In one of the Ten Commandments, we are told to keep holy the Sabbath. Does this mean that it is considered sinful to work on Sundays?
The Bible tells us that, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; but on the seventh day, He rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20: 11). For the Jewish people, the seventh day (or Sabbath) was always a day of “complete rest, sacred to the Lord” (Exodus 16:23). They observed very strict rules about this day with no work of any kind permitted, and willful violation of the Sabbath was punishable with death.
Jesus was a Jew. Therefore, He observed the Sabbath, but He also ushered in a new understanding of it. He criticized the Scribes and Pharisees for putting an intolerable burden on men’s shoulders (Matthew 23:4) and proclaimed that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2: 27-28). So, He cured people on the Sabbath, and this was one reason why they plotted to kill Him. After Christ died, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, the Church (with the authority given by Him) wanted to be as faithful to Jesus as possible, so, after careful discernment, the Sabbath was eventually replaced by the Christians with the Lord’s Day, and was changed from Saturday to Sunday. This was done because some of the major salvation events, including the Resurrection, had taken place on a Sunday.
Because we still consider that Sunday worship fulfills the moral command of the Old Covenant, it remains as a day dedicated to the worship of God and to rest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health” (CCC# 2185).
Today, many people have jobs that require them to work on Sunday. The Church would never say that we should leave our Sunday jobs if that is the best we can do. As Christians, however, we should always be striving to obtain employment that does not require Sunday work. In other words, it would only be sinful when or if we have made no effort to seek work that would allow us to be free on Sunday. In reality, any kind of labor which can be done on another day of the week and which might take us away from our focus on God, family, or charitable works is not good. All the other days of the week God allows for other things, but Sunday is a day for Him, a holy and sacred day.
© Copyright 2003 Grace D. MacKinnon
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Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.