God said to Moses, “Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy.”
Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the 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 20:8-11)
Oddly enough, this command from God is often one of the most difficult to follow in the modern era. Yet, refraining from work is extremely difficult in a society that is fast-moving and puts a strong emphasis on production.
At the same time, the commandment is broad and the Catholic Church has laid down general guidelines in hopes that it can help us observe it.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the primary way we keep Sunday “holy.”
The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” “The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.” (CCC 2180)
This can be fulfilled by attending and actively participating in Mass at your local parish, or at a different Catholic church when traveling. The obligation to physically attend Mass is lifted for those who are homebound, sick or in areas affected by COVID-19.
Besides attending Mass, Sundays are always designed to be days of rest and relaxation for both body and soul.
Just as God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done,” human life has a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives. (CCC 2184)
It is a bit more difficult to follow the second part of God’s commandments, especially when most businesses remain open on Sundays in nearly every country around the world.
The Church does not condemn those who work on Sundays, but encourages civil leaders to be conscious of the need for rest and urges those who have the freedom to choose, to abstain from all unnecessary work.
Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure. With temperance and charity the faithful will see to it that they avoid the excesses and violence sometimes associated with popular leisure activities. In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees. (CCC 2187)
Everyone needs to discern their own situation and how they can best carve out intentional time on Sunday for both worship and leisure.
The important part is to be intentional, recognizing our duty to God, while also weighing all other responsibilities we may have.
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