Sunday has pursuits of its own; and we are no more willing to give up any part of it to the grind of the common business or the common pleasures of life, than the schoolboy is to give up a holiday to the grind of school-work. — Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character
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. — Pope Pius XII, Mediator Dei
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. — Maria von Trapp, Around the Year with the Trapp Family
Maria von Trapp, of “The Sound of Music” fame, wrote several books about their adventures traveling the world as The Trapp Family Singers. In one of them, she details the traditional Austrian Sunday: the preparation before Saturday’s dusk, the church bells, the festive outfits, the Gospel reflections, the leisurely stroll home from High Mass, the afternoon dinner and folk dancing with friends, the special pleasures of a leisurely Sunday evening.
But as they travel the globe and she notices the lack of Sunday observance in other parts of the world, she realizes that their own practice was formed not through a conscious determination to embrace the joy inherent to the day, but through cultural inheritance. She is grateful that inheritance kept her from neglecting Sundays like the rest of the world, but she sets out to explore the history behind their Sunday observance and is inspired by what she finds. As are her children: “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.” And so her children begin to cling ever more dearly to Sunday in their home, laying personal, purposeful claim to traditional practices and imbuing them with family joy.
Charlotte Mason saw the same: the beauty of Sunday-keeping, its potential for transformation of souls and homes, and its especial delights for children. She saw too her own culture’s move away from mindful observance and urged parents to reconsider Sunday practice for their families: “The people who clamour for a Sunday that shall be as other days little know how healing to the jaded brain is the change of thought and occupation the seventh day brings with it. There is hardly a more precious inheritance to be handed on than that of the traditional English Sunday, stripped of its austerities, we hope, but keeping its character of quiet gladness and communion with Nature as well as with God” (School Education).
Writers for the Parents’ Review and L’Umile Pianta echo this sentiment. Within Mason’s volumes and the articles devoted to the topic in these other publications, there is host of practical examples and philosophical considerations as to how a proper Sunday observance might shape family customs and curriculum choices. Each writer speaks from his or her own faith tradition, urging flexibility of practice, but all of the writers clearly feel strongly about the spirit of Sunday, its role in physical and mental restoration, its importance to the Body of Christ and the family culture.
They share a firm and united voice about what Sunday ought to look like for children: “It is to be to them a rest day, a holy day, a useful and therefore a happy day” (Chase, p. 941). Or put more straightforwardly: “Sunday is to be a day of rest, and joy, and worship” (Bird, p. 931). Interestingly, other articles stress those same few characteristics. So how can we create a day that reflects this three-fold aim? I’d like to consider each of these principles–rest, worship, and joy–as I share with you some of the simple and lovely suggestions made by Mason and her colleagues that might help us create a weekly “day of grace” for our children.
Worship is not the first characteristic on the list, but it is the most straightforward. There is little question that for the Christian, Sundays are at least partly set aside for God. Mason and others touch lightly on actual practice here, leaving parents to consider the customs and dictates of their particular denomination. But for these writers, worship refers both to time in services, with hymns, prayer, sermon, and sacrament, and time at home, receiving religious instruction from their parents and imbibing a spiritual atmosphere. In the Mason model, they suggest, the parent cultivates a spirit of worship both within church and without:
Then as aids in making the day holy, come the special teaching from pictures shown only on Sundays, the Bible-class for older ones, the hymn-singing, the mental Bible pictures, all very reverently handled, the suitable story-books, especially delightful when the insatiable appetite for fiction is kept well in hand during the week; and last, but not least, the church services, when the little ones understand clearly that it is a high privilege that father and mother go to worship God, and must not be disturbed by questions nor restlessness from the children; while all that puzzles or interests is carefully explained to them and talked over afterwards. (Chase, p. 942)
This is a balanced approach, in which church attendance is not seen as an obligation but as a privilege. In this scheme, children grow in behavior that respects others while also having delightful moments of religious encounter planned just for them.
So what is meant by rest, which has been left behind in our culture in lieu of errands, housework, business, and more? The Parents Review writers start with what it does not mean. Setting aside ancient Jewish practice as well as Puritanical views on the Sabbath, the writers posit rest for children not as literal bodily rest but a posture of mental restoration. Because as those of us who are parents know well, “What is rest to them? To sit still is downright hard work. No! rest to them is, what no doubt it is to make older ones, change of work, a variety of occupation. Sunday’s occupations must then be as unlike those of the working days as possible” (Chase, p. 941-2).
And so their time spent out of church services should be free and glad:
But let them ramble and run, tend their flowers and their pets, play their quiet games, read their books, examine and arrange their curiosities and their specimens, their pictures and their toys. But better than games and collections for satisfying their energy is the long interesting walk, where flowers and leaves, stones, birds, and a hundred other things, delight their eyes, while the parents talks with them by the way, and they talk with him, feeling sure that whatever is not evil is good. Music and singing, painting, and reading any good book, are all restful and joyous employments for a part of the day, reminding them that as Sunday stands higher than the rest of the week, so should all these pursuits be at their highest level on that day. (Bird, p. 934)
Sunday ought to be, in every way possible, a day different from others, a day in which lessons are put aside. Rest means, in this case, amusements and occupations dear and natural to the child, that fill him with the mental repose–if not the physical rest–he needs.
One caution they share: what happens when rest and worship meet? We must hold to the dictates of our Sunday obligations but also be mindful of when we are substituting rest for worshipful work, which is not restful for the child: “To mark Sunday as a day for learning scripture, until it becomes a drudgery, with the added anxiety of repeating it correctly, is to cast at least one cloud of unhappiness on the child’s day of joy. Surely we can get our children to worship with us on Sunday, without restricting their happiness or banishing their joy” (Bird, p. 931). That last line should give pause to us all; much like the three-legged atmosphere, discipline, and life of Mason’s paradigm for education, these three “tools” for a blessed Sunday ought to be used together for healthiest and most effective results.
That brings us to JOY, and “in joy we have the golden key” (Bird, p. 934). The joy these writers describe is multi-faceted. It means spiritual joy, delight in God and His Creation, yes. But for children in particular, it also means good old-fashioned fun:
I am disposed to think that the main thing wanted to cure the defect in our present-day children’s Sunday is to give them more of a real childish joy, not old people’s joy–and less of other things. If you succeed in making the day happy, not theologically happy, religiously happy, theoretically or abstractly happy, but absolutely and truly, by one means or another, a day of joy to the child, then everything in that day will be steeped in the sunshine of a glad heart. (Bird, p. 839)
That sunshine is essential. One can build habits of piety and rest, but without joy, the associations for the child are negative and cloud his experience of Sunday. Joy is indeed “the touch which would transform the whole … it becomes clear as noon-day that unless you have joy, your Sunday will be a religious failure and an unpleasant memory” (Bird, p. 931). Cultivating an atmosphere of joy, giving the message to the child that Sundays are full of goodness and light because God is Good and Lightness itself, ought to frame our plans. Thankfully, it works in the reverse too: “Wisdom tells us that if you flood the Sunday with the sunshine of joy, the child will be seen worshipping with joy, and finding in his recreations the sanctity of rest which he needs” (Bird, p. 936).
Beautifully and thankfully, children find joy in the simplest of pleasures. A shelf of toys set aside specifically for Sundays works wonders, as does a whole list of delightful occupations: picture scrap-books, needlework, gift-making, text illumination, paper dolls, and more (Hirtzel). The Sunday walk is especially recommended as feeding both children and parents, especially because it is “father’s leisure day, when talks can be uninterrupted and garden rambles indulged in without hurry” (Chase, p. 942). Poetry is a wonderful inclusion—as Mason says, “there is time to digest it on Sunday.” (Formation of Character) Books carefully considered, music played and sung, and visits with family and neighbors all have the potential to give special character to the day. The possibilities are wide and generous: “The habit of Sunday observances, not rigid, not dull, and yet peculiar to the day, is especially important. Sunday stories, Sunday hymns, Sunday walks, Sunday talks, Sunday painting, Sunday knitting even, Sunday card-games, should all be special to the day,––quiet, glad, serene” (Formation of Character). There is room for every pure delight that cheers the heart and feeds the soul.
But joy is found not just in life’s pleasures, but also in “usefulness,” or service to others. Charity is always a welcome addition: “If it is to be a happy day it is essential that the children should do something to make others happy . . . In ministering to old people who cannot get to church, to children in the Sunday School, to lonely ones to whom Sunday is apt to prove a long day; by the flowers or book taken to the invalid, the letters written to the brothers and sisters at school, and in many other ways untold pleasure is given and received” (Chase, p. 942-3). Those occupied in serving others will be filled with the bliss of kind thought and honest care.
These practical helps aim not to make Sunday artificially fun or appealing, but, as with all Mason’s educational methods, to acknowledge the inherent attractiveness in truth, goodness, and beauty, and to instill in children that aesthetic sense through real encounters with joy. As always the aim is relationship–among families, within community and one’s Church, with God, with His creation and the blessings He offers us. And Sundays are a prime opportunity for relationship-building within the home:
As to older children, in this as in other matters we can but give high principles and consistent examples and leave them to shape their own practice; but let us see to it ‘while we have the opportunity’ that Sundays are so spent, that when time has scattered our children far and wide and taken us to the keeping of an Eternal Sabbath, the memory of those holy, happy, useful Sundays may be a bond between brothers and sisters; a weekly reminder and a weekly incentive, which shall help them in training their children also to ‘call Sabbath a delight, holy of the Lord, honourable. (Chase, p. 943)
Sundays can root our children to our homes and His Heart from now to eternity.
Mason urges us to see the day not as a day of obligations, limitations, and requirements, but rather as a promise of joy, worship, and rest that we simply can not afford to do without. There is room for denominational diversity in practice, but there is not room to leave behind Sunday’s special delights–at least not in Mason’s view.
To that point, I’ll leave you with these inspiring lines from Saviour of the World, which speak to our freedom as children of God to lay claim to the gift of Sundays:
How can ye read this law benign —
The Sabbath is a gift divine
To man, that all his days may shine
In the sweet peace of God?
“For man, the Sabbath, not that he
Should go a bondman, but be free
To walk the fields in holy glee
And hymn the praise of God.
“Lord of the Sabbath is the Son,
And in His righteous reign, begun
E’en now, all men shall joyfully run
Together to praise God! (II. XXI)
Lord, let it be so!
Chase, C.H. (1892). Our children’s Sundays. The Parents’ Review, 2. Issue 12. 881-960. London: Parent’s National Education Union.
Bird, R. (1901). Children on Sundays, Part I. The Parents’ Review, 12. Issue 11. 825-904. London: Parent’s National Education Union.
Bird, R. (1901). Children on Sundays, Part II. The Parents’ Review, 12. Issue 11. 930-936. London: Parent’s National Education Union.
Hirtzel. (1909). Some suggestions for occupations for Sundays and wet-days. L’Umile Pianta: For the Children’s Sake, 43-49.
© 2018 Celeste Cruz