It is the Third Commandment.
What is the Third Commandment? Remember thou keep holy the Lord’s Day.
But what does that mean specifically? It means that we are commanded to worship God in a special way on Sunday and to exclude (unnecessary) servile and commercial work.
And why is Sunday considered the Lord’s Day? Because on Sunday Christ rose from the dead and on Sunday the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles.
Let us look more closely at what the Third Commandment requires of us.
First, we must “keep Sunday holy,” and the Church commands that we do this by assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – when available without compromise. Although we all grew up knowing that we had to go to Mass every Sunday, most of us had no idea that the day would come when, sadly, there was not a Mass to attend.
The Third Commandment is binding on all Catholics who have reached the age of reason, including children who are usually at the age of reason at least by seven years old. (The conciliar church, as a practical matter, supposedly “exempts” a person from attending mass if he doesn’t have time, is too tired, or if it’s “not meaningful” to him anymore.)
Traditionally, the Catholic Church has excused those who are too old or too infirm to attend Mass or whose necessary and unavoidable work prevents them from going to Mass. Also, others who are not obliged to attend Mass are those who live too far away, or have no car, or because very bad weather makes it impossible to attend.
Second, not to hear Sunday Mass, or to miss a notable part of it, is a mortal sin. To come a little late and not make up for it in another Mass, is a venial sin.
Third, Mass is not our only obligation on Sunday. Rather, God commands us to sanctify the whole day, and not only a part of it.
It should be clear that “sanctifying the day” does not mean cutting the grass or washing the car, etc. Inexcusably, many Catholics “think nothing of” doing such servile work. Let’s review exactly what constitutes servile work.
What is Servile Work?
It is work that befits a slave. A slave’s work is for the sake of his master. A slave’s work is not for the purpose of benefiting himself.
Usually, servile work is work of the body, such as cooking meals, cleaning the gutters of a house, repairing a faucet, digging a hole, weeding a garden, etc. If a person were to claim that a particular slavish task was “purely for enjoyment” and thus, for him, not slavish but recreational, he should remember two things:
Ø He is bound to
avoid giving scandal. If he performed this type of activity where anyone else
could see him doing so, he would usually commit the sin of scandal through
giving the appearance of performing servile work on Sunday.
Ø Also, the person should examine his own motives. If it is really true that he is doing work such as weeding the garden purely as enjoyable recreation and not to accomplish the servile task, then he would be perfectly happy to do this task where he gets no benefit from the work, such as, hypothetically, at the house of a stranger or in an abandoned lot.
A person could say: “but making Sunday dinner cannot be servile because otherwise we would starve.” Rather, cooking is an example of necessary work and so it is allowed on that basis, even though it is servile.
Work of daily necessity such as cooking the day’s meals, cleaning up after those meals, tending to the sick, unavoidable buying and selling of necessary food may be performed even on Sunday. Servile work is permitted on Sunday to prevent serious financial loss, e.g., farmers who must harvest their crops before a coming hailstorm, etc.
The necessity of performing emergency servile work on Sunday for one’s financial support can apply until the person is able to arrange his schedule so he has a different job or has another way to avoid such servile work on Sunday by better planning, etc.
Also, those who work performing essential, unavoidable services can do so on Sundays, e.g., employees of public utilities, policemen, firemen, emergency room nurses and doctors, etc.
But not all physical work is slavish. For example, it is not slavish for a man to go jogging and to do pushups to promote his own health. It is not slavish for a person to practice a musical instrument to perfect his talent and his mastery of the art of music.
Whereas most (but not all) physical labor is servile work, most (but not all) intellectual work is not slavish, e.g., reading, writing, teaching, drawing, and studying are not servile, and are not forbidden. They are not the work of a slave but are undertaken to perfect the person engaging in the activity.
But some intellectual activities are servile. The practice of the professions, e.g., medicine, law, accounting, pharmacology, and architecture, are slavish pursuits even though they are primarily intellectual. We see that medicine and pharmacology are slavish pursuits by the fact that, in ancient times, rich Roman families would buy slaves who were physicians and pharmacists to provide for those families’ health. Likewise, a lawyer does not practice law principally for enjoyment or self-improvement but rather to benefit his client (who is his “master” for that task).
If anyone claims that such tasks are not slavish but “purely for his enjoyment”, he should remember the two things mentioned above (regarding weeding the garden as a supposed leisure activity).
One corollary to the above analysis is that employers who force their employees to do unnecessary servile work are violating the Third Commandment.
A second corollary is that parents, especially fathers, must guide their families and prevent the profaning of Sunday through servile work which is committed by those under their charge.
A third corollary is that we must do only the minimum necessary servile work on Sunday and not rationalize doing more than that. For example, if a person were to hypothetically have a necessary and unavoidable reason to buy some food item on Sunday, he should not turn this trip to the store into an opportunity to perform his weekly grocery shopping. That is wrong! It is both a sin, of committing servile work on Sunday and also the sin of causing scandal. This is true even if “everybody does it”.
A fourth corollary is that our focus should be to avoid all unnecessary servile work on Sunday. Some people have a misguided and carnal approach through permitting themselves various types of servile work provided the work does not take very long (e.g., more than a certain number of minutes, which they “scrupulously” count). Rather, the focus should be simply on avoiding all servile work as much as is reasonably possible.
The good Lord knows what is necessary to keep His day holy. This is a serious obligation and we must both be strict with ourselves and also take the approach that is reasonable.
The good Lord rewards generously those who put Him first by sanctifying the Sunday well.