WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Fr. Stefano Penna says we can rearrange our lives to be with the Lord on Sunday.
To be a Christian in a meaningful public way, one must go and meet with the Lord on Sunday in the Eucharist, says Father Stefano Penna.
"I teach about world religions and I teach people about the five pillars of Islam," Penna said a recent catechesis on the Mass at Newman Theological College.
"I say there are also six precepts of being a Catholic: go to Church on Sunday, go to Confession, make sure you fast on the days of obligation, support the work of the Church, follow the laws of the Church regarding marriage and share the Church's mission of caring for the poor.
"That's not a description of whether you are good person or a bad person. It is a description of whether or not you are a Catholic who practices or not," Penna said.
"Fundamental to all of this is gathering at the Eucharist, which stands at the very centre, at the heart of what it means to be a Christian as it has for 2,000 years."
Penna, a professor at Newman Theological College and its current vice-president, gave the fourth of six catecheses on the Mass May 16. The archdiocesan offices of liturgy and catechesis along with Newman College sponsor the lectures.
To say the Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives as Christians is to say, "Jesus and my relationship with him is the anchor of everything that I do," Penna explained. "He is the source of my life."
From the beginning, the Lord's Day was the identifying reality of a Christian. "Christians were people who kept the Lord's Day and, learning from their Jewish forebears, they kept it as a day of rest."
In doing so they echoed the great story of the creation. God created the world and then on the Sabbath, the seventh day, God rested.
Moreover, as Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, Sunday became the day in which Christians would gather with the Resurrected Lord who said, "Let me feed you with my body and my blood so that you can become my community."
This basic rhythm is the anchor, the heartbeat of a Christian and the Christian community, Penna explained.
"The day of the Lord stands like the heartbeat of a living person, for it is the heartbeat of the living person of Christ Jesus alive in his Church."
Unfortunately, Sunday as the day of the Lord is gone. "Sunday is lost; we don't speak about Sunday anymore," the priest lamented.
"We speak about, if anything, the weekend. The whole sense of how you structure time in which the Eucharist has a powerful influence has passed away."
Now no day is different from the rest. "This means that for a Christian to do what is at the essence of being a Christian – meeting the Lord in the Eucharist weekly on the Lord's Day – is now no longer supported by the culture."
For Penna, the purpose of Sunday has always been clear.
"Even as a young child I knew what Sunday was all about. Sunday was about Church and Sunday was about grandma."
Sunday was also marked by long dinners filled with good conversation, good wine and too much food. As good Italians, the Pennas would undo their belts and let their stomachs hang out as there was no room for all the food.
"That's just like our spirits on Sunday from what we really receive. We receive so much, there is no way we are going to digest it. So we go out for the rest of the week to digest it and allow it to become part of our being."
The problem is this is no longer a lived encounter for people because Sunday is no longer the Sabbath, Penna said.
Many people talk about the end of family life and the end of a Christian culture in Canada, he said.
"What's happened is that we had an operation as a culture and that operation was a heart removal. We took our heart out and its beating and its rhythm and instead we put an electric technical heart in that doesn't correspond to any sort of season or beats."
Now the Lord's Day is used to do the thing that is the central worship reality of our culture – shopping.
"We can go shopping now every day of the week, especially on Sunday," the priest said. "The kids can't stay with grandma because grandma may be working on Sunday. There is no day structured where people can come in and reconnect with family."
Christians, however, have the option of not allowing the heartbeat of the world to become their heartbeat.
In other words, the Christians today have to live like the first Christians who were slaves and had no Sunday rest.
"Yet in the midst of that, they were able to carve out a space because they knew who the source of their life was: Jesus Christ.
"Because they knew him and they knew his face and heard his voice in the community that surrounded them, because they tasted that reality of the Eucharist, they would do anything they could to rearrange the day, to rearrange the week so they could be with him as he wanted them."
We too can rearrange our lives to be with the Lord on Sunday, Penna said.