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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE THIRD COMMANDMENT: "Remember that You Keep Holy the Sabbath Day."
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There are five reasons for this Commandment. The first reason was to put

aside error, for the Holy Spirit saw that in the future some men would say

that the world had always existed. "In the last days there shall come

deceitful scoffers, walking after their own lusts, saying: Where is His

promise or His coming? For since the time that the fathers slept, all

things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. For this they

are willfully ignorant of, that the heavens were before, and the earth out

of water, and through water, created by the word of God."2 God, therefore,

wished that one day should be set aside in memory of the fact that He

created all things in six days, and that on the seventh day He rested from

the creation of new creatures. This is why the Lord placed this Commandment

in the law, saying: "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day."


The Jews kept holy the Sabbath in memory of the first creation; but Christ

at His coming brought about a new creation. For by the first creation an

earthly man was created, and by the second a heavenly man was formed: "For

in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor

uncircumcision, but a new creature."3 This new creation is through grace,

which came by the Resurrection: "That as Christ is risen from the dead by

the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we

have been planted together in the likeness of His death, so shall we also

be in the likeness of His resurrection."4 And thus, because the

Resurrection took place on Sunday, we celebrate that day, even as the Jews

observed the Sabbath on account of the first creation.5


The second reason for this Commandment is to instruct us in our faith in

the Redeemer. For the flesh of Christ was not corrupted in the sepulchre,

and thus it is said: "Moreover My flesh also shall rest in hope."6 "Nor

wilt Thou give Thy holy one to see corruption."7 Wherefore, God wished that

the Sabbath should be observed, and that just as the sacrifices of the Old

Law signified the death of Christ, so should the quiet of the Sabbath

signify the rest of His body in the sepulchre. But we do not now observe

these sacrifices, because with the advent of the reality and the truth,

figures of it must cease, just as the darkness is dispelled with the rising

of the sun. Nevertheless, we keep the Saturdays in veneration of the

Blessed Virgin, in whom remained a firm faith on that Saturday while Christ

was dead.


The third reason is that this Commandment was given to strengthen and

foreshadow the fulfillment of the promise of rest. For rest indeed was

promised to us: "And it shall come to pass on that day, that when God shall

give thee rest from thy labor, and from thy vexation, and from the hard

bondage, wherewith thou didst serve before."8 "My people shall sit in the

beauty of peace, and in the tabernacle of confidence, and in wealthy



We hope for rest from three things: from the labors of the present life,

from the struggles of temptations, and from the servitude of the devil.

Christ promised this rest to all those who will come to Him: "Come to Me,

all ye that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up My yoke

upon you, and learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you

shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is sweet and My burden light."10


However, the Lord, as we know, worked for six days and on the seventh He

rested, because it is necessary to do a perfect work: "Behold with your

eyes how I have labored a little, and have found much rest to Myself."11

For the period of eternity exceeds the present time incomparably more than

a thousand years exceeds one day.


Fourthly, this Commandment was given for the increase of our love: "For the

corruptible body is a load upon the soul."12 And man always tends downwards

towards earthly things unless he takes means to raise himself above them.

It is indeed necessary to have a certain time for this; in fact, some do

this continually: "I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall

ever be in my mouth."13 And again: "Pray without ceasing."14 These shall

enjoy the everlasting Sabbath. There are others who do this (i.e., excite

love for God) during a certain portion of the day: "Seven times a day I

have given praise to Thee."15 And some, in order to avoid being entirely

apart from God, find it necessary to have a fixed day, lest they become too

lukewarm in their love of God: "If you call the Sabbath delightful . . .

then shalt thou be delighted in the Lord."16 Again: "Then shalt thou abound

in delights of the Almighty, and shalt lift up thy face to God."17 And

accordingly this day is not set aside for the sole exercise of games, but

to praise and pray to the Lord God. Wherefore, St. Augustine says that it

is a lesser evil to plough than to play on this day.18


Lastly, we are given this Commandment in order to exercise works of

kindliness to those who are subject to us. For some are so cruel to

themselves and to others that they labor ceaselessly all on account of

money. This is true especially of the Jews, who are most avaricious.

"Observe the day of the Sabbath to sanctify it . . . that thy man-servant

and thy maid-servant may rest, even as thyself."19 This Commandment,

therefore, was given for all these reasons.


2. II Peter, iii. 3-5.


3. Gal., vi. 15.


4. Rom., vi. 4-5.


5. "The Apostles, therefore, resolved to consecrate the first of the seven

days of the week to the divine worship, and they called it 'the Lord's

Day.' St. John makes mention of 'the Lord's Day' in the Apocalypse (i. 10),

and St. Paul commands collections to be made 'on the first day of the week'

(I Cor., xvi. 2). . . . From all this we learn that even then the Lord's

Day was kept holy in the Church. . . . The Church of God has thought it

well to transfer the celebration and observance of the Sabbath to Sunday.

On that day light first shone on the world when the Lord arose on that day,

and the gate of eternal life was thrown open to us and we were called out

of darkness into light. . . . We also learn from the Holy Scriptures that

the first day of the week was held sacred for other reasons, viz., on that

day the creation began, and on that day the Holy Ghost descended upon the

Apostles" ("Roman Catechism." Third Commandment, 7, 18).


6. Ps. xv. 9.


7. "Ibid.," 10.


8. Isa., xiv. 3.


9. "Ibid.," xxxii. 18.


10. Matt., xi. 28-30.


11. Ecclus., li. 35.


12. Wis., ix. 15.


13. Ps. xxxiii. 2.


14. I Thess., v. 17.


15. Ps. cxviii. 164.


16. Isa., lviii. 13-14.


17. Job xxii. 26.


18. This is a reference to the great public spectacles and games.


19. Deut., v. 12-14.


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