Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Email Question: Shabbat Observance

Love getting reader mail so much that I'll actively solicit it. I mean, of course, mail from readers who are friendly and curious. I could do without snarky emails from readers who, for example, want to argue about the definitive translation of theotokos. No joke.

Just the other day, someone at Doubleday forwarded such an epistle from a religious sister. I guess I should be grateful that Sister Mary Isn't Divine reported me to the principal instead of disciplining me herself. I wrote back to the Doubleday rep, who is now all worried about Catholic bookstores dumping The Catholic Home. I explained how I'd already changed the translation of theotokos in the paperback edition in response to another reader's concerns. Another religious sister. From a different religious order. Not even Eastern Orthodox. Sisters, have mercy, please.

What a delight, then, to receive email from Gail. Gail is married to a non-observant Jewish man. She's raising their children Catholic and added Hanukkah festivities to this year's holiday mix. The kids loved it. Now she's thinking about having Shabbat dinners on a regular basis. Her email continues:
My mother in law is also moving in town to be near us next month and I thought maybe this would be a good way to include her in our weekly life...from a Catholic perspective, would you consider this okay to do?
In a word: yes! Observing Shabbat with a family dinner would be a wonderful thing to do. Setting a day apart is a divine commandment shared by all Abrahamic religions (i.e., Jews, Christians, Muslims). Gathering your entire family at the table is a great way to reinforce shared heritage.

As your children get older, titrate in teaching about shared symbols (i.e., candles) and rituals (i.e., table blessings, blessings over candles and bread). For example, you can make connections between the berakhot (blessings) said at your table and during the Mass. You might want to experiment with a Middle Eastern meal. Roasted chicken is customary fare among Ashkenazic (Eastern European) Jews. A Sephardic menu would allow you to introduce new foods while noting the geographic origins of Jesus, as well as his Judaism.

Opportunities abound but take it slowly, especially if your husband and mother-in-law aren't all that interested in Shabbat observance. Start by focusing on gathering your family together, giving thanks for the week past, and for whatever rest you can carve out on Saturday or Sunday.

You can learn more about Sabbath observance in Christopher Ringwald's fine new book, A Day Apart: How Jews, Christians, and Muslims Find Faith, Freedom, and Joy on the Sabbath. He does a magnificent, comprehensive job of explaining the biblical and historical origins of Sabbath observance. A Catholic and father of three, Ringwald writes with great passion about the blessings of Shabbat observance in his own marriage and family.

Note: this is not a how-to book, but in an Appendix, Ringwald provides practical, detailed tips about keeping the Sabbath. I recommend reading this first and then savoring the rest of the book at your leisure. As if a mother of two littles and a newborn has leisure time. What could I be thinking?

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