Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost—31 August AD 2008
“Which of you shall have an ox or an ass fall into a pit,
and will not immediately draw him out on the Sabbath?”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
On a number of occasions, our Lord’s detractors accuse
him of violating the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” comes from the book
of Genesis, where it narrates the days of creation, and indicates that on the
seventh day God “ceased”—the Hebrew word “shabbat (תבש),”
means simply “to cease.”
The “shabbat,” by Commandment was a day on which no work was done,
and on which commerce was forbidden.
The Mosaic Law restricted travel on the Sabbath, with a “Sabbath day’s
journey” being traditionally about a thousand yards. Over the centuries,
Jewish custom elucidated the general law of not working, with modern Orthodox
Jews avoiding domestic work like cooking and sewing, farm work, writing, and
The Jewish Sabbath, was kept from sundown on Friday until
three stars were visible in the Saturday evening sky. “Sabbath” also
referred to the other Jewish holy days like Passover, Pentecost, Yom Kippur,
Rosh Hashanah, and the feast of Tabernacles.
The emphasis on refraining from work became something of an
obsession, with even good and necessary works frowned upon. The day of
rest was commanded so that man might have the leisure to reflect on the goodness
of God, and to worship Him with the sacrifices of the Temple or the scripture
readings of the synagogue. In another Gospel, when our Lord’s disciples
were criticized for picking grain to eat on the Sabbath, our Lord reminded them
that even King David violated the Mosaic Law when he had nothing for his
soldiers and it was necessary to eat the consecrated shewbread, normally
reserved only for the priests: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man
for the Sabbath.”
So, in addition to worshipping God, the sabbath was intended to be for man’s
relaxation and rejuvenation.
Since the Resurrection of Christ on the “eighth day,”
we Christians have observed our Sabbath on Sundays, and (like the Jews) on a
handful of other holy days of obligation throughout the year.
For the Catholic, these days involve an obligation to
attend Mass and to abstain from “servile work,” which is work that requires
physical rather than mental effort, and is done for material purposes.
There are excusing causes for both of these obligations:
Those who are sick; those who provide the only care
for the sick or the very young, and having no one to relieve them; those
who provide essential public services, such as police and fire protection,
transportation, cooks, workers in industries which cannot shut down for a day;
those who must travel an excessive distance to church—all are excused from
attending Mass if there is no reasonable way to squeeze It into their schedules.
One cannot legitimately decide to attend Mass on some other
day than the Sunday or Holy day just on the basis of personal preference—but
it is laudable (but not required) to attend Mass another day of the week if one
had a legitimate excuse on the Sunday or Holy day of obligation.
Necessary work may be performed on days of obligation by
those who could not otherwise support themselves; by those who must work
daily to accomplish their task without loss (e.g. the farmer at harvest time,
the steel mill worker, etc.); in time of disaster; by those whose
work is necessary for the essential public services mentioned above; by
those who do necessary housework like cooking and dish washing. Walking,
running, swimming and other such recreational activities are permitted even
though they might be physically fatiguing. Work that is more intellectual
or artistic than physical, is not forbidden.
A bishop, pastor, or delegated confessor can dispense from
the observance of a Sunday or holy day on occasion for individuals or families.
When society was Christian, most everything shut down on
Sundays ad Holy days Forty or fifty years ago most
municipalities had “blue laws” prohibiting unnecessary shopping on Sundays
and requiring most commercial establishments to remain closed for the day.
Since then, our society has lost most of its identification with Christianity,
and Sunday commerce is now generally legal. Insofar as it is possible,
Catholics ought to observe the traditional ban and avoid all unnecessary
shopping. If there is a question in one’s mind about the sinfulness of
an activity on a Sunday, one ought to ask “Can I do this another day?”
It may not be sinful to take out a library book, or play miniature golf, but
doing so requires someone else to work on Sunday. At the very least,
employers should get the message that there is no point in doing business during
the hours when everyone should be in church.
Sundays and feast days should be days of attendance at Mass
and other prayers, rest, recreation, and family togetherness. As few
people as possible ought to be required to work on those days as a result of our
patronage. They should not be days of indiscriminate buying and selling.
The spiritual life of man with God is his ultimate good.
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the