What does the typical American think when he or she hears the word "Sunday?" Football? The Sunday newspaper? A day to recover from Saturday and prepare for Monday?

As Christians, we know that Sunday is the "Lord's day." But what does that mean in today's culture of instant gratification, self-absorption and workaholism?

To discover the meaning of Sunday, one must look back to its roots in the Jewish Sabbath. Saturday was the day dedicated to Yahweh in the Old Testament. It was the seventh day of the week, on which God rested from creating the heavens and the earth. Thus, it was to be a day of rest, a day that God Himself instituted: "So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation" (Gen 2:3).

In the Third Commandment, God instructs, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work" (Ex 20:9-10). Beyond the commandment to rest and abstain from labor, God ordained the Jewish Sabbath to be a day of religious sacrifice to Him. Jewish priests were to offer "two male lambs a year old without blemish and...choice flour for a grain offering" (Num 28:9).

One can see a pattern of rest -- abstinence from labor -- and religious sacrifice. That, too, is what Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, is all about. We are called to rest on the Sabbath. We read in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" that "the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's day, the performance of the works of mercy and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body."

This is a hard commandment to accept in a society where "keeping up with the Joneses" drives us to trade rest for the success and comforts that extra work and money can provide.

The Church does understand that some work must be accomplished on Sundays, such as in the fields of public safety and health care. Even those who provide for our leisure must work on the Sabbath: restaurant workers, professional athletes, performers and so on. But the point remains that all of us are called to make time for rest, for family and for God on Sundays.

It was Sunday on which Christ rose from the dead and recreated us from death into new life. Thus, we offer ourselves to God, as the priest offers the bread and wine turned into the body and blood of the Lamb of God. As the people of Israel were commanded to offer to God the blood of a lamb and a grain offering, we are commanded to offer God the Eucharist -- which is, at the same time, His gift of Himself to us.

How do we best keep the Sabbath holy?

•  First, we make it a day of rest: time with family, hobbies and works of mercy.

•  Second, we attend Mass. Each Sunday is a little Easter when we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord from the dead; let us remain close to the risen Lord in the eucharistic sacrifice.

•  Third, we can adopt small customs to make Sunday special. In our family, we have a simple dessert on the other days of the week and a enjoy a special dessert on Sundays. Other ideas could be to call or see a relative; perform a work of mercy, such as visiting someone who is sick or teaching faith formation at a parish; or spend a bit more time in prayer, reading Scripture or praying the Rosary.

All of these are ways to keep the Sabbath holy and to rest as God did from His work of creation -- and, having rested, we will be ready to work for God's kingdom the remainder of the week.

(Mr. Spellman attends Sacred Heart parish in Troy.)