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Is it a Grave Sin to Shop on Sunday?

Is it a Grave Sin to Shop on Sunday?

Author: Servus Immaculatae

Six days shall you do work: in the seventh day is the sabbath, the rest holy to the Lord. Every one that shall do any work on this day, shall die.” -Exodus 31:15

You shall do no work on that day: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your habitations.” -Leviticus 23:3

And as the observance of the precept is very strongly assisted by these words: Six days shalt thou labour, but on the seventh day is the sabbath of God, the pastor should therefore carefully explain them to the people. For from these words it can be gathered that the faithful are to be exhorted not to spend their lives in indolence and sloth, but that each one, mindful of the words of the Apostle, should do his own business, and work with his own hands, as he had commanded them.  These words also enjoin as a duty commanded by God that in six days we do all our works, lest we defer to a festival what should have been done during the other days of the week, thereby distracting the attention from the things of God.” -The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Edited by Saint Charles Borromeo

It is very clear from the teaching of Holy Mother Church in what our Sunday Obligation consists.  First, to attend Holy Mass, and second to abstain from any unnecessary servile labor.  Those who are a bit older will recall a time when, even in the United States, but especially in Catholic Countries that all shops would be closed on Sunday and no one would be working apart from those who were part of essential life saving services, i.e. the Fire Department, Police, Hospital workers, and transportation workers.   But now, driven by the evil of unrestricted capitalism, we find everything is open on Sundays from dawn to dusk.  Thus very many are being forced by their employers to work on Sunday, and all too often this means they are unable to even attend Holy Mass.

This evil was one that touched the heart of the ever Blessed Virgin Mary so deeply that on the 19th of September in 1846 she appeared to two young cow-herders high up in the mountains in the parish of La Salette France. It was on that day that they were keeping the Feast of our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, and our Lady appeared to them very sad and indeed was weeping.  She said to the children (Maxim and Melanie):

“If my people will not submit, I shall be forced to let fall the arm of my Son. It is so strong, so heavy, that I can no longer withhold it. For how long a time do I suffer for you! If I would not have my Son abandon you, I am compelled to pray to him without ceasing; and as to you, you take not heed of it. However much you pray, however much you do, you will never recompense the pains I have taken for you.  ‘Six days I have given you to labor, the seventh I have kept for myself; and they will not give it to me.’ It is this which makes the arm of my Son so heavy. Those who drive the carts cannot swear without introducing the name of my Son. These are the two things which make the arm of my Son so heavy.”

And how France was chastised with three terrible wars each more horrific than the last with first the Franco-Prussian War, then World War I, and then World War II.  And how much worse are we not only as a nation today, but as a society in the whole of the West?

The Catechism of the Council of Trent concludes its section on the Third Commandment thusly:

“But those who altogether neglect its fulfillment resist God and His Church; they heed not God’s command, and are enemies of Him and His holy laws, of which the easiness of the command is itself a proof. We should, it is true, be prepared to undergo the severest labor for the sake of God; but in this Commandment He imposes on us no labor; He only commands us to rest and disengage ourselves from worldly cares on those days which are to be kept holy. To refuse obedience to this Commandment is, therefore, a proof of extreme boldness; and the punishments with which its infraction has been visited by God, as we learn from the Book of Numbers,’ should be a warning to us. In order, therefore, to avoid offending God in this way, we should frequently ponder this word: Remember, and should place before our minds the important advantages and blessings which, as we have already seen, flow from the religious observance of holydays, and also numerous other considerations of the same tendency, which the good and zealous pastor should develop at considerable length to his people as circumstances may require.”

And so if performing unnecessary servile labor on Sunday is such a terrible thing, what must we conclude then of shopping on Sunday?  For what would cause businesses to stay open on Sundays if customers did not patronize their establishments on those days?  And so if we do our shopping on Sunday we are causing others to have to work on Sunday.  For most today working in retail are but wage slaves who aren’t even paid a living wage, and cannot afford to decline a job because they are forced to work on Sunday, because they need the job to live and all retail establishments (with notable exceptions like Hobby Lobby and Chick Fillet) force their employees to work on Sunday.

Now of course it is generally accepted by moral theologians that those necessary items such as food required for that day, medicine, fuel, etc are permitted to be purchased on Sunday, but to intentionally do your whole weeks shopping on Sunday would be seriously sinful, especially if you make a habit of it.  Of course the exception to this would be if you lived way out the in country and have to drive more than an hour into town for Mass you would then be permitted to do your shopping since it is such an exceptional burden to have to drive back during the week.

Further resources below:

Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Common Doctor of the Church, on the 3rd Commandment

Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, the Moral Doctor of the Church, on the 3rd Commandment

Rev. Fr. Dominic Prummer, O.P. on Forbidden Servile Labor

A sermon on this subject: Keeping Sunday Holy.


Explanation of the Ten Commandments


Thomas Aquinas

Articles 3-12 translated by translated by Joseph B. Collins, New York, 1939

Edited, with prologue and articles 1-2 added, and html formated by Joseph Kenny, O.P.



“Remember to Keep Holy the Sabbath Day.”

This is the Third Commandment of the law, and very suitably is it so. For we are first commanded to adore God in our hearts, and the Commandment is to worship one God: “You shall not have strange gods before Me.” In the Second Commandment we are told to reverence God by word: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” The Third commands us to reverence God by act. It is: “Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath day”. God wished that a certain day be set aside on which men direct their minds to the service of the Lord.

Reasons for this commandment

There are five reasons for this Commandment. The first reason was to put aside error, for the Holy Spirit saw that in the future some men would say that the world had always existed. “In the last days there shall come deceitful scoffers, walking after their own lusts, saying: Where is His promise or His coming? For since the time that the fathers slept, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation. For this they are willfully ignorant of, that the heavens were before, and the earth out of water, and through water, created by the word of God” [2 Pet 3:3-5]. God, therefore, wished that one day should be set aside in memory of the fact that He created all things in six days, and that on the seventh day He rested from the creation of new creatures. This is why the Lord placed this Commandment in the law, saying: “Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath day.” The Jews kept holy the Sabbath in memory of the first creation; but Christ at His coming brought about a new creation. For by the first creation an earthly man was created, and by the second a heavenly man was formed: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision is worth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” [Gal 6:15]. This new creation is through grace, which came by the Resurrection: “That as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, so shall we also be in the likeness of His resurrection” [Rm 6:4-5]. And thus, because the Resurrection took place on Sunday, we celebrate that day, even as the Jews observed the Sabbath on account of the first creation.

The second reason for this Commandment is to instruct us in our faith in the Redeemer. For the flesh of Christ was not corrupted in the sepulchre, and thus it is said: “Moreover My flesh also shall rest in hope” [Ps 15:9]. “Nor will You let your holy one see corruption” [Ps 15:10]. Wherefore, God wished that the Sabbath should be observed, and that just as the sacrifices of the Old Law signified the death of Christ, so should the quiet of the Sabbath signify the rest of His body in the sepulchre. But we do not now observe these sacrifices, because with the advent of the reality and the truth, figures of it must cease, just as the darkness is dispelled with the rising of the sun. Nevertheless, we keep the Saturdays in veneration of the Blessed Virgin, in whom remained a firm faith on that Saturday while Christ was dead.

The third reason is that this Commandment was given to strengthen and foreshadow the fulfillment of the promise of rest. For rest indeed was promised to us: “And on that day God shall give you rest from your labor, from your vexation, and from the hard bondage, to which you had been subjugated” [Is 14:3]. “My people shall dwell in a peaceful land, in secure accommodation, and in quiet places of rest” [Is 32:18].

We hope for rest from three things: from the labors of the present life, from the struggles of temptations, and from the servitude of the devil. Christ promised this rest to all those who will come to Him: “Come to Me, all ye that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to your souls. For My yoke is sweet and My burden light” [Mt 11:28-30]

However, the Lord, as we know, worked for six days and on the seventh He rested, because it is necessary to do a perfect work: “Behold with your eyes how I have labored a little, and have found much rest to Myself” [Sir 51:35]. For the period of eternity exceeds the present time incomparably more than a thousand years exceeds one day.

Fourthly, this Commandment was given for the increase of our love: “For the corruptible body is a load upon the soul” [Wis 9:15]. And man always tends downwards towards earthly things unless he takes means to raise himself above them. It is indeed necessary to have a certain time for this; in fact, some do this continually: “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall ever be in my mouth” [Ps 33:2]. And again: “Pray without ceasing” [1 Thes 5:17]. These shall enjoy the everlasting Sabbath. There are others who do this (i.e., excite love for God) during a certain portion of the day: “Seven times a day I have given praise to You” [Ps 118:164]. And some, in order to avoid being entirely apart from God, find it necessary to have a fixed day, lest they become too lukewarm in their love of God: “If you call the Sabbath delightful… then shall you delight in the Lord” [Is 58:13-14]. Again: “Then shall you abound in delights of the Almighty, and shall lift up your face to God” [Job 22:26]. And accordingly this day is not set aside for the sole exercise of games, but to praise and pray to the Lord God. Wherefore, St. Augustine says that it is a lesser evil to plough than to play on this day.

Lastly, we are given this Commandment in order to exercise works of kindliness to those who are subject to us. For some are so cruel to themselves and to others that they labor ceaselessly all on account of money. This is true especially of the Jews, who are most avaricious. “Observe the day of the Sabbath to sanctify it… that your man-servant and your maid-servant may rest, even as thyself” [19]. This Commandment, therefore, was given for all these reasons.

From what we should abstain on the Sabbath

“Remember that you keep holy (sanctify) the Sabbath day.” We have already said that, as the Jews celebrated the Sabbath, so do we Christians observe the Sunday and all principal feasts. Let us now see in what way we should keep these days. We ought to know that God did not say to “keep” the Sabbath, but to remember to keep it holy. The word “holy” may be taken in two ways. Sometimes “holy” (sanctified) is the same as pure: “But you are washed, but you are sanctified” [1 Cor 6:11]. (that is, made holy). Then again at times “holy” is said of a thing consecrated to the worship of God, as, for instance, a place, a season, vestments, and the holy vessels. Therefore, in these two ways we ought to celebrate the feasts, that is, both purely and by giving ourselves over to divine service.

We shall consider two things regarding this Commandment. First, what should be avoided on a feast day, and secondly, what we should do. We ought to avoid three things. The first is servile work.

Avoidance of Servile Work.—“Neither do any work; sanctify the Sabbath day” [Jer 17:22]. And so also it is said in the Law: “You shall do no servile work therein” [Lev 23:25]. Now, servile work is bodily work; whereas “free work” (i.e., non-servile work) is done by the mind, for instance, the exercise of the intellect and such like. And one cannot be servilely bound to do this kind of work.

When Servile Work Is Lawful.—We ought to know, however, that servile work can be done on the Sabbath for four reasons. The first reason is necessity. Wherefore, the Lord excused the disciples plucking the ears of corn on the Sabbath, as we read in St. Matthew (xii. 3-5). The second reason is when the work is done for the service of the Church; as we see in the same Gospel how the priests did all things necessary in the Temple on the Sabbath day. The third reason is for the good of our neighbor; for on the Sabbath the Saviour cured one having a withered hand, and He refuted the Jews who reprimanded Him, by citing the example of the sheep in a pit (“ibid.”). And the fourth reason is the authority of our superiors. Thus, God commanded the Jews to circumcise on the Sabbath [Jn 7:22-23].

Avoidance of Sin and Negligence on the Sabbath.—Another thing to be avoided on the Sabbath is sin: “Take heed to your souls, and carry no burdens on the Sabbath day” [Jer 18:21]. This weight and burden on the soul is sin: “My iniquities as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me” [Ps 37:5]. Now, sin is a servile work because “whoever commits sin is the servant of sin” [Jn 8:34]. Therefore, when it is said, “You shall do no servile work therein,”[Lev 3:25]. it can be understood of sin. Thus, one violates this commandment as often as one commits sin on the Sabbath; and so both by working and by sin God is offended. “The Sabbaths and other festivals I will not abide.” And why? “Because your assemblies are wicked. My soul hates your new moon and your solemnities; they are become troublesome to me” [Is 1:13]

Another thing to avoid on the Sabbath is idleness: “For idleness has taught much evil” [Sir 33:29]. St. Jerome says: “Always do some good work, and the devil will always find you occupied” [ Ep. ad Rusticum ]. Hence, it is not good for one to keep only the principal feasts, if on the others one would remain idle. “The King’s honor loves judgment” [Ps 98:4 Vulgate], that is to say, discretion. Wherefore, we read that certain of the Jews were in hiding, and their enemies fell upon them; but they, believing that they were not able to defend themselves on the Sabbath, were overcome and killed [1 Mac 2:31-38]. The same thing happens to many who are idle on the feast days: “The enemies have seen her, and have mocked at her Sabbaths” [Lam 1:7]. But all such should do as those Jews did, of whom it is said: “Whoever shall come up against us to fight on the Sabbath day, we will fight against him” [1 Mac 2:41]

Do what on the Sabbath?

“Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.” We have already said that man must keep the feast days holy; and that “holy” is considered in two ways, namely, “pure” and “consecrated to God.” Moreover, we have indicated what things we should abstain from on these days. Now it must be shown with what we should occupy ourselves, and they are three in number.

The Offering of Sacrifice.—The first is the offering of sacrifices. In the Book of Numbers (18) it is written how God ordered that on each day there be offered one lamb in the morning and another in the evening, but on the Sabbath day the number should be doubled. And this showed that on the Sabbath we should offer sacrifice to God from all that we possess: “All things are Yours; and we have given You what we received from your hand” [1 Chron 29:14]. We should offer, first of all, our soul to God, being sorry for our sins: “A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit” [Ps 50:19]; and also pray for His blessings: “Let my prayer be directed as incense in your sight” [Ps 140:2]. Feast days were instituted for that spiritual joy which is the effect of prayer. Therefore, on such days our prayers should be multiplied.

Secondly, we should offer our body, by mortifying it with fasting: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice”[Rm 12:1], and also by praising God: “The sacrifice of praise shall honor Me” [Ps 49:23]. And thus on these days our hymns should be more numerous. Thirdly, we should sacrifice our possessions by giving alms: “And do not forget to do good, and to impart; for by such sacrifice God’s favor is obtained” [Hb 13:16]. And this alms ought to be more than on other days because the Sabbath is a day of common joys: “Send portions to those who have not prepared for themselves, because it is the holy day of the Lord” [Neh 8:10].

Hearing of God’s Word.—Our second duty on the Sabbath is to be eager to hear the word of God. This the Jews did daily: “The voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath” [Acts 13:27]. Therefore Christians, whose justice should be more perfect, ought to come together on the Sabbath to hear sermons and participate in the services of the Church! “He who is of God, hears the words of God” [Jn 8:47]. We likewise ought to speak with profit to others: “Let no evil speech proceed from your mouth; but what is good for sanctification” [Eph 4:29]. These two practices are good for the soul of the sinner, because they change his heart for the better: “Are not My words as a fire, says the Lord, and as a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” [Jer 23:29]. The opposite effect is had on those, even the perfect, who neither speak nor hear profitable things: “Evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake, you just, and do no sin” [1 Cor 15:33]. “Your words have I hidden in my heart” [Ps 118:11]. God’s word enlightens the ignorant: “Your word is a lamp to my feet” [Ps 118:105]. It inflames the lukewarm: “The word of the Lord inflamed him” [Ps 114:19]

The contemplation of divine things may be exercised on the Sabbath. However, this is for the more perfect. “O taste, and see that the Lord is sweet” [Ps 33:9], and this is because of the quiet of the soul. For just as the tired body desires rest, so also does the soul. But the soul’s proper rest is in God: “Be for me a God, a protector, and a house of refuge” [Ps 30:3]. “There remains therefore a day of rest for the people of God. For he who has entered into his rest has also rested from his works, as God did from His” [Hb 4:9-10]. When I go into my house, I shall repose myself with her” (i.e., Wisdom) [Wis 8:16].

However, before the soul arrives at this rest, three other rests must precede. The first is the rest from the turmoil of sin: “But the wicked are like the raging sea which cannot rest” [Is 57:20]. The second rest is from the passions of the flesh, because “the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh” [Gal 5:17]. The third is rest from the occupations of the world: “Martha, Martha, you art careful and art troubled about many things” [Lk 10:41].

And then after all these things the soul rests peacefully in God: “If you call the Sabbath delightful… then shall you delight in the Lord” [Is 58:13-14]. The Saints gave up everything to possess this rest, “for it is a pearl of great price which a man having found, hid it, and for joy went off and sold all that he had and bought that field” [Mt 13:44-46]. This rest in truth is eternal life and heavenly joy: “This is my rest for ever and ever; here will I dwell, for I have chosen it” [Ps 131:14]. And to this rest may the Lord bring us all!

The Ascetical Works


Saint Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri

Bishop and Moral Doctor of the Universal Church

Instructions for the People

Chapter III

The Third Commandment

“Remember to sanctify the Sabbath-day.” -Ex. 20:8

This precept imposes two obligations: the first is, to abstain from servile works on Sundays and holidays; the second is, to hear Mass on these days.

In the Old Law the festival day was Saturday; but the apostles changed it to Sunday, a day sanctified by God over and over again, as St. Leo has remarked. For it was on Sunday that the world was created; that Jesus Christ rose from the dead; and that the Holy Ghost descended on the apostles. The precept of sanctifying the Sunday, according to St. Thomas, (2. 2, q. 122, a. 4.) and the generality of theologians, is moral, so far as it is the duty of all men to employ some part of their life in the worship of God; but ceremonial, so far as it determines the exact time of this worship. So far as it is moral, all men are bound to observe it. As a ceremonial precept it is no longer obligatory; because the Old Law has ceased. Hence we are bound to the observance of festivals by a precept of the Church, which has determined the days that are to be kept holy.

I now ask, Why has God instituted festival days? He has instituted them that every Christian, having attended to the concerns of his body during the other days of the week, may attend on the festivals to the concerns of his soul, not only by hearing Mass, but also by hearing a sermon, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, recommending himself to God, and by performing other acts of piety.  But how do many persons spend the holidays? In gambling, in drinking to excess, in obscene discourses. I may here tell you a story related by Surius. (Die 7. sept. Vit. c. 9.) In the city of Dia there was a holy bishop called Stephan. Being unable to correct a great irregularity among his people who spent the holidays and Sundays in gaming, dancing, and drunkenness, he begged of God that a multitude of hideous devils might appear in the city on a certain day. So it happened, and so much terror was excited, that all cried aloud for mercy. The people promised to amend and the holy bishop by his prayers delivered them from these horrible monsters.

I.  The Obligation of Abstaining from Servile Works.

1. How Many Kinds of Work are There?

It is necessary to distinguish three kinds of works: servile, liberal, and common.

1. Servile works, as St. Thomas (Sent. 3, ch. 17, q. i, a. 5, sol. 2.) teaches, are in the mystic sense sins, but literally they are the works that are usually performed only by servants. They are also called corporal works such as building, digging, sewing, working iron, stone, or wood, and similar occupations, which require bodily labor. These are, properly speaking, the works which were forbidden in the Old Law. You shall do no servile work thereon. (“Omne opus servile non facietis in eo.” Lev. 23:7)

2. Liberal works or occupations, which are called works of the mind, are those that are performed by men in a liberal condition of life such as to study, to teach, to play music, to write, and the like. These are permitted on holidays, even though performed for gain.  Theologians also reckon transcribing among the liberal works, because transcribing is connected with the instruction of the mind.

3. Finally, common works, called also intermediate works, are those that are performed, not only by servants, but also by men in a liberal condition of life.

2. Which are the Works Forbidden on Festivals?

On festivals, servile works only are prohibited, but not those which are called liberal or common. This is the doctrine of theologians who follow the opinion of St. Thomas. (2. 2. q. 122, a. 4.) Corporal works that have nothing to do with the ceremonies of worship, are called servile only so far as they properly belong to servants, but not so when they are commonly performed as well by persons of liberal condition as by servants. Before this passage, the saint had explained that in the precept of sanctifying holidays servile works only are understood to be forbidden. Hence, according to the more common and more probable opinion, it is not forbidden on holidays to travel or to fowl; because these are at least common to persons in a servile and liberal condition of life. Fishing, when attended with great labor, appears to be a servile work, as may be inferred from the canon law in which the Pope (De Feriis, c. 3.) has given the dispensation to fish for sardines.

It is necessary to remark that the third commandment forbids all work connected with the law courts, such as to cite parties, to carry on trials, to pronounce or execute sentences, unless they are excused by necessity or piety. (De Feriis, c. ult.)

It is also forbidden on festivals to sell goods in public shops; but this is permitted at fairs and markets where it is the custom to do so, or when the things sold are necessary for daily use, such as food, wine, beer, and the like.

3. What Causes Permit Servile Work on a Holiday?

1. A dispensation of the bishop or even of the parish priest, when there, is a just cause for dispensation, excuses servile work on festivals.

2. Servile work on holidays is excused by any custom existing in the place, provided the custom is permitted and not censured by the bishop.

3. Charity, or the relief of a neighbor who is need, is a sufficient, excuse.

4. Necessity, as when a person would not have food for the day if he did not work, or when a person works in order to avoid a grievous loss. Hence it is lawful to reap corn, to gather grapes in the vintage, to gather corn, hay, olives, chestnuts, and other fruits that are in danger of being damaged. It is also lawful to do whatever is necessary for the day, such as to prepare food, to arrange and sweep the house, to make the beds, etc.

5. Piety excuses servile work; thus, it is lawful to cultivate the ground belonging to poor churches, or to build them through charity; but this cannot be done without the leave of the bishop, or without great actual necessity.

6. Smallness of matter excuses from the violation of the precept. But what should we consider to be sufficient matter for mortal sin? Some theologians say, that to work for an hour is a mortal sin; others extend the time to two hours; but unless there is a just cause, the shortness of the time employed in work does not excuse from venial sin.

4. Conclusion

Some will not work on the other days of the week, and on holidays they are not ashamed to work for half the day, and even compel their servants and children to work. “Father,” they say, “we are poor.” But it is not every kind of poverty that excuses from working on festivals. Your poverty or necessity must be such that, unless you work, you will not have food for the day for yourself and for your family. Everyone who lives by his labor is poor, and in some necessity; but such necessity does not excuse from sin.

Let children remember that when a parent commands them to work on a holiday, in opposition to the law of God, they are not bound to obey him: on the contrary, if they work, they are guilty of sin. They are excused from sin only when, if they do not work, they will suffer a great loss, or at least a grievous inconvenience; for the precepts of the Church are not binding when the observance of them is attended with grievous inconvenience.

But the servants of a master who obliges them to work on holidays of obligation should plainly say to him: “This is a holiday; I am a Christian, and I will not work.” If the master compels them by grievous threats, it is their duty to leave him, and to seek a master who observes the Christian law.

I will tell you how God punishes those who work on holidays of obligation. In the diocese of Fano (Pontifical States) they were celebrating the feast of St. Ursus, the bishop and the patron of the place. A countryman went on that day to plough as usual; and when he was asked why he did not respect the festival of St. Ursus, he answered: “If he is Ursus, I am a man in want of bread.” At these words the earth opened, and swallowed him up alive, with his plough and oxen; and the marks of the chasm may still be seen in the place where it happened, which is now called Villa de Rossano.

My good man, what do you expect? Do you imagine that by working on festivals you will improve your fortune? You are mistaken. By your work you will only increase your misery. There were two shoemakers; one of them lived in comfort with his family; the other, though he was always working, Sundays and week-days, was ever starving, and had nothing to give to his children.  This man began once to complain of his misery, and said to the other, who always observed the festivals: “Friend, how do you contrive to live? I work and toil unceasingly, and yet I am not able to provide food for my family.” The other replied: “I have a friend to whom I go every morning he supplies me with what ever I want.” The former rejoined: “Introduce me to your kind friend.” The other promised to comply with his request, and brought him one morning to the church, where they heard Mass. On leaving the church the former said: “Where is the friend who provides for you?” The other answered: “Did you not see Jesus Christ on the altar? He is the friend who supports me.” Thus my brethren, be assured that it is God alone, and not sin, that provides for us. He provides for all who observe his law, and not for those who despise it.

It is right that all should know (many already know it) that in 1748 Benedict XIV permitted the inhabitants of the kingdom of Naples and Sicily to work on all holidays, except on the Sundays and principal festivals; but did not exempt them from the obligation of hearing Mass. The festivals on which they are not allowed to work are all Sundays, Christmas-day, the Circumcision (that is, New Year s Day), the Epiphany, Ascension Day, Corpus Christi; the festivals of the Conception, Nativity, Annunciation, Purification, and Assumption of the Most Holy Mary; the feasts of St. Peter and St. Paul, of All Saints, and of all the principal patrons of every city or town of the diocese. [In the United States: All Sundays in the year, the Circumcision of our Lord (January 1), the Ascension of our Lord, the Assumption of the B. V. Mary (August 15), All Saints (November 1), Immaculate Conception (December 8), Nativity of our Lord, or Christmas-day.]

Handbook of Moral Theology


Rev. Fr. Dominic M. Prummer, O.P.

Translated from the Latin by Rev. Fr. Gerald W. Shelton, S.T.L.

First published in English in Spring, 1956

§ 3. Prohibition of Servile Work

426. Distinctions. There are four types of work :

1. Servile work is that which a) requires mainly bodily activity, b) has as its immediate purpose the welfare of the body, c ) was formerly done by slaves ; e.g. farm work such as digging or ploughing, mechanical work like sewing or making shoes.

N.B. The character of servile work is not determined by the worker’s intention or by the fatigue involved, or by the fact that wages are received, etc., but solely by the nature of the work itself which remains servile even if done out of charity or for the sake of recreation.

2. Cultural work is that which a ) is the product chiefly of the mental faculties, b) is immediately directed towards the development of the mind, c) used to be performed by persons who were not slaves, such as reading, writing, singing, playing the organ. These acts remain cultural even if energy is lost in their performance and wages received.

3. Ordinary ( natural ) work is that which is done indiscriminately by all classes and is chiefly intended for the daily sustenance of the body, such as eating, hunting, travelling, cooking.

4. Judicial and commercial work is that which is transacted in the courts or in the course of public trading, such as sitting in court, defending criminals, buying, selling, leasing, etc.

Note. There are forms of work whose exact nature remains in doubt. In order to solve such doubts one should be guided by the common opinion of men. Thus, for example, rowing is servile work, but common opinion regards it as lawful on Sundays if done for the sake of recreation.

427. Principle. All servile, judicial and commercial work is forbidden on Sundays and holy days, but cultural and ordinary work is allowed (c. 1248). Any form of servile, judicial or commercial work prevents man from giving sufficient attention to the worship of God, since it absorbs the attention of the mind and tires his body. Other forms of work do not have the same effect. A more lenient attitude towards commercial work is at present in existence, since markets are allowed for the sale of small articles such as flowers or fruit, and private contracts of buying or selling are also permitted.

The prohibition of servile and judicial work is grave but allows of parvity of matter. It is thought that servile work lasting for more than two hours (either continuously or with intervals) without any excusing cause constitutes grave matter and is therefore grievously sinful. But if the work is light in character rather than servile, a space of three hours is considered necessary before grave matter exists.

428. Causes which excuse from this precept can be reduced to three types: 1. personal need or that of another ; 2. legitimate custom; 3. legitimate dispensation.

Personal need or that of another sometimes excuses from this precept, as, for example, farmers during harvest-time, the poor, domestic servants, workers responsible for the maintenance of machines in factories. Some necessity’ is thought to exist if there is danger of sinning as the result of idleness.

Custom in certain places excuses hair-dressers, drivers of public vehicles, hunters, fishers, those who sell small articles.

A dispensation in this law may be granted by the Holy See and also in particular cases by bishops, religious prelates, parish priests for their own parishioners (c. 1245). A confessor has no power to dispense in this matter but in doubtful cases he may interpret the law and allow his penitents to undertake necessary’ work.


55 thoughts on “Is it a Grave Sin to Shop on Sunday?

  1. Marilyn Tilmann says:

    is it ok to drive on Sunday? 

    • admin says:

      My understanding is that there is nothing wrong with driving on Sunday per say, and the moral manuals all say one is allowed to purchase fuel on Sunday if needed. That being said, traditionally it was recommended never make Sunday a day of traveling unless necessary. Thus if you are going to travel to see a relative for example it would be best not to do this on a Sunday if its going to mean you are in the car for 6, 8, or 10+ hours. Anything that detracts from Sunday being a day of rest and one which is focused upon God in a more particular way should be avoided. Of course traveling to Mass or to perform a spiritual or corporal work of mercy or any other necessary travel are, of course, not an issue.

  2. James says:

    Is is OK to go to a restaurant on Sunday when you could just as easily stay home and eat?  Even if it is “OK” to would it be more preferable in keeping the Lord’s day holy to abstain from an unnecessary trip to a restaurant (where your going there would, of course, add to the workload of the staff)?

    • admin says:

      Necessary servile labor is permitted. One of the most notable exceptions is food services (i.e. restaurants), as well as things like gas stations. Now is it better to do things like prepare a meal on Saturday and eat it on Sunday so that the absolute least amount of servile labor (even that which is necessary) is performed on Sunday? Sure. But it’s not required, even if our forefathers in the faith kept Sunday in this manner, but we ought to remember that ideal.

  3. Tony Chow says:

    So in principle, we shouldn’t eat out on Sundays, although I think a lot of priests do, if not most.

    I am planning to celebrate Mother’s Day at a winery, where they have a restaurant, also wanted to pick up a few bottles which I do every year at that winery. Tried to do it on the Saturday before, but can’t due to a wedding, so have it do it on the Sunday.

    So I suppose that’s not kosher?

    • admin says:

      Necessary servile labor is permitted. One of the most notable exceptions is food services (i.e. restaurants), as well as things like gas stations. Now is it better to do things like prepare a meal on Saturday and eat it on Sunday so that the absolute least amount of servile labor (even that which is necessary) is performed on Sunday? Sure. But it’s not required, even if our forefathers in the faith kept Sunday in this manner, but we ought to remember that ideal. So once in a while for special occasions it’s certainly not unreasonable to do things like that. And for preiest, I don’t presume to judge their actions, but for them Sunday is a day of great labor for souls and if they go out to eat in an effort to find some rest on Sunday, I certainly can’t begrudge them that.

  4. Tony Chow says:

    Industries like tourism and cruises will be inherently evil then?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am all for no Sunday shopping, but the implications are profound.

    • admin says:

      Not necessarily, though I think there may be other reasons to be concerned about those industries. It use to be that Catholics never even made journeys on Sundays apart from going to Mass, or out of great necessity. Still it comes down to what is truly necessary servile labor on Sunday and what is superfluous. But yes you are correct that the logical conclusions of living out the teachings of the faith in our modern world carry with them quite profound implications.

  5. When visiting a seminary and having a meal on Sunday on the campus is it a sin that you were eating on the campus when the people there are preparing the food. says:

    When visiting a seminary and having a meal on Sunday on the campus is it a sin that you were eating on the campus when the people there are preparing the food.

    • admin says:

      It is only unnecessary servile work that is forbidden. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, gas station attendants, and food services are all examples of necessary servile labor that is therefore permitted on Sunday.

  6. Peter OLeary says:

    I own and operate a retail shop in a tourism location in the US.  Weekends are very busy with people vacationing.  We are open 7 days a week but I have been concerned that I should be closed on Sunday.  Closing could be bad for the community as that is one of our busiest days.  Does the Catholic Church teach that I should be closed?

    • admin says:

      Your situation is a difficult one, and there is not a clear-cut answer for your unfortunately. I would recommend consulting a good and orthodox priest who can guide you in making the best decision in order to be faithful to God as well as being a just employer and member of your community.

      One thing I would say is that I know of a number of cases of those who have closed their shop/restaurant/etc on Sunday, and God so rewarded them for this that they more than made up for the lost business in the rest of the week and actually were more profitable than they had been before. There are several major companies who are examples of this, most notably Chik-fil-a and Hobby Lobby.

  7. Joseph says:

    But is it fine to just tour around the mall or some tourist spot like the museum after Mass if its really the only time available for you? Thank you and God bless.

    • admin says:

      My understanding is that the old moral manuals said that if you lived out in the country and drove into town for Mass that you were permitted to do your shopping if you were unable to make it into town during the week. I’m not sure if this example directly applies to your question, but I think it’s just a matter of being reasonable and judicious in your Sunday activities. I would also say that if you are not paying any money to any business and therefore not giving any incentive to a business to stay open on Sunday’s then you probably don’t have anything to worry about. On the other hand Sunday is meant to be a day of rest, prayer, and repose in God with your family, so you have to consider if these activities are in keeping with this or if they in any way detract from the purpose of Sunday. I would take up any concerns, however, with your confessor and not merely rely on my comments or this article.

  8. Michael says:

    I am a college student and a musician. Can I play gigs for pay on Sundays and Holy days of obligation at a restaurant, for example? What about for a private party for entertainment (for my pay)? I struggle with understanding how my form of work might be allowed while others are not.

    • admin says:

      That’s a prudential judgment you should make with the help if your confessor.  But generally the point is the avoid unnecessarily infringing upon the time that ought to be set aside for our Lord, and more seriously not missing Mass.


      I’m forced to work for a few hours on Sunday occasionally, but it doesn’t impact my keeping the day holy, nor do I ever miss Mass, and it’s infrequent.

      Also if this is the only way you can make money and it’s the only time you can perform this service for pay then that can factor into it as well.  Again, I would consult your confessor to make sure you are being faithful to God, while at the same time being reasonable and not creating and undue burden for yourself.

  9. Ray says:

    Definitely not out of necessity, but for fun or relaxation such as joyriding on a motorcycle on a Sunday, what is your opinion on visiting shops to eat, or window shop, explore, buy gifts, etc? Or just pick up something you could easily buy the next day? In the latter case out of concern, I’ve been delaying such things for a day. Not do do something out of necessity, but fun while I’m out?

    • admin says:

      My understanding is that, per moral theology manuals, eating out on Sundays does not fall under this prohibition, but unnecessary shopping does.  So if it’s Sunday and you realized you need something then it is permitted to go and buy it.  It seems preferable, however, if possible to avoid this by preparing ahead of time for Sunday necessities.

      Some shops and purveyors of goods are only open on the weekend and if it’s not possible to purchase from them at any other time then it seems it would be permissible when you need to purchase a gift or item of necessity.

      Shopping as a form of recreation seems harder to justify, and I would think it ought to be discouraged.  We must first seek to keep the Lords day and that means keeping a focus on Him throughout the day as much as is possible (of course allowing for the individual circumstances of each person, family, etc), and anything that distracts or detracts from this is to be avoided.

  10. PT says:

    Admin, what are your thoughts on working as a real estate agent on Sunday? Sunday is by far the busiest day to show homes and even possibly necessary to sell them. Is it sinful to work the open house showings, about 3hrs on Sundays?

    • admin says:

      I would certainly consult your confessor, but if that is the only time business can be done, or if it is an essential service (i.e. healthcare, police, firefighters, gas stations, etc) generally it is permitted, but I would prayerfully consider not working on Sunday and trusting that God will bless you far more in return than whatever you could have gained by working those hours. Now if your employer forces you to work then that is another story.

      • TGG says:

        If people did not shop on Sunday, there would be little or no need for stores to be open since it would not be profitable.

        • admin says:


  11. LS says:

    What about placing an order online on a Sunday? Total time 10 minutes and not conflicting with Mass or the rest of the day?


    • admin says:

      You are potentially creating work for someone on a Sunday if they immediately respond to your purchase request.  You have to ask yourself if it is absolutely necessary or not, and if you are unsure I would ask the advice of a holy and faithful priest on the matter.

      • SU says:

        What if you order something on a Monday and the order gets there the Monday of the next week. That means that that order was in transit on Sunday. What can we do about that? Is that something completely out of our control? Or are postal workers/delivery personnel also necessary services permitted on Sunday, no matter how trivial the order?

        • admin says:

          Yeah I wouldn’t scruple over it too much. We can do our best in the world we live in, and sometimes there aren’t great alternatives.

  12. Carly says:

    Our family often gets donuts after mass on Sundays. We use it as a reward for good behavior at mass. So should we avoid getting them on Sunday?

    • admin says:

      The moral manuals say that restaurants on Sundays are ok, but it’s generally better to avoid making it a habit if possible. The best thing to do is consult your confessor, or priest you trust to follow the church’s authentic teaching on this subject.

  13. S.H. says:

    What about doing laundry on sundays? For example if you have it in the washing machine Saturday night and it happens that you forgot (distractions) to put it into the dryer and then Sunday your clothes are wet and then what do you do? Is it sinful to throw them in or do they have to stay there until Monday?

    • admin says:

      The moral manuals say that anything more than 2 hours of unnecessary servile labor is seriously sinful. That unnecessary servile labor under two hours would still be venially sinful. This is if it is unnecessary. If on occasion we forget or neglect to do something on Saturday and are then are forced to do it on Sunday it is probably not very serious, but if it’s a habit and every week you are spending hours doing work on Sunday that could be done on other days of the week and thus neglecting to keep Sunday holy for the Lord then we have an issue.

  14. P says:

    So I have good one for you.  So it’s Sunday and I have a real estate agent come out to list my house.  They work on Sunday anyways.


    • admin says:

      If they choose to do that and you are not causing them to do so then that is on their own conscience. There are exceptions for certain jobs which have to be done on Sundays, but it would be best to avoid such a line of work if possible or at least minimize Sunday showings if possible.

  15. Maria says:

    Hello, I was reading your article on Sunday work. I was worried that it was sinful to get food from a gas station after Mass just for fun, but I thought I was being scrupulous and knew that it was okay to go to a restaurant, so I figured it was okay to go to a gas station, to. Was I wrong? Is it a sin to get food from a gas station when not necessary on a Sunday?

    • admin says:

      Purchasing fuel is one of the exceptions for making purchases on Sunday because they are a basic necessary service. Making a purchase at the gas station convenience store likely won’t cause someone to work. Also, the moral manuals do say that eating out at restaurants on Sundays is ok. So it seems like your practice isn’t sinful, but if it’s troubling your conscience it might be a good item to bring up with your confessor and/or spiritual director. Hope that helps. God bless!

  16. Linda Wiesner says:

    Is it sinful to run a Flea market on Sunday?

    • admin says:

      It depends. If it’s not absolutely necessary then it’s probably sinful, especially if it’s every Sunday. If that is the only time possible and your livelihood is dependent on it then it might be licit so long as you don’t miss Mass. I would recommend speaking to a holy priest in confession to get more precise guidance if this applies to your own situation.

  17. Anthony says:

    Is it a sin to use to watch football or other sports on Sunday? Please answer.

    • admin says:

      It depends. If it detracts from the Lord’s day then yes. If anything to do with sports programming is an occasion of sin then yes. Is it possible ever to watch a sports game on a Sunday without sin, probably yes. If you have a specific concern I recommend speaking to a holy priest in confession about it.

  18. Ángel Cázares says:

    Hi, I have a question: Do I commit sin if I eat something that my family brought for eat on Sunday? For example: pizza, bread, meat, etc.

    My family are not Catholic in the practice.

    I wait your response. Thank you.

    • admin says:

      I don’t see how that could be sinful, especially since they don’t practice the faith. In fact to refuse the hospitality of your family would be uncharitable and could be sinful. Following the example of the saints, we should generally eat what’s set before us.

  19. Camilo De Leon says:

    If my family is going on a trip this weekend we will be staying in a Hotel on Sunday,  Should I refrain from the trip to avoid making hotel staff work. I am aware that a Hotel (shelter for the night) could be seen as “necessary”, but is a family trip “necessary”.


    • admin says:

      Something to discuss with your confessor. Food, lodging, and fuel have generally been considered necessaries and were permitted to be purchased on Sunday as needed (though you shouldn’t do your grocery shopping for the week, but just buy what you need immediately). Some questions to consider: is there a reasonable and viable way to have a vacation that doesn’t cross a Sunday? Will traveling on a Sunday detract from your family keeping the day holy? Is this a one time thing or a regular practice?

  20. Ángel says:

    If I buy a novel (book) online, and the delivery is in 2-3 weeks, and, maybe, the delivery team works on Sundays, Could I contribute to make them work on Sundays and, then, I commit sin?

    • admin says:

      I can’t know that it is going to be delivered on Sunday. If you intended for it to be delivered on a Sunday that would be different.

  21. Shelly Kim says:

    I’m kind confused by your response on watching football game on Sunday. So we’re not supposed to engage in leisurely activities such as watching TV on Sundays?  Then can you recommend ideal Sunday activities besides attend mass?

    • admin says:

      You can watch sports on Sunday, however, you have to be careful that it doesn’t detract from the day being focused on God. Spending time in prayer and good spiritual reading is always best for at least some part of the day outside of Mass. Beyond that, Sundays are a good day to spend time with your family and friends. You can spend that time with them speaking of good and pious subjects, play games, read good books (you could even read aloud to one another), go for a walk, write, paint, draw, play a musical instrument, sing, and many other things that don’t require a tv or any electronic device.

  22. Josephine says:

    It is Lent and our kids greatly look forward to ice cream on Sunday night as their treat.  My husband ran to the grocery store and since he was there grabbed two other things for the next day…. Milk and flaxseed.  I’m definitely feeling we should have gone without the ice cream/. But, was it mortal?

    • admin says:

      As always we recommend speaking to your confessor on these matters. That being said, for it to have been mortal you would have to have believed it was a mortal sin before doing it and then done it anyway. There are a variety of mitigating factors that might allow for someone to make a purchase on a Sunday, however, it sounds like this wasn’t one of those situations. It’s always best to plan ahead and purchase what you will need beforehand if you can, and what is not necessary can be done without. Traditionally Lenten abstinences were maintained on Sunday and only fasting was relaxed. You shouldn’t scruple about this situation too much, but please speak with a reliable confessor if you have any further concerns.

  23. Thomas Leah says:

    Hello, thank you for all your work on this subject! I work at a Catholic church as a director of religious ed. We are going on a mission trip this summer and to raise money I was planning to sell honey or baked goods to the parishioners and the best time to do this would be during Sunday mass. However, honey doesn’t seem like a necessity although it falls in the category of food. We would offer to sell for 2 or 3 weekends. Thank you for your help!

    • admin says:

      With the approval of your Pastor of course, we’re sure this prohibition wouldn’t apply to your case since it is a work of the Church and ultimately you are collecting donations not really “selling” things per say. We know many religious communities who sell the work of their hands (food, rosaries, etc) for the previous week on Sunday when the faithful attend for Holy Mass in order to support themselves.

  24. Jane says:

    Is it sinful to buy a religious good (for example spiritual books or sacramentals) which is not necessarily a necessity for the person on a Sunday from their own respective parish’s bookstore? Thank you!

    • admin says:

      There are exceptions, according to the moral theologians, and it would seem that something like this would certainly be permitted. Since the sale/purchase of religious goods serves a spiritual/religious purpose it would be in keeping with the day if one were to obtain good spiritual reading or an edifying religious image for themselves or others. This would seem to be particularly the case if the shop was only open after Mass on Sundays. In his handbook of Moral Theology, the late Rev. Fr. Dominic Prummer, O.P. says the following:

      “Principle. All servile, judicial and commercial work is forbidden on Sundays and holy days, but cultural and ordinary work is allowed (c. 1248). Any form of servile, judicial or commercial work prevents man from giving sufficient attention to the worship of God, since it absorbs the attention of the mind and tires his body. Other forms of work do not have the same effect. A more lenient attitude towards commercial work is at present in existence, since markets are allowed for the sale of small articles such as flowers or fruit, and private contracts of buying or selling are also permitted.” (#427, pg. 196)

      • Jane says:

        Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my question, admin! I really appreciate it.

  25. Jane says:

    Hi Admin! I’ve got another question if you don’t mind.
    Is it alright if my family buys food in a foodcourt Mall for a relative of ours for her birthday celebration and for other more private reasons that we deem out of Charity on a Sunday alright? Is that permissible?

    • admin says:

      The moral manuals generally have held that eating at restaurants on Sunday is permissible, especially if you have to travel a long way to attend Mass.  Of course, acts of charity are generally always permissible, unless they are a cause of scandal in some way.


      The question that has to be asked in general is if the purchasing of food is necessary on a Sunday.  Is it possible to purchase it or make it on the day before?  Can you invite them over to your home for a special meal instead?  These are the sorts of questions you can ask yourself.  As I said, however, in this case, it is permitted, but to uphold the highest spirit of the law you can consider questions like these.  Ultimately we must strive to keep Sunday Holy and avoid profaning it with anything un-Godly on that day especially, and if you have any scruple please speak to your confessor.


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