assembly. Jesus is present among his disciples in the Sunday Eucharist too; he gives them peace and the Holy Spirit; at communion they touch, indeed they receive, his wounded and risen body, reciting the Creed they proclaim, like Thomas, their faith in him.
The designation “first day of the week” is very soon replaced by the other designation “day of the Lord” (Revelation 1:10), whose exact corresponding phrase in Latin is “dies dominica.” “Dominica” very soon passes from being an adjective to being a noun and this is how our Italian word “Domenica” (“Sunday”) came about.
A distinctive trait of Sunday in the epoch of the Fathers is joy. We already see it anticipated in today’s Gospel: “The disciples rejoiced in seeing the Lord” (John 20:20). Sunday is regarded as the “little Easter,” or “the weekly Easter.” By extension, the verse of Psalm 118 in which the Jews and Christians referred to the Passover, is applied to Sunday: “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (118:24).
Naturally, the liturgical assembly is the heart of Sunday. What the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist represented for Christians in the time of persecution is shown to us by the North African martyr Saturnius and his companions, who died under the persecution of Diocletian in A.D. 305. To the Roman judge who accused them of transgressing the emperor’s order not to hold meetings, the martyrs said: “The Christian cannot be without the Eucharist and the Eucharist cannot be without the Christian.” “The Eucharist is the hope and the salvation of Christians.”
A line spoken by these martyrs is often cited thus: “We cannot live without Sunday.” But this translation is not very exact. Taken literally, it does not make much sense. The word that is translated as “Sunday” here (“dominicum”) actually means “the Lord’s meal,” that is, the Eucharist. The title of the congress, therefore, must be understood, if at all, in the sense of: “We cannot live without the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist.”
We need to rediscover what Sunday was for the first centuries, when it was a special day, not because of external supports but by its own internal force. The obligation to attend Sunday Mass by itself does not seem to be sufficient to bring Christians to Church on Sunday. We must emphasize the need that the Christian has to receive the body and blood of the Lord over his obligation to receive it. “[S]haring in the Eucharist,” John Paul II wrote in “Novo Millennio Inuente,” “should really be the heart of Sunday for every baptized person. It is a fundamental duty, to be fulfilled not just in order to observe a precept but as something felt as essential to a truly informed and consistent Christian life.”
No Catholic should return home from Sunday Mass without feeling, in some measure, “reborn to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). When one returns home from encountering the risen Lord, Sunday acquires a new taste and color: Everything is more beautiful, even sitting at table at home or at a restaurant, even the game at the stadium.[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]
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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 1:23-9; John 20:19-31.