Counting can be a problem, at first glance. Old Testament literalists may fuss at Christians for shifting Sabbath observance to the first day. But in our weird way of counting time, and adding a dollop of the transcendant to the week, it is said we celebrate the eighth day. Not the first.
Pope John Paul II titles this section, “The eighth day: image of eternity.” What does he mean by that?
26. By contrast, the Sabbath’s position as the seventh day of the week suggests for the Lord’s Day a complementary symbolism, much loved by the Fathers. Sunday is not only the first day, it is also “the eighth day”, set within the sevenfold succession of days in a unique and transcendent position which evokes not only the beginning of time but also its end in “the age to come”.
A doctor of the Church gives witness:
Saint Basil explains that Sunday symbolizes that truly singular day which will follow the present time, the day without end which will know neither evening nor morning, the imperishable age which will never grow old; Sunday is the ceaseless foretelling of life without end which renews the hope of Christians and encourages them on their way.(Cf. Saint Basil, On the Holy Spirit, 27, 66: SC 17, 484-485. Cf. also Letter of Barnabas 15, 8-9: SC 172, 186-189; Saint Justin, Dialogue with Trypho 24; 138: PG 6, 528, 793; Origen,Commentary on the Psalms, Psalm 118(119), 1: PG 12, 1588)
Sunday is a suggestion of heaven. Perhaps some look forward to an eternal TGIF, or a golf-n-leisure filled Saturday. But Saint Basil suggests here that eternity may look more like a Sunday. Would we want it to look and feel more like a Sunday? And if not, does that say something about our current views and practices than it does about our great expectations of the afterlife?
Looking towards the last day, which fulfills completely the eschatological symbolism of the Sabbath, Saint Augustine concludes the Confessions describing the Eschaton as “the peace of quietness, the peace of the Sabbath, a peace with no evening”.(“Domine, praestitisti nobis pacem quietis, pacem sabbati, pacem sine vespera“: Confess., 13, 50: CCL 27, 272) In celebrating Sunday, both the “first” and the “eighth” day, the Christian is led towards the goal of eternal life.(Cf. Saint Augustine, Epist. 55, 17: CSEL 34, 188: “Ita ergo erit octavus, qui primus, ut prima vita sed aeterna reddatur“.)
Pax sine vespera: what a beautiful image. An eternal afternoon to enjoy God and be enjoyed by the Almighty. No curtain of darkness descending. No doubts or questions about what might come tomorrow.