It seems appropriate to restart our series on Pope John Paul II’s document on Sunday … on Easter Sunday.
Christianity’s everlasting ability to inculturate, to adapt, and to utilize other traditions to further the Gospel of Christ. The day of a pagan sun god? Who cares? It suits, and besides: it has been totally overtaken by the Christian understanding in the West.
27. This Christocentric vision sheds light upon another symbolism which Christian reflection and pastoral practice ascribed to the Lord’s Day. Wise pastoral intuition suggested to the Church the christianization of the notion of Sunday as “the day of the sun”, which was the Roman name for the day and which is retained in some modern languages.(Thus in English “Sunday” and in German “Sonntag”.) This was in order to draw the faithful away from the seduction of cults which worshipped the sun, and to direct the celebration of the day to Christ, humanity’s true “sun”. Writing to the pagans, Saint Justin uses the language of the time to note that Christians gather together “on the day named after the sun”,(Apologia I, 67: PG 6, 430) but for believers the expression had already assumed a new meaning which was unmistakeably rooted in the Gospel.(Cf. Saint Maximus of Turin, Sermo 44, 1: CCL 23, 178; Sermo 53, 2: CCL 23, 219; Eusebius of Caesarea, Comm. in Ps. 91: PG 23, 1169-1173) Christ is the light of the world (cf. Jn 9:5; also 1:4-5, 9), and, in the weekly reckoning of time, the day commemorating his Resurrection is the enduring reflection of the epiphany of his glory. The theme of Sunday as the day illuminated by the triumph of the Risen Christ is also found in the Liturgy of the Hours* and is given special emphasis in the Pannichida, the vigil which in the Eastern liturgies prepares for Sunday. From generation to generation as she gathers on this day, the Church makes her own the wonderment of Zechariah as he looked upon Christ, seeing in him the dawn which gives “light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Lk 1:78-79), and she echoes the joy of Simeon when he takes in his arms the divine Child who has come as the “light to enlighten the Gentiles” (Lk 2:32).
* See, for example, the Hymn of the Office of Readings: “Dies aetasque ceteris octava splendet sanctior in te quam, Iesu, consecras primitiae surgentium (Week I); and also: “Salve dies, dierum gloria, dies felix Christi victoria, dies digna iugi laetitia dies prima. Lux divina caecis irradiat, in qua Christus infernum spoliat, mortem vincit et reconciliat summis ima” (Week II). Similar expressions are found in hymns included in the Liturgy of the Hours in various modern languages.