Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
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?”[1]

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. [2]  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.”[3]  The “shabbat,” by Commandment was a day on which no work was done, and on which commerce was forbidden.[4]  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 manual labor.[5]

    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.[6]  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.[7]

    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 Sabbath.



[1]   Gospel: Luke xiv: 1-11.

[2]   Ibid.;  Matthew xii: 1-17.

[3]   Genesis ii: 2-3

[4]   Exodus xx: 8-11;  xxxi: 13-17; Leviticus xxiii: 3;  Deuteronomy v:12-15;  2 Esdras x: 31.

[6]   Mark ii: 23-28.

[7]   Canon 1245


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