|Hans Holbein the Younger's Dead Christ in the Tomb|
If there is one thing most of us who are workers and laborers desire from our labors, it is rest. If we could spend the rest of our days without having to earn our keep by the sweat of our brow, we would most likely embrace it wholeheartedly. Our vacations are always too short, and the weekends fly so fast that Monday seems to hit like a brick wall. We love to take our rests, no matter how long they may be. And we should, for God created us to enjoy rest.
We observed last week how the Mass is the act of worship offered to God in union with the sacrifice of the Cross. But the Mass is also meant to be the pinnacle of our rest, in particular the Sunday Mass offered in part to fulfill the Third Commandment: Keep holy the Sabbath. In the first story of creation in the book of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth in six days, then rested on the seventh day, blessing and sanctifying this day to Himself (Gen 2:2). This rest was so important that it was given as one of the Ten Commandments handed on to Moses and to the Israelites on Mount Sinai (Ex 20:8; Dt 5:12). The prophets, in calling Israel back to their original relationship with God, called them to return to the observance of the sabbath rest. But it is in Jesus that we see the fulfillment and elevation of rest in man’s relation to God.
Our Lord, while doing great wonders and stupendous miracles throughout His ministry in Judea, would often separate Himself from the crowds and make time for prayer and more in-depth teaching with His disciples. In fact, He even commanded them to rest, saying “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while” (Mk 6:31 RSV-CE). This rest will find its completion when Christ’s body is laid to rest after the work of the Cross on Good Friday and remains in the tomb on Holy Saturday. But a new rest is given to us with the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, that marvelous event which we commemorate each Sunday of the year.
In fact, this is the main reason why we are obliged by the Church to come to Mass on Sunday: to rest in the new work of creation which God has wrought through the Resurrection of Christ His Son. We are called to come to the Mass so as to find our rest in the only One who is capable of offering us the rest that we so desire from our labors. It is also the means whereby we continue to observe the Sabbath rest God commanded of old, though now within the framework of resting in Christ our Savior. We worship God through the sacrifice of the Cross, we marvel at the wonders done by the Lord, we rejoice in all that He has done for us, and we beseech Him to continue to remain with us, to strengthen us with His grace, and to free us from all sin and temptation.
But we are also called to rest in particular in the Mass because it is here that we realize the truth that astounds the heart and mind: we were made to rest in God. Humanity was not created to be separated from everything else to the point of complete autonomy and independence; we were created for God. Saint Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians in the Church’s history, reflected on this in writing his autobiography. Augustine had sought debauchery, philosophy, even entering into a false religion before he entered the Church. Upon reflection, Augustine would pen these famous words: “You made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You” (Confessions 1.1).
It is only in God that our hearts will find that rest which comes in discovering the one thing that will truly satisfy our hearts. Nothing in this world can give us total and complete rest from this desire. We have a God-shaped hole in our hearts that cannot be satiated by any other creature; it can only be satiated by the infinite God who first loved us and created us so as to share that love with us. The Mass is the primary means whereby we who have found God can rest in Him who has created us, in Him who has redeemed us, in Him who has sanctified us. Only in God will our hearts be totally and completely filled.
Let us then enter into the rest which the Mass offers us, mindful that God has done the brunt of the work for us in sending His Son to die for us. Let us rest in the prayer of peace and union which the Mass offers us each time we approach the altar. Let the Mass become more and more the place where we discover this hidden God who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, the human face of God. Just as the couple who are in love seek to rest more and more with each other, let us find rest in the One who loves us beyond measure and desires us to return that love. Let us rest in Him so as to be strengthened for the labors that remain to us here on earth, so that we may be made worthy by His grace to receive the eternal rest of the faithful in Heaven.