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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.

For more on the 3rd and other commandments by Saint Thomas Aquinas here.

A sermon on this subject: Keeping Sunday Holy.


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.]


28 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.

  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.


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