Sunday must be protected as day of worship, pope, in Austria, says
By John Thavis
VIENNA, Austria, Sep. 10, 2007 (www.catholicnews.com) – Celebrating Mass in Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral, Pope Benedict XVI urged Austrian Catholics to protect Sunday as a day of spiritual focus in an increasingly busy world.
Modern Christians need an appointment with the Lord to give them a sense of direction and help them move beyond "the bustle of everyday life," the pope said Sept. 9.
And in an innovative touch that seemed to reflect the pope's recent attention to "green" issues, he suggested that Sunday be celebrated not only as a day of rest but as "the church's weekly feast of creation."
Referring to the biblical account of creation, the pope said that Sunday, as the first day of the week, saw the dawning of the created world, the day on which God said: "Let there be light."
For the early church, he said, Sunday gradually assimilated the traditional meaning of the seventh day, the Sabbath, the day God rested. But Sunday is also "the feast of thanksgiving and joy over God's creation," he said.
"At a time when creation seems to be endangered in so many ways through human activity, we should consciously accept this dimension of Sunday, too," he said.
The pope, on the final day of a three-day trip to Austria, began the liturgy with a procession along a street in front of the famed gothic cathedral. Rain that had fallen steadily throughout the morning stopped as the pontiff, dressed in lime-green vestments, waved to well-wishers who crowded the sidewalks and waved yellow bandanas.
Inside the packed cathedral, the pope was treated to the choral and orchestral music of the "Missa Cellensis," the Mass Joseph Haydn composed in honor of Mary in 1782.
In his sermon, the pope said Sunday has been transformed by Western society into leisure time. Leisure is important in "the mad rush of the modern world," but, unlike worship, it often lacks direction, he said.
He noted that for early Christians, Sunday Mass was not a commandment but an inner necessity -- a time to meet Christ.
"Without him who sustains our lives with his love, life itself is empty," he said.
In Austria, according to polls, regular weekly church attendance among Catholics has declined steadily over the last 30 years and today may be as low as 10 percent.
The pope also examined the radical nature of Christ's call to his disciples and, in a sense, to all his followers: the injunction to "leave everything behind" in order to be totally available for him and for others.
The aim, the pope said, is to "create oases of selfless love in a world where so often only power and wealth seem to count for anything."
The pope acknowledged that the idea of leaving behind family, friends and the good things of life strikes many people as strange.
Not everyone can make such a commitment, he said, but everyone should recognize the truth in Christ's call -- that "whoever wants to keep his life just for himself will lose it." Love demands going out of oneself, and leaving oneself, he said.
Afterward, the pope stood on a platform outside the cathedral and blessed a crowd of several thousand, his red cloak flipped up occasionally by a brisk wind. Many had stood in the wet weather for hours to get a glimpse of the German pontiff, and they cheered as the sun finally broke through.
The pope spoke about Mary's unconditional "yes" to God despite inner hesitation, and said her cooperation in the divine plan remains a model for all Christians.