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Keeping the Sabbath or Sunday Observance


I have been having a hard time finding an answer to a question. Is it sinful to eat out on Sundays at restaurants, fast food shops, etc.?  I have the same question about patronizing national parks or areas that require you to pay a fee. Thank you!


When I was a youth we still had the blue laws and except for drug stores and hospitals, most places were closed on Sundays or operated at reduced hours. Obviously, there were police, firefighters and emergency personnel remaining on the job. I recall allowances were made for a few places to stay open in the morning, like the local doughnut shop, as there was a big business after church services (remember Catholics once fasted from midnight on and not just an hour before Holy Communion).  Boy scouts might also sell newspapers outside churches as well.  Remember, there was no Saturday anticipatory Masses and thus they were all held on Sunday morning!

The catechism emphasized avoiding unnecessary work although many cheated with yard work or sneaking in school homework upon which the children had procrastinated. However, most people who worked outside the home did so from Monday to Friday. Housewives pretty much worked every day— otherwise who was going to prepare the family meals?  Thus, the rule was never totally absolute.  The idea was to keep the commandment about the Sabbath day or the Sunday observance or “the Lord’s day” by worshipping at Church and spending quality time with the family.  The roots of the commandment had to do with imitating God who rested after the work of creation. However, given that ancient believers from the Jewish community were expelled from the synagogue services, the rule was applied to Sunday when the Christians gathered in the morning for Mass— commemorating not creation but our re-creation in Christ because of his resurrection. 

When I have visited the Holy Land I always take note of their solution to the challenge of keeping the law about the Sabbath.  The Jews and Moslems work on Sunday (allowing the Christians to be off) and the Christians work on Saturday (allowing the Jews and Moslems to be off).

The status of the requirements in keeping Sunday is noted in the precepts of the Church. Under pain of mortal sin, all Catholics should participate in Sunday Mass.  Secondly, but not as well observed, we should seek to abstain from “unnecessary” servile labor. Unfortunately, the world has changed around us and today many companies or businesses require their employees to work Sundays, sometimes even making it hard for them to go to Mass. The issue of going out is related to this question because shopping, eating out, going to the movies and such requires others to work.  Workers need their jobs and low pay often translates to more hours worked so as to make ends meet.   

Let us be honest, we have all been guilty of exploiting Sunday for activities that require the labor of others. As you have found, there is a general silence about it, even from the Church’s leadership. Indeed, I have been concerned that this passivity or quiet on the question has had dire consequences, both in regard to worship and to social justice.  While the Church has often opposed efforts to eradicate laws prohibiting the expansion of servile work on Sundays; after such efforts are accomplished, little more is heard. It is rather like the matter of contraception; once dissent is given the upper hand, opposition goes dark.  We lament the lower numbers attending Sunday Mass but we have compromised ourselves in allowing many Catholics to work on Sunday with no opportunity to attend religious services.  The situation also allows many distractions and activities that compete with going to Mass. 

Our Lord was not a stickler on Sabbath rules, indeed he was criticized for performing healings. I am certain he understands when working men and women find time for Mass but still have to expand their work week to keep their jobs and to maintain their families.  As for matters like going out so as to enjoy the services of others, it is a mixed bag. If we go out then we are implicated with the situation of expanded work hours and days.  If we stay in then workers desperate to make ends meet might be laid off. There is some subjectivity to the matter and judgment calls need to be made.  If possible, Christians should exploit Sundays for worship, rest and recreation. But as with the waitress who works at a restaurant or the ranger who keeps us safe in the park, I would not argue that the shopper enjoying the mall is committing sin.    

One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Nelson MCBS.

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