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
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.
THE THIRD COMMANDMENT
“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” . 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
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.
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.]
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.