Catholic Church and Its Canons on the Sabbath and Lord’s Day

Summary

In the bible there are scriptures that indicate disciples of Christ met on both the Jewish Sabbath (mainly what we call Saturday) and the first day of the week (what we call Sunday). Scriptures that support Jewish Sabbath Day worship include Acts 13:13-14; 16:13; 17:1-3; 18:4.  It is not clear whether the disciples met on that day because of the convenience of Jews already meeting then or that they met to honor the Sabbath Day.  Given that the early disciples were mostly Jews it is possible both reasons.  Scriptures that support first day of the week worship include Acts 20:7; and I Corinthians 16:1-2.  Acts 20:7 speaks of the disciples breaking bread together and Paul preaching.  1 Cor 16:1-2 speaks of taking a collection for the saints.  It is likely that the disciples met in home churches on the first day of the week and in synagogues on the Sabbath Day.

Some say that Constantine and/or the Catholic Church changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday.  

1. Roman Emperor Constantine Edict in 321:

Constantine in 321 declared Sunday to be a day of rest for some but not all. He did not use the word Sabbath in his Edict. As early as around 107 AD, key early church officials had already declared Sunday to be the Lord’s Day (for worship and rest) and superior to the Jewish Sabbath. So it seems that Constantine made that practice at least more official within the Roman Empire.

2. [Catholic] Synod of Laodicea (4th Century) around 363-365 AD:
Canon 16 says “The Gospels are to be read on the Sabbath [i.e. Saturday], with the other Scriptures.”

Canon 29 says “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema (cursed; excommunicated) from Christ.

Canon 49 says “During Lent the Bread must not be offered except on the Sabbath Day and on the Lord’s Day only.”
So Synod of Laodicea recognized Sabbath but placed the Lord’s Day above Sabbath. Forbade any activities that promoted the law of Moses (Judaism) including resting on Sabbath (Saturday).

3. 1983 Catholic Code of Canon Law:
Canon 16, 29, and 49 makes no mention of Sabbath. Thus, church stopped recognizing and regulating the Sabbath. Instead, the focus shifted solely to the Lord’s Day for the primary day of restful worship although the church tends to meet multiple times during the week including the Sabbath. 

4. Current Catholic Code of Canon Law:
The Current Code of Canon Law is the same regarding the 1983 removal of the text of the previous aforementioned Canons 16, 29, and 49.

5. Protestant Reformation:
Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation apparently did not see a problem with the Lord’s Day. For when they left the Catholic Church, they seem to have kept the Lord’s Day functionality including rest.

Details

Constantine was a 4th Century Roman Emperor.  He as Emperor of the Roman West and Licinius as Emperor of the Roman East issued what is called the Edict of Milan in 313.  It is about religious liberty granted to Christians and all religions.  Christianity up to that time had been highly persecuted within the Roman Empire.  At that time the Roman Empire seemed to have a combination of polytheistic religions and the two monotheistic religions of Judaism and Christianity. The Edict of Milan said:

“When we, Constantine Augustus and Licinius Augustus, met so happily at Milan, and considered together all that concerned the interest and security of the State, we decided … to grant to Christians and to everybody the free power to follow the religion of their choice, in order that all that is divine in the heavens may be favorable and propitious towards all who are placed under our authority.”

Successors to Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD that effectively made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

But before his death Constantine issued the Edict of 321.

Some people say Constantine Edict of 321changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and the Catholic Church followed him. Such sayings are usually rooted in misrepresentations and biases against Christianity and the Christian Church all in a search for truth.  However, there is some basis for such sayings.  Constantine did issue a decree requiring Sunday be a day of rest for some folks but not for all people.  Also, the Catholic Church did issue canons forbidding its members from carrying out and promoting on the Sabbath Day (Saturday) the basic function of the Sabbath Day which is to rest from regular work especially the toils of life.

The text of Constantine Edict is given below. Nowhere does it say the Sabbath is changed from Saturday to Sunday. In fact, nowhere is the word Sabbath mentioned. In an attempt to prove their erroneous point some people insert or assume the word Sabbath into what the Edict says.

Indeed, the edict is a day of rest proclamation; but it says people like farmers may work on that day. But the Sabbath says they cannot work on the Sabbath. Moreover, the Edict does not say prior to that Christians worshipped on a Saturday and that the Edict is changing that worship from Saturday to Sunday (day of the sun). Indeed, there is evidence that the early church met on the first day of the week as well as the seventh day of the week, both in the bible (e.g., Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2) and historical documents of the early church.  As early as around 107 AD, key early church officials had already declared Sunday to be the Lord’s Day (for worship and rest) and superior to the Jewish Sabbath. It seems that Constantine once he converted to Christianity did make official the practices of at least some of the early churches viewing the first day of the week as the primary day for   assembly and rest. 

Constantine’s Edict of 321 says:

“On the venerable day of the sun let the magistrate and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however, persons engaged in agricultural work may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits; because it often happens that another day is not so suitable for grain growing or for vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost. —Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, vol. III, chap. 75.”

I don’t depend on non- biblical sources to draw spiritual conclusions. Yet, I do use them for insight to possibilities and/or to validate what the bible conclusively says. The following demonstrate that many churches before and after Constantine Edict recognized the Sabbath either alone or in combination with the Lord’s Day (Sunday).

St. Ignatius reportedly wrote around 107 AD (prior to the 321 Edict) declaring the Lord’s Day superior to the Jewish Sabbath saying:

“If therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death…”

And St. Justin reportedly between 155-157 AD wrote a document entitled the First Apology where in chapter 67 he notes that Christians met on Sunday saying:

“And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; … But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which Go, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples.”

And the early Apostolic Constitution (250 – 350 AD) reportedly says:

“But keep the Sabbath, and the Lord’s day festival; because the former is the memorial of the creation, and the latter of the resurrection. But there is one only Sabbath to be observed by you in the whole year, which is that of our Lord’s burial, on which men ought to keep a fast, but not a festival.”

And “In the Celtic Orthodox Church, all Priests are obligated to offer the Mass on the Sabbath and on Sunday both.  The laity are expected to fully participate on both days in the measure that may be possible.”

Now what about the Catholic Church

What the Catholic Church has done is not recognize the Sabbath (Jewish Sabbath) as binding on the Christian Church.  The Catholic Church recognizes the Lord’s Day which has its basis in Jesus resurrection.  The Lord’s Day is the first day of the week rather than the seventh day of the week as Jesus rose on the first day of the week.  It seems to have struggled on the years as to what to do about the Sabbath.  The basic idea is that the Sabbath Day as a special day set apart (holy) under the law of Moses under the Old Covenant has been replaced by the Lord’s Day as a special day set apart (holy) under the law of Christ under the New Covenant given that the law of Christ is superior to (better than) the law of Moses (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6). 

I did find a reference to a Catholic Council that did issue some rules to the Catholic Church that are unwise and unsound.  This reference is given at the end of the document and it is entitled Synod of Laodicea (4th Century); this synod or council is believed to have taken place around 363-365 AD.

The reference has a list of Catholic Canons which are at best described as regulations or rules concerning the church assemblies and church member behavior when not in assembly.  Canon 16 says “The Gospels are to be read on the Sabbath [i.e. Saturday], with the other Scriptures.”  And Canon 29 says  “Christians must not judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honouring the Lord’s Day; and, if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.”  And Canon 49 says “During Lent the Bread must not be offered except on the Sabbath Day and on the Lord’s Day only.” The word anathema is a Greek word that has the sense of accursed, banned, excommunicated, etc.  In Galatians 1:9 Paul uses it and it is translated accursed in the KJV. In 1 Cor 16:22 Paul uses it in relations to divine judgement but it is not translated at all but is left Anathema by the KJV translators. 

So Synod of Laodicea recognized Sabbath but placed the Lord’s Day above Sabbath. Forbade any activities that promoted the law of Moses (Judaism) including resting on Sabbath (Saturday). Didn’t formally transfer the Sabbath to Sunday but unwisely transferred its resting function thus for practical purposes informally transferred the Sabbath function to Sunday by taking away the option for its members to rest on the Sabbath (Saturday). The Sabbath was still formally on Saturday as Canon 16 and Canon 49 recognized it for whatever that is worth.

First note that the Catholic Canon 16 recognizes Saturday as the Sabbath and does not do away with Saturday as the recognized Sabbath.  Secondly note that Catholic Canon 29 unwisely prohibits Catholics from resting from work on the Sabbath claiming that to do such a thing would be judaizing where judaizing refers to following Jewish customs and religious rites.  Such a prohibition clearly recognizes Saturday as the Sabbath but imposes unsound doctrine upon the Catholic Church membership. 

So then the Catholic Church didn’t formally transfer the Sabbath to Sunday but unwisely transferred its resting function thus for practical purposes informally transferred the Sabbath function to Sunday by taking away the option for its members to rest on the Sabbath (Saturday). The Sabbath was still formally on Saturday as Canon 16 and Canon 49 recognized it for whatever that is worth.

A major shift occurred in the church as reflected in the 1983 Catholic Code of Canon.  Exactly when the shift occurred is unclear as one would expect there would have been canon law adjustments between 365 AD and 1983 AD but I didn’t find any record of them.

In the 1983 Catholic Code of Canon Law Canons 16, 29, and 49 make no mention of Sabbath. In fact the entire Canon Law makes no mention of Sabbath. Thus, church stopped recognizing and regulating the Sabbath. Thus, it effectively returned the control to its members to rest on whatever day they chose be it Saturday or Sunday since Catholic Churches usually meet on both days. Since, in the bible the weekly sabbath was not a community assembly but a personal family-based rest (Exodus 16:29-30), not officially recognizing the seventh day Sabbath may not be highly   problematic as a practical matter as members can rest on Saturday if they wish and attend community assembly on Sunday if they wish. It was and still is a custom (including synagogue meetings in bible days, Luke 4:16) rather than biblical commandment that humans have made the weekly sabbath more of a community assembly. The exhortation to forsake not the assembly of ourselves (Hebrews 10:25) does not require weekly community wide assembly. So there is not a transfer of Sabbath to Sunday but a promotion of the Lord’s Day as the day of community assembly and rest from work. 

The emphasis is clearly on the Lord’s Day as the prominent day of rest and worship.  Again, exactly when this deletion took place within the Catholic Church between the Synod of Laodicea in the 4th Century and 1983 is unclear.  The Catholic Church position now is seemingly not to prohibit rest on the Sabbath as they do not specify punishment for those who do.  Instead they seemingly just encourage rest on the Lord’s Day.  So even though they omit any mention of the Jewish Sabbath that is better than officially documenting unsound doctrine of prohibiting rest on the Sabbath Day.  So in that regards the 1983 is markedly better than the 4th Century one.  Of course Catholics have the bible to teach them about the Sabbath which of course is superior to the Code of Canon in God’s eyes though not in Catholic official position.  For they unwisely and unsoundly claim that their oral tradition is superior to that which is written in scripture or at least what others think is written in scripture and what it means.  To me, scripture is supreme for scripture says there is no private interpretation; that means the Catholic Church cannot rightly claim it is the only one that can properly interpret scripture although according to my understanding it does make such claims and if so wrongly does so.  Indeed, every church struggles to properly follow the Holy Spirit in interpreting scripture as we strive against sin including the sins of selfishness and arrogance. 

The Current Code of Canon Law is the same regarding the 1983 removal of the text of the previous aforementioned Canons 16, 29, and 49.

In summary, the Catholic Church at least as far back as the 4th century recognized both the Sabbath (Saturday) and Lord’s Day (Sunday) as appropriate for certain but not all worship elements.  However, the Catholic Church errored in prohibiting its members from resting on the Sabbath. At least my 1983 the Catholic Church seemingly only recognizes the Lord’s Day but not the Sabbath Day.  The Catholic Church does not consider the Sabbath as part of the Lord’s Day although the rest and traditionally community worship functionality of the Sabbath is part of the Lord’s Day.  Worship is mandatory in a sense and rest is strongly recommended in Catholic Canon Law. So then for a period of time the Catholic church did require its members to not rest of Saturday but repented of that forceful requirement. Their members are now free to rest on Saturday and consider it their Sabbath if they choose without penalty.

More importantly, even though the Catholic Church do not recognize the Sabbath, non-Catholic churches are free to recognize the Sabbath.  For Catholic rulings are binding only on its members. Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation apparently did not see a problem with the Lord’s Day apparently believing it complies with the Bible. For when they left the Catholic Church they seem to have kept the Lord’s Day functionality including rest.  For they were and resulting denominations/churches are now free to recognize the Sabbath.

I consider the Lord’s Day as the Christian Sabbath although the Catholic Church does not view it as such. My regular day of community worship is Sunday. However, I consider any day as appropriate for community worship.  Therefore, I do not find it problematic for those such as Seventh Day Baptist or Seventh Day Adventist or “Hebrew-Israelites” and others who choose Saturday as their regular day of restful worship.

See my article on the Christian Sabbath or Lord’s Day.

Reference:

Synod of Laodicea (4th Century)

Catholic Reference on the Sabbath

Catholic Reference on Lord’s Day (Sunday)

1983 Catholic Code of Canons

Current Catholic Code of Canon Law (See Book IV, Part III for Sacred Times)

The Lord’s Day

First Apology of St. Justin

Analysis of Quotes from Early Church Fathers on Sabbath Day

Early Church Fathers on the Sabbath and Lord’s Day

Apostolic Constitution

Celtic Orthodox Church

Categories
Christianity Christian Sabbath/Holidays

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