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God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it

 Dio benedisse il settimo giorno e lo consacrò   DCM-006
01 June 2024

We have always been convinced, perhaps, that the words with which the first account of creation concludes, contained in the book of Genesis, speak of God’s rest: “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation” (2:2-3). The logic is there: after labor comes proper rest. A right even for God Himself.

Ultimately, in our Western societies, the alternation between work and rest, which reflects in the social sphere the biological cycle of wakefulness and sleep, is considered not only a necessity but also a right. Against this backdrop, the ongoing discussion about the opening of supermarkets on May Day or about paid vacations must be understood. However, it is not entirely fair when Sunday is also included in this discussion. The “Lord’s Day” should not be equated with other civil holidays because it has a very different meaning from the days of rest dictated by social organization or work ethics. It is true that the scheduling of the work calendar effectively represents a compromise between civil commemorations and religious holidays specific to the majority tradition of the human group to which it refers. This explains why in Italy the day of rest is the Christian one and not the Islamic Friday or the Jewish Saturday. However, it also suggests that inevitably, as our societies become increasingly multicultural and multi-religious, even the convention represented by the calendar needs to be rethought.

The Genesis text, however, does not aim to legitimize, by taking even an example from God’s rest, a division of time into seven days, with six days for work and one for rest. The narrative does not merely state that God rested on the seventh day from all the work He had made in creating, but it strongly asserts that on that day, the seventh, God blessed it and sanctified it. Here, in these two verbs, lies the entire significance of the text. It is a vocabulary with a strong liturgical connotation: God wants one day to be qualitatively different from the other six, and He “sanctifies” it, that is, reserves it for Himself, making it a reality that belongs to Him. Everything else in creation, from the stars to the animals to humans, each lives according to— we could say— the specific rules of its own “species”. Waters must be separated, the above and the below cannot be confused, communication between animals and humans is neither absolute nor total, only the two physiological principles of male and female allow procreation and, with it, the survival of the species. God’s creative capacity lies in revealing what guarantees that chaos will not prevail. Individual and collective humanity is in the likeness of a God who is capable of setting limits even to His own creative power, and the full theological sense of the Sabbath then lies in revealing that the fullness of power lies precisely in the suspension of one’s own capacity for power.

After the time of the Exodus, Israel will translate the profound meaning of the sanctification of the Sabbath into observance of a commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates;  for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it”.

 (Exodus 20:8-11).

This makes us reflect: to rest from work is a right; the sanctification of a day for God is a commandment. Perhaps the profound crisis of Sunday precepts, which aimed to sanctify the Lord’s Day with forced Mass attendance, will prove to be a blessing. It will not be easy to overcome it, of course, because it requires rediscovering the deep meaning of a relationship with the entirety of the world that passes through God’s creative force. A force that teaches us, we could say paraphrasing the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, that, “There is a time to do and a time to refrain from doing” (3:1-11), perhaps we would begin.