In Ireland today, most people still don’t work on Sundays. Sunday is seen as a day of rest, when people go to Mass, spend time with their families or go to sporting or other events. Why should that be? Isn’t Sunday just a day like the other six? Basically, Sunday is a day of rest thanks to the Catholic Church. If Capitalists had their way, it wouldn’t be, because in their mind Sunday is as good a day for earning money as any other!
The Bible tells us that God created the world in six days (of 24 hours or not, we don’t know for sure) and rested on the seventh. In the Old Testament, the Jews rested on the “Sabbath” (meaning “rest”). The Sabbath was our equivalent of Saturday. Christ rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning, 33 A.D. Since then, the Church has consecrated Sunday to God (instead of Saturday), calling it the Day of the Lord.
The command to reserve one day of the week for God does not come from the Church, but from God Himself. This is the Third Commandment: “Thou shalt keep holy the Sabbath Day”. The reason God asks us to do this is so that we will honour Him, remembering that everything we have comes from Him, and so that we don’t become so caught up in our worldly business that we forget that He alone has the right to be the centre of our existence. He also commands it so that we will have an opportunity to recuperate our physical strength. Exactly how we keep that day holy, God leaves to the Church to specify.
So, what does the Church ask us to do in order to keep Sunday holy? Firstly, the Church asks us to go to Mass on Sunday. Why? Because Mass is the Sacrifice of Christ renewed on the altar; it is the greatest prayer of the Church. It is the most perfect way of honouring God as He should be honoured.
Secondly, the Church asks us to avoid certain activities on Sundays. These are: unnecessary servile work, public buying and selling, and work involving the judiciary.
1) Servile work is basically physical work. It is called “servile” because it refers to the type of work that servants used to do before. Unnecessary work means work that can be deferred to another day without a serious inconvenience. Strictly speaking, the Church does not forbid other types of work (like studying or teaching, for example), even if it is done for money. However, it is certainly in the spirit of the Church’s law to avoid all types of work on Sunday (except cooking and other necessaries, of course).
2) Public buying and selling. This means we should not do our weekly shopping on a Sunday or, if we own a shop, we should not have it open needlessly on a Sunday.
3) Work involving the judiciary. This basically refers to court-cases.
The Church commands us to go to Mass and avoid these types of work under pain of mortal sin. In other words, if we miss Mass for no serious reason or if we do servile work for more than two hours on a Sunday, we commit a mortal sin.