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Poland Leads the Way in Bringing Back the Day of Rest

It was A.D. 321, and the Emperor Constantine decreed that the venerable “Day of the Sun” ought to be dedicated to rest. As we read in his imperial edict: “The magistrates and inhabitants of the cities shall rest on the venerable Day of the Sun, and all the stores will remain closed.” But it was Emperor Theodosius I in 383 who converted the “dies Solis” into the “dies Dominica,” or “day of the Lord.” The Lord’s Day is the day of Christianity par excellence, in which the key words are tradition and family.

And now, amazingly, in a strange coincidence just a few days before Christmas 2017, family unity, traditions, and rest have returned to the center of public attention, if not so much to the attention of the media, since the Polish Sejm (the lower house of parliament) voted in late November to return Sunday to being the Lord’s Day for everyone and thus also for shop-owners. By 2020, all purchases on Sunday will be made illegal.

At the heart of the purpose of this law is the express desire to allow the people of Poland to have more time to spend with their families and less time shopping on Sundays. With 254 votes in favor, 156 against, and 23 abstentions, the legislation introduced a year ago by “Solidarnosc” – an  originally Catholic and anti-communist movement that with the fall of communism became one of the leading trade unions of the nation – is now in the hands of the Senate, and it will be presented to President Andzrej Duda for his definitive approval. Under the law, beginning in March 2018, stores will be allowed to remain open only on the first and last Sunday of the month. Then, beginning in 2019, only the last Sunday of the month is allowed, and finally, in 2020, the ban will be almost total. In fact, Sunday shopping will be permitted only on seven Sundays of the year, including the two Sundays before Christmas and the Sunday before Easter. Foreign chains with wide distribution will have to conform to the new arrangement, but not small shops like bakeries.

On the heels of the “rosary on the borders” (of October 2017), this is now the second time that Poland is taking a striking position to affirm, and reaffirm, to the world its Christian roots and identity. It is a gesture that is much more than symbolic if one remembers the history of a nation like Poland, whose memory cannot whitewash its “red past”: the torments of the communist regime that tried to change Poland’s identity precisely by beginning with an attack on the concept of the Lord’s Day.

The “new man” of communism was in fact supposed to be the protagonist of a society without classes, and the sign of his “novelty” was the tendency to be always busy, never idle. Idleness, understood as mere inactivity, not sloth in the communist and socialist moral code, was the disease from which to free the soul. Idleness was the vice that damaged the diligent construction of the communist utopia and was not only harmful to oneself, but also considered a distraction for everyone else. And so the idea of the Lord’s Day, which was in its essence heretical to the communist, was soon eradicated by the same members of the Communist Party who concerned themselves with giving a “good” example by working on the the seventh day of the week and compelling everyone else to do the same.

Endless work conquered everyone and everything. The communists sought to annihilate Christianity by way of attacking Sunday, which, in postmodern society, led to checkmate. Communism chained the workers to itself, and everyone’s horizon shrank, deprived as they were of seeing the “sky” of Sunday. Sundays without rest or reverence have been attempted in Europe’s past as well as in its present, now ever less Christian, depriving it of its soul. But Poland, which evidently is still holding onto its soul, has decided to free itself from every trace of its red past and to facilitate the sanctification of Sunday for everyone.

We know that the evolution of social-economic conditions has led to the profound modification of collective behavior and consequently of the appearance of Sunday. As St. John Paul II wrote:

The custom of the ‘weekend’ has become more widespread, a weekly period of respite, spent perhaps far from home and often involving participation in cultural, political or sporting activities which are usually held on free days. This social and cultural phenomenon is by no means without its positive aspects if, while respecting true values, it can contribute to people’s development and to the advancement of the life of society as a whole. All of this responds not only to the need for rest, but also to the need for celebration which is inherent in our humanity. Unfortunately, when Sunday loses its fundamental meaning it is man who becomes incapable of celebration.

Poland wants to restore this understanding to its people, giving less opportunity for grazing in alienating shopping centers just for the perverse sake of doing it, but without falling into the dull banality of not realizing that “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”

And if – as someone were to object, “This solidarity between church and state is becoming disturbing, the PiS [Law and Justice party] has changed everything in less than two years: the legislation, the press, and the society. Every aspect of our liberty is at risk” – the government has no intention of eating from the hand of the latest sociologist. Also, in the meantime, the prime minister-designate of Poland, Mateusz Morwiecki, who took office on December 11, in his first speech spoke of “dreaming of a Europe which returns to being Christian.” With the nomination of Morwiecki, Poland seems to have certified his ambitions. The 49-year-old Catholic, father of four Catholic children, has declared that he is profoundly saddened by the fact that “the churches are empty and are being transfomed into museums and you never hear true songs in them any more.”

In conclusion, Poland has begun its counter-revolution, and it does not seem to fear the threats of the politically correct. The first step appears to be modifying Sunday – not in order to introduce changes of an economic nature, but to restore harmony to reality. For Poles, in fact, the day of rest represents “opposition to the exclusivism of the ideal of work” – a break that is actually part of the deeper work of watering the Christian roots that give life and moving ever away from the specter of communism.

Translated by Giuseppe Pellegrino.

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