Thirty-Fourth in a Series on Catholic Morality
Fr. John H. Stapleton
|Monsieur Désiré Dihau|
Herni Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
Participation in public worship is the positive obligation flowing from the Third Commandment; abstention from labor is what is negatively enjoined. Now, works differ as widely in their nature as differ in form and dimension the pebbles on the sea-shore. There are works of God and works of the devil, and works which, as regards spirituality, are totally indifferent, profane works, as distinguished from sacred and sinful works. And these latter may be corporal or intellectual or both. Work or labor or toil, in itself, is a spending of energy, an exercise of activity; it covers a deal of ground. And since the law simply says to abstain from work, it falls to us to determine just what works are meant, for it is certain that all works, that is, all that come under the general head of work, do not profane the Lord's day.
The legislation of the Church, which is the custodian of the Sunday, on this head commends itself to all thoughtful men; while, for those who recognize the Church as the true one, that legislation is authority. The Church distinguishes three kinds of profane works, that is, works that are neither sacred nor iniquitous of their nature. There is one kind which requires labor of the mind rather than of the body. These works tend directly to the culture or exercise of the mind, and are called liberal works, because under the Romans, freemen or liberi almost exclusively were engaged therein. Such are reading, writing, studying, music, drawing - in general, mental occupations in whole, or more mental than corporal. The Church does not consider these works to be included in its prohibition, and they are consequently not forbidden.
It is impossible here to enumerate all that enters into this class of works; custom has something to say in determining what is liberal in our works; and in investigating, we must apply to each case the general principle. The labor in question may be gratuitous or well paid; it may cause fatigue or afford recreation, yet all this is not to the point. The question is, outside the danger of omitting divine service, scandal or circumstances that might lead to the annoyances and distraction of others. The question is: Does this work call for exercise of the mind more than that of the body? If the answer is affirmative, then the work is liberal, and as such it is not forbidden on Sunday, it is not considered a profanation of the Lord's day.
On the other extreme are what go by the name of servile works, which call forth principally bodily effort and tend directly to the advantage of the body. They are known also as works of manual labor. Before the days of Christianity, slaves alone were thus employed, and from the word servi or slaves these are called servile works.
Here again, it is the nature of the work that makes it servile. It may be remunerative or not, recreative or not, fatiguing or not; it may be a regular occupation, or just taken up for the moment; it may be, outside cases of necessity, for the glory of God or for the good of the neighbor. If it is true that the body has more part therein than the mind, then it is a servile work and it is forbidden. Of course there are serious reasons that dispense us from our obligation to this law, but we are not talking about that just at present.
The reason of the proscription is not that such works are evil, but that they interfere with the intention we should give to the worship we owe to God, and that, without this cessation of labor, our bodily health would be impaired: these are the two motives of the law. But even if it happened, in an individual case, that these inconveniences were removed, that neither God's reverence nor one's own health suffered from such occupations as the law condemns, the obligation would still remain to abstain therefrom, for it is general and absolute, and when there is question of obeying a law, the subject has a right to examine the law, but not the motives of the law.
We shall later see that there are other works, called common, which require activity of the mind and of the body in about an equal measure or which enter into the common necessities of life. These are not forbidden in themselves, although in certain contingencies they may be judged unlawful; but, in the matter of servile works, nothing but necessity, the greater glory of God, or the good of the neighbor, can allow us to consider the law non-binding. To break it is a sin, slight or grievous, according to the nature of the offense.
But if servile works are prohibited on the Lord's day, it must be remembered that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath," that, for certain good and sufficient reasons, the law ceases to oblige; and, in these circumstances, works of a purely servile nature are no longer unlawful. This is a truth Christ made very clear to the straight-laced Pharisees of the old dispensation who interpreted too rigorously the divine prohibition; and certain Pharisees of the new dispensation, who are supposed assiduously to read the Bible, should jog their memories on the point in order to save themselves from the ridicule that surrounds the memory of their ancestors of Blue-Law fame. The Church enters into the spirit of her divine Founder and recognizes cases in which labor on Sunday may be, and is, more agreeable to God, and more meritorious to ourselves, than rest from labor.
The law certainly does not intend to forbid the kind of works, specifically servile in themselves, connected with divine worship, required by the necessities of public religion, or needed to give to that worship all the solemnity and pomp which it deserves; provided, of course, such things could not well be done on another day. All God's laws are for His greater glory, and to assert that works necessary for the honoring of God are forbidden by His law is to be guilty of a contradiction in terms. All things, therefore, needed for the preparation and becoming celebration of the rites of religion, even though of a servile nature, are lawful and do not come under the head of this prohibition.
The law ceases likewise to bind when its observance would prevent an act of charity towards the neighbor in distress, necessity, or pressing need. If the necessity is real and true charity demands it, in matters not what work, not intrinsically evil, is to be done, on what day or for how long a time it is to be done; charity overrides every law, for it is itself the first law of God. Thus, if the neighbor is in danger of suffering, or actually suffers, any injury, damage or ill, God requires that we give our services to that neighbor rather than to Himself. As a matter of fact, in thus serving the neighbor, we serve God in the best possible way.
Finally, necessity, public as well as personal, dispenses from obligation to the law. In time of war, all things required for its carrying on are licit. It is lawful to fight the elements when they threaten destruction, to save crops in an interval of fine weather when delay would mean a risk; to cater to public conveniences which custom adjudges necessary - and by custom we mean that which has at least the implicit sanction of authority - such as public conveyances, pharmacies, hotels, etc. Certain industries run by steam power require that their fires should not be put out altogether, and the labor necessary to keep them going is not considered illicit. In general, all servile work that is necessary to insure against serious loss is lawful.
As for the individual, it is easier to allow him to toil on Sunday, that is, a less serious reason is required, if he assists at divine worship, than in the contrary event. One can be justified in omitting both obligations only in the event of inability otherwise to provide for self and family. He whose occupation demands Sunday labor need not consider himself guilty so long as he is unable to secure a position with something like the same emoluments; but it is his duty to regret the necessity that prevents him from fulfilling the law, and to make efforts to better his condition from a spiritual point of view, even if the change does not to any appreciable extent better it financially; a pursuit equally available should be preferred. Neglect in seeking out such an amelioration of situation would cause the necessity of it to cease and make the delinquent responsible for habitual breach of the law.
If it is always a sin to engage without necessity in servile works on Sunday, it is not equally sinful to labor little or labor much. Common sense tells us that all our failings are not in the same measure offensive to God, for they do not all contain the same amount of malice and contempt of authority. A person who resolves to break the law and persists in working all day long is of a certainty more guilty than he who, after attending divine service, fails so far as to labor an hour. The question, therefore, is how long must one work on Sunday to be guilty of a mortal sin.
The answer to this question is: a notable time; but that does not throw a very great abundance of light on the subject. But surely a fourth of the whole is a notable part. Now, considering that a day's work is not twenty-four hours, but ten hours, very rarely twelve, frequently only eight, it will be seen to follow that two hours' work would be considered a notable breach of the law of rest. And this is the decision of competent authority. Not but that less might make us grievously guilty, but we may take it as certain that he who works during two full hours, at a labor considered servile, without sufficient reason, commits a mortal sin.
There is a third sort of works to be considered in relation to Sunday observance, which, being of their nature neither liberal nor servile, go by the specific name of common works. This class embraces works of two kinds, viz., those which enter into the common, daily, inevitable necessities of life, and those in which the mind and body are exerted in an equal measure.
The former are not considered servile because they are necessary, not in certain circumstances, but at all times, for all persons, in all conditions of life. Activity of this kind, so universally and imperiously demanded, does not require dispensation from the law, as in the case of necessary servile works properly so-called; but it stands outside all legislation and is a law unto itself.
These works are usually domestic occupations, as cooking and the preparation of victuals, the keeping of the house in becoming tidiness, the proper care of children, of beasts of burden and domestic animals. People must eat, the body must be fed, life requires attention on Sunday as well as on the other six days; and in no circumstances can this labor be dispensed with. Sometimes eatables for Sunday consumption may be prepared on the previous day; if this is not done, whether through forgetfulness, neglect or indifference, it is lawful on Sunday to prepare a good table, even one more sumptuous than on ordinary days. For Sunday is a day of festival, and without enthusing over the fact, we must concede that the words feast and festival are synonymous in human language, that the ordinary and favorite place for human rejoicing is the table, and in this man differs not from the other animals of creation. This may not be aesthetic, but it is true.
In walking, riding, games, etc., the physical and mental forces of man are called into play in about equal proportion, or at least, these occupations can be called neither liberal arts nor manual labor; all manners of persons engage therein without respect to condition or profession. These are also called common works, and to them may be added hunting and fishing, when custom, rightly understood, does not forbid them, and in this region custom most uniformly does so forbid.
These occupations are looked upon as innocent pastime, affording relief to the body and mind, and in this respect should be likened to the taking of food. For it is certain that sanitary conditions often as imperiously demand recreation as nourishment. This is especially the case with persons given to sedentary pursuits, confined during the week to shops, factories and stores, and whose only opportunity to shake off the dull monotony of work and to give the bodies and minds necessary relaxation and distraction is such. It is not physical rest that such people require so much as healthy movement of a pleasing kind, and activity that will draw their attention from habitual channels and thus break the strain that fatigues them. Under these conditions, common works are not only allowed, but they are to be encouraged.
But it must not be lost sight of that these pursuits are permitted as long as they remain common works, that is, as long as they do not accidentally become servile works, or go contrary to the end for which they are allowed. This may occur in three different manners, and when it does occur, the works known as common are forbidden as servile works.
1. They must not expose us to the danger of omitting divine service. The obligation to positively sanctify the day remains intact. Sin may be committed, slight or grievous, according as the danger to which we expose ourselves, by indulging in these pursuits, of missing public worship, is more or less remote, more or less probable.
2. These works become illicit when they are excessive, when too much time is given to them, when the body receives too large a share of the exercise, when accompanied by overmuch application, show or fatigue. In these cases, the purpose of the law is defeated, the works are considered no longer common and fall under the veto that affects servile works. An aggravating circumstance is that of working for the sole purpose of gain, as in the case of professional baseball, etc.
3. Lastly, there are exterior circumstances that make these occupations a desecration of the Lord's day, and as such evidently they cannot be tolerated. They must not be boisterous to the extent of disturbing the neighbor's rest and quiet, or detracting from the reverence due the Sabbath; they must not entice others away from a respectful observance of the Lord's day or offer an opportunity or occasion for sin, cursing, blasphemy and foul language, contention and drunkenness; they must not be a scandal for the community. Outside these contingencies of disorder, the Sabbath rest is not broken by indulgence in works classified as common works. Such activity, in all common sense and reason, is compatible with the reverence that God claims as His due on His day.