One characteristic of sanctifying Sunday is rest from strenuous physical work. during the first centuries Christians did not enjoy freedom of religion and were persecuted. For the early Christians, therefore, Sunday was an ordinary workday. Since they had to work during the day, they conducted their Sunday services in the late evening, or early morning.
Sunday rest began to assume greater significance when in 313 A.D. the Church was granted complete religious freedom under emperor Constantine the Great. The first laws regarding Sunday rest did not come from the Church, but from the state. In 321 A.D. Emperor Constantine issued an edict in which he decreed: “On the most revered day of the Sun let all judges, townspeople and all laborers rest. Only let the farmers in the villages work freely without hinderance.” The historian Eusebius (+c.340) testified that the Emperor Constantine the Great made Sunday a day of prayer, ordered all his subjects to put aside their work and excused all Christian soldiers from duty so that they might attend Sunday Service. The Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395) first of all forbad all public spectacles, then later in the decree of 386 he prohibited all court proceedings, commercial, business and legal transactions. Whoever violated this law incurred the same penalty imposed for sacrilege. Such civil laws, of course, promoted the observance of Sunday as a holy day of prayer and rest.
Concurrent with civil legislation, the Church began more and more to enjoin there faithful to abstain from physical work on Sunday. The Council of Laodicea in Asia Minor in 364 prescribed Sunday rest “as far as possible”. Emperor Leo the Wise (886-911) forbade farmers to work on Sunday. The patriarch of Constantinople Nicephor (806-815) declared that Christians should not even travel on Sunday, unless it was necessary. As early as the eighth century we find more and more local synods prescribing Sunday rest.
In the West, Emperor Charlemagne in 789 banned work on Sunday as a violation of the third commandment of God. In 1243, under Pope Gregory IX, the law of Sunday rest became a universal practice in the Latin Church.
From this, it is evident that the celebration of Sunday is the oldest and a very sacred Christian tradition, which originated with the Apostles themselves. Consequently, participation in the Divine Liturgy and the observance of Sunday rest should be for us a natural practice of evident spiritual value. We must not forget that obligation to keep Sunday holy is not only a Church law, but basically also a divine law from which no dispensation can be given. Even if for grave reasons we cannot be present in Church for Sunday services, nevertheless, we are obliged to keep Sunday holy in our own way. We can do this, for example by frequent remembrance of God, longer prayers, spiritual reading, and guarded speech and conduct.
In this regard Metropolitan A. Sheptytsky, O.S.B.M says: “The law that enjoins presence at the Divine Liturgy, and the law of rest or inactivity on Sunday, are Church laws which only define, explain and complement more clearly the natural and positive law of God in the Mosaic legislation … Nothing can at any time dispense from the law of God, neither ecclesiastical authority nor burdensome circumstances. All are obliged to observe the Law of God, even if it means risking or losing one’s life … Thus the obligation to observe Sunday, in so far as it is a Church law, does not oblige when its fulfillment involves a great burden and inconvenience … But the third commandment is such, that no burden, no inconvenience and no authority whatever has the power to dispense from it; because the third commandment is also in the New Testament a commandment of God; that is, an obligation that is inviolable and infallibly and indiscriminately binding on all. This obligation is also an obligation of the natural law, that is, an obligation which every person can know from natural reason and experience in his conscience. To fail to fulfill that part of the third commandment which pertains to the natural law is, therefore, a sin even under circumstances which relieve one of the obligation to participate in the Divine Liturgy and to abstain from manual work. The failure to observe that commandment will always be a sin, and consequently, a great loss and injury to the soul.” (On the Observance of Sunday, 1942
Book of Heaven
6/9/22 – Vol. 14
As I was in my usual state, my always lovable Jesus would come very often; and sometimes He would lean His head upon mine, telling me: “My daughter, I need rest. The uncreated Intelligence wants to rest in the created intelligence. But in order to find true rest, I should find in your intelligence all the glory and the contentment which all other intelligences should give Me. Therefore my Will wants to expand your capacity to be able to find this rest. No, I am not content if my Will does not place in you all that the others should give Me.” Then, He seemed to breathe over my intelligence, and it remained as though chained by many threads of light, for as many created minds as came out of the hands of our Creator. And each thread of light said: “Glory, gratitude, honor… to my God, trice Holy.” And Jesus said: “Ah, yes, now I can rest! I find the return of the intelligence of Creation; the created mind is fused with the Uncreated Mind.” …
… After this He came back again, but all afflicted; and He told me: “I feel sad when they think that I am severe, and that I make more use of Justice than of Mercy. They are with Me as if I were to strike them in each thing. Oh, how dishonored I feel by these ones! In fact, this leads them to remain at due distance from Me, and one who is distant cannot receive all the fusion of my Love. And while they are the ones who do not love Me, they think that I am severe and almost a Being that strikes fear; while by just taking a look at my Life they can only notice that I did only one act of Justice – when, in order to defend the house of my Father, I took the ropes and snapped them to the right and to the left, to drive out the profanators. All the rest was only Mercy: Mercy my conception, my birth, my words, my works, my steps, the Blood I shed, my pains – everything in Me was Merciful Love. Yet, they fear Me, while they should fear themselves more than Me.”