By: Maria Von Trapp
A Land Without Sunday
"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 Russian 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 the cities and country. The absence of Sunday seemed to be the root of all the evil.
"Instead of a Sunday," Baron K. told us, "Russians have a day off. This happens at certain intervals which carry 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 it's 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 5 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 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 farmhand. 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 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.
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."
But when my husband and I were walking home that night from Baron K.'s house, we realized that our complacency--so prevalent among people in pre-war days--had received a rude shock. It dawned on us that we had taken something for granted that was, in reality, a privilege: namely, that we lived in a country where Sunday was not so much observed as it was celebrated as the day of the Lord. This was a new way of looking at things, and the light was still rather dim, but I can see now in retrospect that a new chapter in our life as a Christian family began that very night.
We were lucky. The priest who stayed with us at that time, saying Mass in our chapel, and who had become a close friend of the family, was in a very special way a "Sunday fan," as we teasingly called it.
"I don't know what is the matter with Father Joseph," my husband had remarked to me at various times. "He always hints that we don't make enough of the Lord's Day. Why, we stop work on Saturday when the "Feierabend" begins; like everybody else, we get ready for Sunday by preparing our Sunday clothes, going to Confession, reading the Epistle and Gospel. On Sunday we go to Mass together with our children, we have a good Sunday breakfast, later in the day we go visiting. If there's anyone sick among our friends, we try to see him. We spend the day together as a family, as it should be. We go for hikes with the children, or we play games, or we have some folk dancing, or we make music....I really don't know what he means."
I do know now. It is true that we spent the Day of the Lord as a family, praying, resting, and rejoicing together. I'm sure Father Joseph did not object to that. But what he felt was that we did it unthinkingly, as a matter of routine, because everybody in Austria in those days did it like this. It had become a tradition. Father Joseph must have sensed the great danger to a nation once people observe religious customs only because "everybody does it" or "for hundreds of years it has been done this way." He knew that every generation has to rediscover for its own use the inheritance that has been handed down from its ancestors. Otherwise all those beautiful old customs, religious or other, lose their vitality and become museum pieces. Father Joseph noticed that increasingly people were answering, when asked why they observed certain rites, "because we have always done it that way," and he was alarmed. What he was most concerned about, however, was the celebration of Sunday.
On the crucial night, we decided that we would get together with Father Joseph the very next day and ask him to tell us all we didn't know about Sunday. So we asked him to have a cup of coffee with us. If he had a weakness, it was for coffee. With this, one could lure him always. Smiling in anticipation, he took his cup when my husband asked quite casually, "Father, would you mind telling us all about Sunday and why you were so upset when we once wanted to go to a movie on Saturday night, or when Rupert and Werner took their bicycles apart on a Sunday afternoon?"
And now something unexpected happened. Father Joseph put his cup down, went over to my husband, took his hand in both of his, shook it heartily, and said with a voice audibly moved: "Thank you, Georg, thank you for this question. I have been praying for this moment for a long time!" And then he added, "I won't be able to tell you all about Sunday, but we can at least start...."
How well I remember it all--for I have re-lived this moment many times since, only now it is I who take Father Joseph's place and listen to some more or less impatient good Christian questioning: "May I ask what is the matter with you and your Sunday and what you are always fussing about?"
Father Joseph was right. He was not able to tell us everything in this first session. When my husband and I saw that we were on the threshold of a great discovery, we suggested that we let the older children participate. From then on we spent many, many evenings, and every Saturday evening, listening to Father Joseph explaining to us "all about Sunday."
He began by giving us a history of the development of the Sunday in Apostolic times. The first Christian community in Jerusalem remained faithful to the observation of the Sabbath Day as well as to the prayer in the Temple, as we know from the "Acts of the Apostles." But at a very early date the Apostles themselves must have instituted a new custom after the close of the Sabbath, the Christians remained assembled in prayer and meditation and chanting of hymns to spend the night in vigil and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the early hours of the morning. As their Lord and Saviour had risen from the dead on the day after the Sabbath--"in prima Sabbathi," as the four Evangelists call that day--the first Christian community celebrated, not the seventh day, like the Jews, but the first day of the week, and so made every Sunday into a little Easter.
Then Father Joseph suggested we read in the "Acts of the Apostles" about those times when the young Church was increasingly faced with the perplexing question whether non-Jewish converts from paganism should be obliged to observe all the Jewish laws too, as, for instance, the observation of the Sabbath Day. And we read about the Council of Jerusalem around the year 50 A.D., when the Apostles decided that the Sabbath Day need not be observed any more. From then on the "Acts of the Apostles" reveal that those two sacred days begin to conflict. St. Paul still uses the Sabbath to teach in the synagogues about Jesus Christ, but he also organizes and presides over the Sunday celebration in the new Christian communities of the Greek world. The conflict becomes more open toward the end of the first century when the Christians cease to call their holy day "Sabbath" and name it "the Lord's Day," or "Dominica," instead. We find the first mention of "the Lord's Day" in the first chapter of the Apocalypse, where St. John says that his vision took place on "the Lord's Day." St. Ignatius of Antioch will use this term again in his letters to the young Christian communities. In the Didache, one of the earliest descriptions of the lives of the first Christians, we find the sentence, "But on the Lord's Day, when you have gathered together, break bread and give thanks."
Then Father Joseph told us about the situation of the Christians outside the Holy Land. In the Roman Empire, every ninth day was a holiday. The Christians in Rome and Asia Minor were unacquainted with the main characteristic of the Jewish Sabbath Day--the complete cessation of work. Living under Roman law, it would have been impossible for them to stop working, especially in periods of persecution. We now came to see that, while the act of worship of the Sabbath of old consisted in abstaining from work, the act of worship of the Sunday of the Christians consisted, from the very beginning, in the celebration of the Eucharist. To assist at the sacrifice of the Mass was strictly indispensable. Even in times of persecution, when the Church had to go underground, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated secretly in private homes early in the morning. Every Sunday morning the Christians risked their lives in order to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. We know that Rome had its very efficient secret police and that during the first three hundred years of Christianity, thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives. What a great day Sunday must have been to those people! One of our children asked, "Father Joseph, didn't the early Christians always celebrate Holy Mass in the catacombs?" and he answered that the most recent archeological findings show that the most ancient churches in Rome were erected on the foundations of private homes; the common belief is now that the catacombs, as public cemeteries, would have been too easy a target for the Roman police. Only occasionally Holy Mass was said there, over the body of one of the martyrs; the usual Sunday celebration would take place secretly in private homes.
Next we saw the Church rising in the beginning of the fourth century. The times of persecution were over; a new life was beginning. The ceremonies of the Holy Eucharist did not have to be held in secret and in the dark of the night; they could now be celebrated in broad daylight. This led to important changes in the celebration of Sunday. From now on the Sunday liturgy begins to develop more and more. In the fourth century the great Roman basilicas were erected in different parts of the big city.
At this phase of our study, we spent many evening hours with Father Joseph, listening to his explanation of the origin of the station churches. On the main Sundays of the year, such as Pentecost and the Sundays following the Ember Days, the Pope used to go in solemn procession to celebrate Holy Mass in one of these basilicas, accompanied by all the clergy and faithful of Rome.
Father Joseph's enthusiasm was contagious. He knew Rome as well as we knew our house and garden. He brought a box with postal cards along, showing all the ancient basilicas, all the station churches, details from their architecture, and especially the mosaics. When our concert tour several years later took us to Rome, it was like coming home to a familiar place.
In the fourth century the Sunday took on a new character. Now the Church could afford to declare it the official holy day of the week. In the sixth century we see that the cessation of work has already become a law.
A new change became apparent with the flowering of monasticism. From the very beginning, the monks took up the idea of hourly prayer throughout the day and of special prayers at midnight. This had a decided influence on the celebration of the Sunday vigil, which had always been observed but was now becoming a general practice. After having spent the greater part of the night from Saturday to Sunday and the morning hours in prayer and meditation, the Sunday necessarily took on the character of a day of rest. Now the Sunday had taken over completely the function of the Sabbath. It had become both a day of worship and a day of rest.
Parallel with the development of the Sunday went the development of the liturgical year. In the beginning, the Christians celebrated only one feast: that of Easter. It began on Good Friday, rose to its height on Easter Sunday and was continued during fifty days, the Paschal season, which ended with Pentecost Sunday. The first four hundred years of Christianity did not know the season of Lent, but the Christians fasted every Friday, and later every Wednesday also.
In the fourth century a new feast came to be celebrated: the anniversary of Christ's birth; and just as Pentecost was the completion of Easter, so the feast of the Epiphany became the conclusion of the festive Christmas time. The liturgy of the fourth century, then, was centered on two big feasts Christmas and Easter. As time went on, both of these feasts developed further and added weeks of preparation, the season of Lent and the season of Advent. Now the liturgical year was formed. Its development had a most important influence on Sunday. So far the Sundays had repeated over and over again the celebration of the same mystery: Christ rising from the dead. Now, however, each Sunday took on a significance of its own. No longer were there just "Sundays," but Sundays during Advent, Sundays during Lent, Sundays after Easter, and Sundays after Pentecost. Some took on a special name, such as "Gaudete Sunday," "Laetare Sunday," "Good Shepherd Sunday," "Rogation Sunday."
Of course, our children wanted to know: "And how about the feasts of the saints?" And we learned that during the first few hundred years only a martyr was considered worthy of being commemorated on a special feast day. On the anniversary of his martyrdom Holy Mass would be said, but only at the place where his body rested. This restricted the feasts of the martyrs to specific places. Beginning with the fourth century, saints that had not died the death of martyrdom were given a special feast. Such a feast doubled the octave of the day; hence the name "double feast." For many centuries, however, the sanctoral cycle was considered secondary to the temporal cycle, which is seen, for instance, in the law that during the time of Lent no feast of a saint could be celebrated. Of course, no Sunday would ever yield to the feast of a saint, however famous.
During the Middle Ages the Sunday, besides still being the commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ, took on a special character as a day of forgiveness and mercy. From the ninth century on, the Church asked that on Sunday all military operations be suspended!
In this period falls the development of the liturgical drama. The reading of the Gospel, the reading of the Passion on Good Friday and of the Gospel of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday started it. Several members of the clergy, dressed in alb and stole, took on the different parts in order to make Holy Mass more interesting to the faithful who no longer understood Latin, the language of the Church. It became more and more common to enact parts of the Gospel stories in the sanctuary. In those times the people began to forget that the liturgy should, first and foremost, be prayer and adoration, and not entertainment for the faithful. Furthermore, throughout the Middle Ages the liturgy of the saints grew in importance. The feast of the saints were multiplying and encroaching on the Sundays. Finally, the slightest double feast had precedence over the Sunday, until, finally, in the eighteenth century only Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday were properly Sundays and not a saint's day. All the other liturgical Sunday Masses had vanished, even those of the Sundays of Advent and Lent. This condition lasted until, finally, the holy Pope Pius X saw the seriousness of this state of affairs and remedied it with his great reform, which gave the lost Sunday back to the Church.
This is only a brief summary of what we learned in weeks and months about the history of the Sunday. We were also made aware that Our Lord had singled out Sundays for His most solemn acts and commands--His Resurrection, the command to the Apostles to go and preach to the whole world, the institution of the Sacrament of Penance and the Descent of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost. Having realized this, the Sunday can never be a day like any other to us. It is truly a consecrated day, a day of grace.
And this launched us on a new search--for more and more knowledge about the "day of grace." From the very beginning Sunday brought to all Christians, first of all, the grace of dedication. It gave and gives them the unique chance to surrender themselves entirely to God. To what an extent this was true we came to see especially at the times of persecution. Since, from the very beginning, to assist at Mass was identical with receiving Communion, anybody who did not appear at Sunday Mass thereby excommunicated himself and was not considered a member of the Church any more. To the ones who cooperated with this grace of dedication, however, Sunday turned immediately into a day of joy, because joy is the result of dedication. As soon as we surrender ourselves completely to God, our hearts will be filled with peace and joy. Therefore, every Sunday the Church repeats in the Office the words which sound like an echo from Easter: "This is the day which the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad." So we see that, besides the grace of dedication, the liturgy of the Sunday obtains also for us the grace of joy and the grace of peace. Another grace we discovered, which is designed directly for the majority of the faithful who cannot afford to say with the psalmist, "Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee," and for whom the seven canonical hours and the nightly vigils are some kind of spiritual luxury. God, in His great mercy, has set aside for them every week a sacred day and for that day has provided the grace of contemplation, which otherwise seems reserved only for the ones who have "time to pray." Since the days of St. Jerome it has been believed that the Sunday bestows on all who celebrate it in a Christian manner the grace of contemplation. In the Middle Ages the lay people used to flock into the convents and monasteries on Sundays to talk about God and spiritual things with the ones they considered professionals--the monks and nuns--as we can read in the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.
Yet another grace Sunday has in store for us. As we have a right to believe eternity will be one uninterrupted Easter Sunday, so every Sunday throughout the year helps the Christian people to prepare for that great Sunday to come. It is a day of expectation, a weekly reminder that here is only the beginning of true happiness.
The theme is endless. More and more graces will be discovered as we meditate together on the mystery of the Sunday.
It is wonderful to make such discoveries together with children or young people. To them, things are either right or wrong, and as soon as they feel in their own lives that they are not as they should be, they immediately undertake "to do something about it." That is the way it was with our children and the Sunday.
Soon after our research had begun, they founded an "Association for the Restoration of the Sunday" with Father Joseph as president. It was their own idea. The association appointed one member of the family for each Sunday, and he or she had the responsibility of seeing to it that this Sunday would be observed to the best of our ability as the Day of the Lord. The more we learned about the great sanctity of this day, the more disturbed the children became over the inadequacy of our Sunday habits. From now on, Saturday evening would be kept free from any outside appointments. The "Feierabend" would no longer be kept because "everybody did it," but because Saturday night had now become the vigil of the Day of the Lord, hallowed by almost two thousand years of observance. The Sunday clothes were no longer "an old Austrian custom." They helped to stress the sacred character of the day. No one would have wanted to put on dirty work clothes in order to take one's bicycle apart.
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.
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?