At Eucharistic Congress, Vatican cleric stresses importance of Sunday
CHARLOTTE — In a keynote address during the Diocese of Charlotte's Eucharistic Congress Sept. 23-24, Cardinal Francis Arinze spoke about the importance of Sunday Mass and the observance of Sunday as the Lord's Day in an increasingly secularized world.
"Religion is not an option. It is not an accessory footnote. It is the duty of the human creature in front of God the Creator," Cardinal Arinze said.
The seventh annual congress attracted a record crowd of more than 11,000 Catholics from around the Carolinas to Charlotte, hosted by Bishop Peter J. Jugis at the Charlotte Convention Center. Raleigh Bishop Michael F. Burbidge also spoke during the two-day event, one of the few Eucharistic congresses in the U.S. held annually and one of only two held in the Southeast each year.
Watch videos from Cardinal Arinze's keynote address here.
The congress included a Eucharistic procession through uptown Charlotte, Mass, Eucharistic adoration at the convention center and at historic St. Peter Church in uptown Charlotte, educational programs in both English and Spanish for children and adults, and confession.
"Sunday is the Lord's day, the day of Christ, the day of the Church and also God's gift to us humans," said the Nigerian cleric, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and a leading Vatican scholar on liturgy, Africa and Islam. "The Eucharistic celebration is central to Sunday. It is important to see Sunday as source, summit and center of Catholic life."
Cardinal Arinze emphasized why Christians should keep the day holy despite the challenges and distractions they face, speaking to a crowd of more than 2,500 faithful gathered at the convention center Sept. 23.
"All time, all history belongs to God. Every instant should be spent in adoring and praising Him and rejoicing in His presence. Nevertheless, it remains true that God has singled out a day in the week when humanity should pay special attention to Him. So as the Book of Genesis tells us, 'So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it,'" he said.
"The Third Commandment is very clear: 'Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.' The day of the Lord is therefore not just a day of rest for man, a day to put aside our daily work. It is that, but it is much more than that. It is primarily a day in which human beings give special attention to God the Creator, a day in which people commemorate the wonders created by God. The day of the Lord is that special day in the week in which man manifests his gratitude to God the Creator by adoration, praise, thanksgiving and by admiration of the wonders provided by God. And the Church does this especially by the Eucharistic celebration."
The Eucharistic celebration is the heart of the day of the Lord, he noted.
"The Eucharistic Sacrifice is 'the fount and apex of the whole Christian life' (Lumen Gentium, 11). The only possession which the Church has which is equal to a Mass is, well, another Mass! She does not possess anything greater.... The more people are convinced of these riches, the more they will appreciate the need for the Sunday Mass, without having to see participation at this assembly as a matter primarily of Church law."
This coming together then gives the Catholic community a sense of being a community of faith, worship and solidarity, he explained. And it is powerful.
"God has called us, not just as individuals, but as a community.... The Catholic Mass in Charlotte is in communion with members of the Church in Rome, in Paris, in London, in Washington, D.C., in Mexico City, in Brasilia, in Canberrra, in Tokyo, in New Delhi, in Jerusalem, in Warsaw, in Nairobi and in Abuja. This sense of catholicity is very reassuring and encouraging for a Catholic who takes part at Sunday Mass."
There are obstacles to honoring the day of the Lord, though, he said. "In many societies in the world of today, Sunday is being challenged by several forces which, as it were, are in competition with it."
In the more industrialized nations, he blamed "the weekend mentality" for infringing on celebration of the Lord's Day and taking a day of rest on Sundays. This view sees Saturday, as well as Sunday, as work-free days.
"The tendency is to see both days as a 'weekend,' a pair of days or a period in which normal work activities are suspended and one has the opportunity to make space for several engagements for which there was not enough time during the week (i.e., social engagements, feasts, political rallies and funerals)."
Cardinal Arinze also addressed the idea that many view Sunday as a free day for sports and recreation – football games, picnics, visits to friends, or grocery shopping.
"Such social and cultural activities are good in themselves. They possess positive value and can become part of a properly disciplined observance of the Day of the Lord," he said. "'Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning and becomes merely part of a 'weekend,' it can happen that people stay locked within a horizon so limited that they can no longer see 'the heavens' (Dies Domini, 4)."
Cardinal Arinze explains that underlying most of these habits result from not considering Sunday primarily as a day set apart for God.
"Many modern societies are affected by the virus of secularism," he said. "People live as if God did not exist and as if man were the center around which everything else should rotate. Such people are trying to turn 'the Day of the Lord' into 'the day of man.'
This has a dangerous effect which "drags the human heart away from God and religion and from a sense of God's transcendence. It progressively obscures or elbows out long-established Christian values," he said.
"Christianity cannot accept such an approach," Cardinal Arinze said. "God is our Creator. We are His creatures....We owe him adoration, praise, thanksgiving and also reparation because we are sinners. Religion is not an option. It is not an accessory footnote. It is the duty of the human creature in front of God the Creator. If this objective is well oriented, the dimension of Sunday as a reality that also enriches man will be located in its proper place – that is, secondary to the worship due to God."
— SueAnn Howell, staff writer. Photos by SueAnn Howell.
Editor's Note: Staff writer SueAnn Howell was granted an exclusive interview with Cardinal Arinze. Read her interview with Cardinal Arinze.