Monday, January 14, 2008

Manual Labor on Sunday


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Canon law forbids only unnecessary manual labor. Hence, if you are a baker at a bakery, and you work five or six days per week, then you are forbidden to work there on Sunday, because it would be unnecessary. However, some necessary, daily manual chores in the home are permissible on Sunday, such as cooking, or cleaning the dinner table, etc. In fact, if your mother decides to cook a nice meal every Sunday for the family, she is not violating canon law; that is allowed. Her cooking would be ordered to a proper observance of the Lord's Day. Also, anything else that involves manual labor but is ordered to the propery observance of the Lord's day is also permissible; for example, if you decide to iron your Sunday clothes on Sunday morning because you do not want to wear wrinkly clothes to Mass; or if your car battery dies on Sunday morning before leaving for Mass, and you are allowed to "jump" the car so you can get to Mass.

However, any manual chores that need not be done every day, or need not be done on Sunday, may not be done on Sundays. For example, one should not do the weekly house cleaning on Sunday, or gardening, or washing one's car, or home improvement, other similar manual chores. (It is--or at least it used to be--a common practice among Catholics to utilize Saturday for such chores.)

Now, some public manual functions that are necessary for the proper functioning of society are also permissible on Sundays (for example, if there is a fire on Sunday, a firefigher should not wait until Monday to put it out!). Moreover, it may be that the ONLY way a man can find work is if he works on Sunday. Some jobs are such that they do not give you any other option. If that is the case, then one is exempt and may work. This situation is rather rare, but it is a possibility nonetheless.

Also, play, even of the more physical sort, such as sports, are permissible on Sundays because they are not considered labor. Hence, you may very well play baseball or football or whatever as a form of recreation.

Now, some people who have non-manual professions, such as myself as a professor, prefer also to abstain from working those days, even though the Church does not forbid it. This is a very laudable custom, although it is not mandatory. The prohibition is only with regards manual (physical) labor. Hence there are some (such as students and teachers) who customarily use Sunday afternoon to engage in their intellectual work, and this is not forbidden.

Finally, be aware that the fact that the sabbath rest must be done specifically on Sunday is from Church law, not from divine or natural law, and hence it does not apply to those who are outside the Church. Hence, a Jew or Muslim does not sin by working on Sunday (historically, it has been quite common, for example, for Jews and other non-Catholics to take up the functions that are necessary for the normal operation of society on Sundays, such as the firefighting example above).

For more, refer to the old, catechetical gem, My Catholic Faith (the section on the Third Commandment--I don't recall the page number). It has a nice, thorough explanation of all of this.

In Domino,
-FJR.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

One thing that I am confused about is: if the reason for abstaining from manual work is simply because to have more time to directly work on salvation by reading spiritual books and praying and doing good works, then why isn't non-manual secular works not forbidden for the same reason?

Francisco Romero-Carrasquillo said...

That's not the reason why we abstain from manual labor. It is good to do all those things, but that is only one way of observing the Lord's day. The essence of the observance is rest. The reason why we do is because the Lord's Day is the day that He rested and the day that He has ordered us to rest:

"And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. And he blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made (Gen 2:2-3)."

"Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works. But on the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: thou shalt do no work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day: therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it. (Ex. 20:8-11)."

Of course, the resurrection of Christ having occurred on Sunday (the first day), the day of rest was transferred from the seventh (or 'Sabbath') to the first.

Alejandro said...

Is the act of buying (or 'shopping') prohibited on the Lord's day?

Anonymous said...

Ratzinger says in an essay or sermon I heard in a monastery refectory that it seems clear that for those who work all week in an office or suchlike, gardening is not manual or degrading labour but rather the relaxation of soul and body proper to the celebration of the Lord's day.