November 2, 2000
volume 11, no. 219


The Commandments of God
twelfth segment
The Third Commandment
part two:
Unnecessary Servile Work

    By the third commandment of God all unnecessary servile work on Sunday is forbidden. Servile work is that which requires labor of body rather than of mind.

    Work performed by laborers, such as farming, mechanical and industrial labor, is forbidden, even if done for pleasure and without gain. Work in which the mind has the greater share or which is done for recreation is not servile and is not forbidden. This includes reading, writing, typewriting, drawing, painting, playing music, traveling, hunting, fishing, and the like.

    Employers who force their employees to do unnecessary servile work on Sunday are responsible for the violation of the Third Commandment. The trial of lawsuits and public buying and selling, are also forbidden. Catholics should make provision on Saturday for their food and other necessities of Sunday, so that no store may be forced to keep open. Yet, in compromising with societal norms, many Catholics have forgotten this and trudge to the grocery store or shopping center with nary a care that it is wrong.

    The obligation to avoid servile work on Sunday is grave, and therefore its violation is a mortal sin if one works for a notable time and knowingly realizes it, but does it anyway. Servile work on Sunday is not considered a grievous sin unless it is continued beyond two hours, or becomes the cause of scandal or bad example.

    It often happens that those who continue to work on Sundays lose their health and thereby sink into poverty. In Holy Scripture we find the Jews losing their Holy City and being taken into captivity, because they violated the sabbath.

    Servile work is allowed on Sunday when the honor of God, our own need, or that of our neighbor requires it. Some of these examples are: Preparing a place for Holy Mass is a work for the honor of God, and may be done even on a Sunday. In a parish where the women are all occupied during the week, and can meet for their altar society meetings only on Sundays, it would be allowed for them to see or repair vestments for the church.

    Work of daily necessity such as cooking, cleaning, and sweeping, and buying and selling of necessary food may be performed even on a Sunday. Even servile work when necessary for the common good, or to prevent serious financial loss, is permitted on Sunday. This also means, if one has to shovel his driveway he may on Sunday if it can't be done on any day, the same with mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, etc.

    Farmers are allowed to care for their cattle and domestic animals, and even to get in crops that otherwise might spoil. Our Lord does not desire man to suffer on account of Sunday for He says: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

    Those in charge of persons who are necessarily on duty on Sunday such as workingmen engaged in the service of public utilities, such as railroad, fire department, light, power, and heat plants, policemen, fireman, soldiers, etc., are obliged to give them an opportunity to hear Mass, if not every Sunday, at least as often as possible. Catholics who must work on holydays are obliged to hear Mass, unless excused by a reasonably grave cause.

    Domestic help can easily be permitted to go to Mass, if their duties are properly arranged. Amusements are not forbidden on Sunday: only those that interfere with the Sunday obligations are forbidden.

    Not so much emphasis should be given in competitive games as to which side wins or loses. A good loser is better than a poor winner who is proud of himself. That is an important aspect that is totally lost in this win-at-all-costs atmosphere of professional sports where money has become the idol, pride is running amok out of control with all the taunting and strutting. Sportsmanship and priorities have seemed to be a thing of the past.

    The Third Commandment does not prohibit professional sports, but the Church cautions to not let it interfere with our duty to attend Holy Mass and not to make it the end-all and be-all where it would interfere with our priorities, especially in respect to the needs of our families. For remember, Sunday is a day of rest. On Sunday, therefore, we are permitted to relax from our daily work, in wholesome recreation. "God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it he had rested from all his work" (Genesis 2:3). If God, Who needed no "rest", chose to stop His work of creation, we should imitate His divine example and rest after six days of labor. The experience of all peoples has borne out the wisdom of this practice of resting one day out of the week.

    As an example we may cite the case of the French Revolution. The French atheists in control wished to change the old order completely, and went so far as to change the number of days in the week to ten. They could not, however, retain the new week, for even the work animals, unable to endure work without rest, died of exhaustion.

    To attend entertainments such as dances up to a late hour on Saturday night, even when in themselves they are not wrong, is a poor way of preparing for the Lord's day. Those who stay up late Saturday night if they do not omit Mass altogether, they will not hear it devoutly.

    An outstanding example of such entertainments are parties, dances, and other activities that go well into the early morning that have not only become the norm today, but a serious occasion of sin because of the length of time and conditions of unguardedness and temptation Catholics can put themselves in. People go to these dances, parties, movies, etc. in different varieties of dress and undress, with paint, power, and all kinds of worldly decorations on their persons. Then those that feel a twinge of conscience run out for an intermission of Mass, to return perhaps to the dance, or to go home to sleep all day! Let any reasonable man say whether this kind of amusement is the consonance with the commandment to sanctify the Lord's day.

    Some people seem to take advantage of Sunday to indulge more freely in useless or sinful pastimes. It is a scandal to see people engaged in excessive eating, drinking, dancing, and vanity on Sunday, of all days. It is an abuse of a sacred institution: the Lord's Day. "The kingdom of God does not consist in food and drink" (Romans 14:17).

    Neglecting common worship, members of the family become indifferent to each other. Children turn stubborn and disobedient. The father hardly stays home and knows strangers better than his own children. Since the children lose respect for their parents, it is an easy step to loss of respect for all authority, including the secular power. Thus by forgetting God's day, men will fall into all kinds of vices and die outside God's grace. This has sadly happened throughout the world, but especially in America where God has, for the most part, been forgotten; His will shelved because man thinks he knows better. In our opulence and spoil we forget these gifts are not ours but God's. We fail to learn from history and, though many are oblivious of the fact, we are doomed to repeat it if we do not treasure and honor the Lord's Day and all it means.

Next Thursday: The Fourth Commandment

November 2, 2000
volume 11, no. 219

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