The Land Without a Sunday
by Maria Von Trapp
is an excerpt from the 1955 book "Around the Year with the Trapp Family,"
by Maria Von Trapp of the Trapp Family Singers ("Sound of Music") fame.
Our neighbors in Austria were a young couple, Baron and Baroness K. They
were getting increasingly curious about Russia and what life there was really
like. One day they decided to take a six-weeks trip all over Russia in their
car. This was in the time when it was still possible to get a visa. Of course,
at the border they were received by a special guide who watched their every
step and did not leave them for a moment until he deposited them safely again
at the border, but they still managed to get a good first-hand impression.
Upon their return they wrote a book about their experiences, and when it
was finished, they invited their neighbors and friends to their home in order
to read some of their work to them. I shall always recall how slowly and
solemnly Baron K. read us the title "The Land Without a Sunday." Of all the
things they had seen and observed, one experience had most deeply impressed
them: that Russia had done away with Sunday. This had shocked them even more
than what they saw of Siberian concentration camps or of the misery and hardship
in cities and country. The absence of Sunday seemed to be the root of all
"Instead of a Sunday," Baron K. told us, "the Russians have a day off. This
happens at certain intervals which vary in different parts of the country.
First they had a five-day week, with the sixth day off, then they had a nine-day
work period, with the tenth day off; then again it was an eight-day week.
What a difference between a day off and a Sunday! The people work in shifts.
While one group enjoys its day off, the others continue to work in the factories
or on the farms or in the stores, which are always open. As a result the
over-all impression throughout the country was that of incessant work, work,
work. The atmosphere was one of constant rush and drive; finally, we confessed
to each other that what we were missing most was not a well-cooked meal,
or a hot bath, but a quiet, peaceful Sunday with church bells ringing and
people resting after prayer."
Here I must first tell what a typical Sunday in Austria was like in the old
days up to the year before the second world war. As I have spent most of
my life in rural areas, it is Sunday in the country that I shall describe.
First of all, it begins on Saturday afternoon. In some parts of the country
the church bell rings at three o'clock, in others at five o'clock, and the
people call it "ringing in the Feierabend." Just as some of the big feasts
begin the night before--on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve, Easter Eve--so
every Sunday throughout the year also starts on its eve. That gives Saturday
night its hallowed character. When the church bell rings, the people cease
working in the fields. They return with the horses and farm machinery, everything
is stored away into the barns and sheds, and the barnyard is swept by the
youngest farm-hand. Then everyone takes "the" bath and the men shave. There
is much activity in the kitchen as the mother prepares part of the Sunday
dinner, perhaps a special dessert; the children get a good scrub; everyone
gets ready his or her Sunday clothes, and it is usually the custom to put
one's room in order--all drawers, cupboards and closets. Throughout the week
the meals are usually short and hurried on a farm, but Saturday night everyone
takes his time. Leisurely they come strolling to the table, standing around
talking and gossiping. After the evening meal the rosary is said. In front
of the statue or picture of the Blessed Mother burns a vigil light. After
the rosary the father will take a big book containing all the Epistles and
Gospels of the Sundays and feast days of the year, and he will read the pertinent
ones now to his family. The village people usually go to Confession Saturday
night, while the folks from the farms at a distance go on Sunday morning
before Mass. Saturday night is a quiet night. There are no parties. People
stay at home, getting attuned to Sunday. They go to bed rather early.
On Sunday everyone puts on his finery. The Sunday dress is exactly what its
name implies--clothing reserved to be worn only on Sunday. We may have one
or the other "better dress" besides. We may have evening gowns, party
dresses--but this one is our Sunday best, set aside for the day of the Lord.
When we put it on, we invariably feel some of the Sunday spirit come over
us. In those days everybody used to walk to church even though it might amount
to a one or two hours' hike down and up a mountain in rain or shine. Families
usually went to the High Mass; only those who took care of the little children
and the cooking had to go to the early Mass.
I feel sorry for everyone who has never experienced such a long, peaceful
walk home from Sunday Mass, in the same way as I feel sorry for everyone
who has never experienced the moments of twilight right after sunset before
one would light the kerosene lamps. I know that automobiles and electric
bulbs are more efficient, but still they are not complete substitutes for
those other, more leisurely ways of living.
Throughout the country, all the smaller towns and villages have their cemeteries
around the church; on Sunday, when the High Mass was over, the people would
go and look for the graves of their dear ones, say a prayer, sprinkle holy
water--a friendly Sunday visit with the family beyond the grave.
In most homes the Sunday dinner was at noon. The afternoon was often spent
in visiting from house to house, especially visiting the sick. The young
people would meet on the village green on Sunday afternoons for hours of
folk dancing; the children would play games; the grownups would very often
sit together and make music. Sunday afternoon was a time for rejoicing, for
being happy, each in his own way.
Until that night at Baron K.'s house we had done pretty much the same as
everybody else. Saturday we had always kept as "Feierabend" for Sunday. There
was cleaning on Saturday morning throughout the house, there was cleaning
in all the children's quarters--desks and drawers and toys were put in order.
There was the laying out of the Sunday clothes. There was the Saturday rosary,
and then--early to bed.
On Sunday we often walked to the village church for High Mass, especially
after we had started to sing. Later we used to go into the mountains with
the children, taking along even the quite little ones, or we used to play
an Austrian equivalent of baseball or volleyball, or we sat together and
sang some of the songs we had collected ourselves on our hikes through the
mountains. We also did a good deal of folk dancing, we had company come or
we went visiting ourselves--just as everybody else used to do. And if anybody
had asked us why we began our Sunday on Saturday in the late afternoon, why
we celebrated our Sunday this way, we would have raised our eyebrows slightly
and said, "Well, because that's the way it's always been done."
But when my husband and I were walking home that night from Baron K.'s house,
we realized that our complacency--so prevalent among people in pre-war days--had
received a rude shock. It dawned on us that we had taken something for granted
that was, in reality, a privilege: namely, that we lived in a country where
Sunday was not so much observed as it was celebrated as the day of the Lord.
This was a new way of looking at things, and the light was still rather dim,
but I can see now in retrospect that a new chapter in our life as a Christian
family began that very night.
We were lucky. The priest who stayed with us at that time, saying Mass in
our chapel, and who had become a close friend of the family, was in a very
special way a "Sunday fan," as we teasingly called it.
"I don't know what is the matter with Father Joseph," my husband had remarked
to me at various times. "He always hints that we don't make enough of the
Lord's Day. Why, we stop work on Saturday when the "Feierabend" begins; like
everybody else, we get ready for Sunday by preparing our Sunday clothes,
going to Confession, reading the Epistle and Gospel. On Sunday we go to Mass
together with our children, we have a good Sunday breakfast, later in the
day we go visiting. If there's anyone sick among our friends, we try to see
him. We spend the day together as a family, as it should be. We go for hikes
with the children, or we play games, or we have some folk dancing, or we
make music....I really don't know what he means."
I do know now. It is true that we spent the Day of the Lord as a family,
praying, resting, and rejoicing together. I'm sure Father Joseph did not
object to that. But what he felt was that we did it unthinkingly, as a matter
of routine, because everybody in Austria in those days did it like this.
It had become a tradition. Father Joseph must have sensed the great danger
to a nation once people observe religious customs only because "everybody
does it" or "for hundreds of years it has been done this way." He knew that
every generation has to rediscover for its own use the inheritance that has
been handed down from its ancestors. Otherwise all those beautiful old customs,
religious or other, lose their vitality and become museum pieces. Father
Joseph noticed that increasingly people were answering, when asked why they
observed certain rites, "because we have always done it that way," and he
was alarmed. What he was most concerned about, however, was the celebration
On the crucial night, we decided that we would get together with Father Joseph
the very next day and ask him to tell us all we didn't know about Sunday.
So we asked him to have a cup of coffee with us. If he had a weakness, it
was for coffee. With this, one could lure him always. Smiling in anticipation,
he took his cup when my husband asked quite casually, "Father, would you
mind telling us all about Sunday and why you were so upset when we once wanted
to go to a movie on Saturday night, or when Rupert and Werner took their
bicycles apart on a Sunday afternoon?"
And now something unexpected happened. Father Joseph put his cup down, went
over to my husband, took his hand in both of his, shook it heartily, and
said with a voice audibly moved: "Thank you, Georg, thank you for this question.
I have been praying for this moment for a long time!" And then he added,
"I won't be able to tell you all about Sunday, but we can at least start...."
How well I remember it all--for I have re-lived this moment many times since,
only now it is I who take Father Joseph's place and listen to some more or
less impatient good Christian questioning: "May I ask what is the matter
with you and your Sunday and what you are always fussing about?"
Father Joseph was right. He was not able to tell us everything in this first
session. When my husband and I saw that we were on the threshold of a great
discovery, we suggested that we let the older children participate. From
then on we spent many, many evenings, and every Saturday evening, listening
to Father Joseph explaining to us "all about Sunday."
He began by giving us a history of the development of the Sunday in Apostolic
times. The first Christian community in Jerusalem remained faithful to the
observation of the Sabbath Day as well as to the prayer in the Temple, as
we know from the "Acts of the Apostles." But at a very early date the Apostles
themselves must have instituted a new custom after the close of the Sabbath,
the Christians remained assembled in prayer and meditation and chanting of
hymns to spend the night in vigil and to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in
the early hours of the morning. As their Lord and Saviour had risen from
the dead on the day after the Sabbath--"in prima Sabbathi," as the four
Evangelists call that day--the first Christian community celebrated, not
the seventh day, like the Jews, but the first day of the week, and so made
every Sunday into a little Easter.
Then Father Joseph suggested we read in the "Acts of the Apostles" about
those times when the young Church was increasingly faced with the perplexing
question whether non-Jewish converts from paganism should be obliged to observe
all the Jewish laws too, as, for instance, the observation of the Sabbath
Day. And we read about the Council of Jerusalem around the year 50 A.D.,
when the Apostles decided that the Sabbath Day need not be observed any more.
From then on the "Acts of the Apostles" reveal that those two sacred days
begin to conflict. St. Paul still uses the Sabbath to teach in the synagogues
about Jesus Christ, but he also organizes and presides over the Sunday
celebration in the new Christian communities of the Greek world. The conflict
becomes more open toward the end of the first century when the Christians
cease to call their holy day "Sabbath" and name it "the Lord's Day," or
"Dominica," instead. We find the first mention of "the Lord's Day" in the
first chapter of the Apocalypse, where St. John says that his vision took
place on "the Lord's Day." St. Ignatius of Antioch will use this term again
in his letters to the young Christian communities. In the Didache, one of
the earliest descriptions of the lives of the first Christians, we find the
sentence, "But on the Lord's Day, when you have gathered together, break
bread and give thanks."
In the days of St. Ignatius, who was martyred around the year 110, the Christians
went one step further in their detachment from the Old Testament, which now
was considered as a symbol and prefiguration, to be fulfilled in the New
Testament. St. Ignatius writes that "it is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ
and to practice Judaism." In his day, the Sunday already had completely replaced
the Sabbath of the Old Law as the weekly sacred day.
Then Father Joseph told us about the situation of the Christians outside
the Holy Land. In the Roman Empire, every ninth day was a holiday. The Christians
in Rome and Asia Minor were unacquainted with the main characteristic of
the Jewish Sabbath Day--the complete cessation of work. Living under Roman
law, it would have been impossible for them to stop working, especially in
periods of persecution. We now came to see that, while the act of worship
of the Sabbath of old consisted in abstaining from work, the act of worship
of the Sunday of the Christians consisted, from the very beginning, in the
celebration of the Eucharist. To assist at the sacrifice of the Mass was
strictly indispensable. Even in times of persecution, when the Church had
to go underground, the Holy Eucharist was celebrated secretly in private
homes early in the morning. Every Sunday morning the Christians risked their
lives in order to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. We know that Rome had its
very efficient secret police and that during the first three hundred years
of Christianity, thousands of martyrs sacrificed their lives. What a great
day Sunday must have been to those people! One of our children asked, "Father
Joseph, didn't the early Christians always celebrate Holy Mass in the catacombs?"
and he answered that the most recent archeological findings show that the
most ancient churches in Rome were erected on the foundations of private
homes; the common belief is now that the catacombs, as public cemeteries,
would have been too easy a target for the Roman police. Only occasionally
Holy Mass was said there, over the body of one of the martyrs; the usual
Sunday celebration would take place secretly in private homes.
Next we saw the Church rising in the beginning of the fourth century. The
times of persecution were over; a new life was beginning. The ceremonies
of the Holy Eucharist did not have to be held in secret and in the dark of
the night; they could now be celebrated in broad daylight. This led to important
changes in the celebration of Sunday. From now on the Sunday liturgy begins
to develop more and more. In the fourth century the great Roman basilicas
were erected in different parts of the big city.
At this phase of our study, we spent many evening hours with Father Joseph,
listening to his explanation of the origin of the station churches. On the
main Sundays of the year, such as Pentecost and the Sundays following the
Ember Days, the Pope used to go in solemn procession to celebrate Holy Mass
in one of these basilicas, accompanied by all the clergy and faithful of
Father Joseph's enthusiasm was contagious. He knew Rome as well as we knew
our house and garden. He brought a box with postal cards along, showing all
the ancient basilicas, all the station churches, details from their architecture,
and especially the mosaics. When our concert tour several years later took
us to Rome, it was like coming home to a familiar place.
In the fourth century the Sunday took on a new character. Now the Church
could afford to declare it the official holy day of the week. In the sixth
century we see that the cessation of work has already become a law.
A new change became apparent with the flowering of monasticism. From the
very beginning, the monks took up the idea of hourly prayer throughout the
day and of special prayers at midnight. This had a decided influence on the
celebration of the Sunday vigil, which had always been observed but was now
becoming a general practice. After having spent the greater part of the night
from Saturday to Sunday and the morning hours in prayer and meditation, the
Sunday necessarily took on the character of a day of rest. Now the Sunday
had taken over completely the function of the Sabbath. It had become both
a day of worship and a day of rest.
Parallel with the development of the Sunday went the development of the
liturgical year. In the beginning, the Christians celebrated only one feast:
that of Easter. It began on Good Friday, rose to its height on Easter Sunday
and was continued during fifty days, the Paschal season, which ended with
Pentecost Sunday. The first four hundred years of Christianity did not know
the season of Lent, but the Christians fasted every Friday, and later every
In the fourth century a new feast came to be celebrated: the anniversary
of Christ's birth; and just as Pentecost was the completion of Easter, so
the feast of the Epiphany became the conclusion of the festive Christmas
time. The liturgy of the fourth century, then, was centered on two big feasts
Christmas and Easter. As time went on, both of these feasts developed further
and added weeks of preparation, the season of Lent and the season of Advent.
Now the liturgical year was formed. Its development had a most important
influence on Sunday. So far the Sundays had repeated over and over again
the celebration of the same mystery: Christ rising from the dead. Now, however,
each Sunday took on a significance of its own. No longer were there just
"Sundays," but Sundays during Advent, Sundays during Lent, Sundays after
Easter, and Sundays after Pentecost. Some took on a special name, such as
"Gaudete Sunday," "Laetare Sunday," "Good Shepherd Sunday," "Rogation Sunday."
Of course, our children wanted to know: "And how about the feasts of the
saints?" And we learned that during the first few hundred years only a martyr
was considered worthy of being commemorated on a special feast day. On the
anniversary of his martyrdom Holy Mass would be said, but only at the place
where his body rested. This restricted the feasts of the martyrs to specific
places. Beginning with the fourth century, saints that had not died the death
of martyrdom were given a special feast. Such a feast doubled the octave
of the day; hence the name "double feast." For many centuries, however, the
sanctoral cycle was considered secondary to the temporal cycle, which is
seen, for instance, in the law that during the time of Lent no feast of a
saint could be celebrated. Of course, no Sunday would ever yield to the feast
of a saint, however famous.
During the Middle Ages the Sunday, besides still being the commemoration
of the Resurrection of Christ, took on a special character as a day of
forgiveness and mercy. From the ninth century on, the Church asked that on
Sunday all military operations be suspended!
In this period falls the development of the liturgical drama. The reading
of the Gospel, the reading of the Passion on Good Friday and of the Gospel
of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday started it. Several members of the clergy,
dressed in alb and stole, took on the different parts in order to make Holy
Mass more interesting to the faithful who no longer understood Latin, the
language of the Church. It became more and more common to enact parts of
the Gospel stories in the sanctuary. In those times the people began to forget
that the liturgy should, first and foremost, be prayer and adoration, and
not entertainment for the faithful. Furthermore, throughout the Middle Ages
the liturgy of the saints grew in importance. The feast of the saints were
multiplying and encroaching on the Sundays. Finally, the slightest double
feast had precedence over the Sunday, until, finally, in the eighteenth century
only Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday were properly Sundays and not a saint's
day. All the other liturgical Sunday Masses had vanished, even those of the
Sundays of Advent and Lent. This condition lasted until, finally, the holy
Pope Pius X saw the seriousness of this state of affairs and remedied it
with his great reform, which gave the lost Sunday back to the Church.
This is only a brief summary of what we learned in weeks and months about
the history of the Sunday. We were also made aware that Our Lord had singled
out Sundays for His most solemn acts and commands--His Resurrection, the
command to the Apostles to go and preach to the whole world, the institution
of the Sacrament of Penance and the Descent of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost.
Having realized this, the Sunday can never be a day like any other to us.
It is truly a consecrated day, a day of grace.
And this launched us on a new search--for more and more knowledge about the
"day of grace." From the very beginning Sunday brought to all Christians,
first of all, the grace of dedication. It gave and gives them the unique
chance to surrender themselves entirely to God. To what an extent this was
true we came to see especially at the times of persecution. Since, from the
very beginning, to assist at Mass was identical with receiving Communion,
anybody who did not appear at Sunday Mass thereby excommunicated himself
and was not considered a member of the Church any more. To the ones who
cooperated with this grace of dedication, however, Sunday turned immediately
into a day of joy, because joy is the result of dedication. As soon as we
surrender ourselves completely to God, our hearts will be filled with peace
and joy. Therefore, every Sunday the Church repeats in the Office the words
which sound like an echo from Easter: "This is the day which the Lord hath
made. Let us rejoice and be glad." So we see that, besides the grace of
dedication, the liturgy of the Sunday obtains also for us the grace of joy
and the grace of peace. Another grace we discovered, which is designed directly
for the majority of the faithful who cannot afford to say with the psalmist,
"Seven times a day I have given praise to Thee," and for whom the seven canonical
hours and the nightly vigils are some kind of spiritual luxury. God, in His
great mercy, has set aside for them every week a sacred day and for that
day has provided the grace of contemplation, which otherwise seems reserved
only for the ones who have "time to pray." Since the days of St. Jerome it
has been believed that the Sunday bestows on all who celebrate it in a Christian
manner the grace of contemplation. In the Middle Ages the lay people used
to flock into the convents and monasteries on Sundays to talk about God and
spiritual things with the ones they considered professionals--the monks and
nuns--as we can read in the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.
Yet another grace Sunday has in store for us. As we have a right to believe
eternity will be one uninterrupted Easter Sunday, so every Sunday throughout
the year helps the Christian people to prepare for that great Sunday to come.
It is a day of expectation, a weekly reminder that here is only the beginning
of true happiness.
The theme is endless. More and more graces will be discovered as we meditate
together on the mystery of the Sunday.
It is wonderful to make such discoveries together with children or young
people. To them, things are either right or wrong, and as soon as they feel
in their own lives that they are not as they should be, they immediately
undertake "to do something about it." That is the way it was with our children
and the Sunday.
Soon after our research had begun, they founded an "Association for the
Restoration of the Sunday" with Father Joseph as president. It was their
own idea. The association appointed one member of the family for each Sunday,
and he or she had the responsibility of seeing to it that this Sunday would
be observed to the best of our ability as the Day of the Lord. The more we
learned about the great sanctity of this day, the more disturbed the children
became over the inadequacy of our Sunday habits. From now on, Saturday evening
would be kept free from any outside appointments. The "Feierabend" would
no longer be kept because "everybody did it," but because Saturday night
had now become the vigil of the Day of the Lord, hallowed by almost two thousand
years of observance. The Sunday clothes were no longer "an old Austrian custom."
They helped to stress the sacred character of the day. No one would have
wanted to put on dirty work clothes in order to take one's bicycle apart.
Even the younger ones knew that "to visit the sick" and "to help the poor"
on Sunday corresponds to the character of a day of mercy--"dating back to
the ninth century," they would proudly explain to an unsuspecting uncle.
But, most of all and above all, the gay, joyful character of Sunday was jealously
guarded, "because this is the day we should rejoice in the Lord." The children
would arrange folk dances with their friends, ball games in our garden, hikes
through the mountains, and home music. Through all these activities, however,
the contemplative character of Sunday was always evident, with the children
demanding to read the Gospels together and to discuss the liturgy even during
After our talk with Father Joseph, our previous observation of Sunday seemed
to me like a house built on unprepared ground, until a true builder saw it,
straightened it up, and put a strong foundation underneath.
And then we came to America.
In the first weeks we were too bewildered by too many things to notice any
particular difference about the Sunday, but I remember missing the sound
of the church bells. When I asked why the bells of St. Patrick's Cathedral
do not ring on Sunday morning, I was told, to my boundless astonishment,
that it would be too much noise. These were the days when the elevated was
still thundering above Sixth Avenue. Never before had we heard noise like
this in the heart of a city!
Then we went on our first concert tour. As we were driving from coast to
coast in the big blue bus, we tried to make the most of Sunday--as much as
the situation permitted. On Saturday afternoon "Feierabend" was declared,
and this meant no school (our children had their lessons in the bus and had
to take tests twice a year). Then we met to prepare for Mass, as had become
our custom under Father Joseph. Everyone took his missal and we either crowded
together in the middle of the bus or met in a hotel room, all taking turns
reading the texts of the Sunday Mass. This was followed by a more or less
lively discussion and a question period led by Father Wasner. Sunday we would
wear our Sunday dress, the special Austrian costume set apart for that day.
But otherwise Sunday was the day when we were, perhaps, a little more homesick
than on any other day, missing the church bells, missing the old-world Sunday.
As we got more used to being in America and as our English progressed, we
made a startling discovery Saturday night in America! It was so utterly different
from what we were used to. Everybody seemed to be out. The stores were open
until ten, and people went shopping. Practically everybody seemed to go to
a show or a dance or a party on Saturday night. And finally we discovered
the consequence of the American Saturday night: the American Sunday morning.
Towns abandoned, streets empty, everybody sleeping until the last minute
and then whizzing in his car around the corner to the eleven o'clock Sunday
Once we were driving on a Sunday morning through the countryside in the State
of Washington and we saw trucks and cars lined up along the fields and people
picking berries just as on any other day. To see the farmers working on a
Sunday all across the country is not unusual to us any more, and this happens
not only during the most pressing seasons for crops.
When we lived in a suburb of Philadelphia in our second year in this country,
we found that the rich man's Sunday delight seemed to consist of putting
on his oldest torn pants and cutting his front lawn, or washing his car with
a hose, or even cutting down a tree (doctor's orders--exercise!); while the
ladies could be seen in dirty blue jeans mixing dirt and transplanting their
perennials. There was none of that serenity and peace of the old-world Sunday
anywhere until we discovered the Mennonites and the Pennsylvania Dutch. They
even rang the church bells!
The climax of our discoveries about the American Sunday was reached when
a lady exclaimed to us with real feeling, "Oh, how I hate Sunday! What a
bore!" I can still hear the shocked silence that followed this remark. The
children looked hurt and outraged, almost as if they expected fire to rain
from heaven. Even the offender noticed something, and that made her explain
why she hated Sunday as vigorously as she did. It explained a great deal
of the mystery of the American Sunday.
"Why," she burst out, "I was brought up the Puritan way. Every Saturday night
our mother used to collect all our toys and lock them up. On Sunday morning
we children had to sit through a long sermon which we didn't understand;
we were not allowed to jump or run or play." When she met the unbelieving
eyes of our children, she repeated, "Yes, honestly--no play at all." Finally
one of ours asked, "But what were you allowed to do?"
"We could sit on the front porch with the grownups or read the Bible. That
was the only book allowed on Sunday." And she added: "Oh, how I hated Sunday
when I was young. I vowed to myself that when I grew up I would do the dirtiest
work on Sunday, and if I should have children, they would be allowed to do
exactly as they pleased. They wouldn't even have to go to church."
This was the answer. The pendulum had swung out too far to one side, and
now it was going just as far in the other direction; let us hope it will
find its proper position soon.
And then we bought cheaply a big, run-down farm in northern Vermont and set
up home. By and by we built a house large enough for a big family, and a
chapel with a little steeple and a bell. We could celebrate Sunday again
to our heart's content just as we were used to doing. Saturday is a day of
cleaning and cooking in our home, and five o'clock rings in "Feierabend,"
when all work ceases and everyone goes to wash up and dress. If there are
any guests around the supper table, Father Wasner will announce that "after
the dishes are done we will all meet in the living room, everybody with his
missal, for the Sunday preparation, and everyone is heartily invited to join."
When we are all assembled, we start with a short prayer and then we take
turns reading the different texts of the coming Sunday's Mass, everybody
participating in a careful examination of these texts. First we discuss briefly
the particular season of the Church year. Then we ask ourselves how this
Sunday fits into the season. Do the texts suggest a special mood? Some Sundays
could almost be named the Sunday of Joy, or the Sunday of Confidence, the
Sunday of Humility, the Sunday of Repentance. Everybody is supposed to speak
up, to ask questions, to give his opinion. It is almost always a lively,
delightful discussion. At the end we determine the special message of this
Sunday and what we could do during the next week to put it into action, both
for ourselves and for the people around us. After this preparation for Mass,
we all go into the chapel, where we say the rosary together, followed by
evening prayers and Benediction.
On Sunday we often sing a High Mass, either in our chapel or in the village
church, and on the big Sundays of the year we sing vespers in the afternoon.
We know this should become an indispensable part of Sunday, now even more
so because the Holy Father has spoken.
I remember my astonishment when our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, found it
necessary to say, in his address on Catholic Action in September, 1947 "Sunday
must become again the day of the Lord, the day of adoration, of prayer, of
rest, of recollection and of reflection, of happy reunion in the intimate
circle of the family." Such a pronouncement, I knew, is meant for the whole
world. Was Sunday endangered everywhere, then ?
In the year 1950 we traveled through Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, through the
Caribbean Islands and Venezuela, through Brazil and Argentina; we crossed
the Andes into Chile, we gave concerts in Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia; and
after many months of travel in South America, we went to Europe on a concert
tour and sang in many European countries. And I came to understand that the
Christian Sunday is threatened more and more both from without and from
within--from without through the systematic efforts of the enemies of
Christianity, and from within through the mediocrity and superficiality of
the Christians themselves who are making of Sunday merely a day of rest,
relaxing from work only by seeking entertainment. There was once a time,
the Old Testament tells us, when people had become so lazy that they shunned
any kind of spiritual effort and no longer attended public worship, so that
God threatened them through the mouth of the prophet Osee: "I shall cause
all her joy to cease, her feast days and her Sabbath, and all her solemn
And now the words of our present Holy Father in his encyclical "Mediator
Dei" sound a similar warning:
"How will those Christians not fear spiritual death whose rest on Sundays
and feast days is not devoted to religion and piety, but given over to the
allurements of the world! Sundays and holidays must be made holy by divine
worship which gives homage to God and heavenly food to the soul....Our soul
is filled with the greatest grief when we see how the Christian people profane
the afternoon of feast days...."
Newspapers and magazines nowadays all stress the necessity of fighting Communism.
There is one weapon, however, which they do not mention and which would be
the most effective one if wielded by every Christian. Again the Holy Father
reminds us of it: "The results of the struggle between belief and unbelief
will depend to a great extent on the use that each of the opposing fronts
will make of Sunday." We know what use Russia made of the Sunday. The question
And how about us--you and I?
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