Rest on the Sabbath, at least in the spirit of catechism – Catholic Philly


Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. I am writing to ask for guidance on the Third Commandment – keeping the day of the Lord holy. I don’t consider some of the things I do work – cooking, for example, cleaning up, mowing, pruning, weeding. Does the church consider all chores work? I find it very difficult not to do some of the things that need to be done around the house.

I’m grateful that God gave us this commandment, because I certainly consider Sunday a day of rest – to spend with family when possible and just enjoy the day.

My husband (who is not Catholic) owns a business that can work from home. It is currently in a very difficult situation, without sufficient personnel. On Sundays, he puts in a good six to eight hours of office work before resting, otherwise the rest of the week’s schedule would be overwhelming. (Chestertown, NY)

A. Thank you for your sincere desire to set aside Sunday as a special day, which honors the fact that even the God of all creation rested on the Sabbath. You have grasped the spirit of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which says: “Sunday is a time of reflection, of silence, of cultivation of the mind and of meditation which favors the growth of the interior Christian life” (no. 2186).

Basic housekeeping is exempt from the ban on “menial work” on that day; doing the dishes, preparing a meal, and what you describe as “minor cleaning” are certainly allowed. A small amount of gardening or lawn cultivation can be recreational and certainly not “menial”. What the Sabbath commandment means to avoid is unnecessary shopping or heavy housework that might be put off.

Employment needs or economic circumstances may prevent observance of the Sabbath rest, which the catechism provides for and exempts. Your husband’s current challenge, in my mind, fits here.

I hope, however, that his situation will only be temporary; although I do not know its history or its religious principles, the catechism wisely notes: “The faithful must take care that lawful excuses do not lead to habits injurious to religion, family life and health” ( no. 2185).

I might point out that, among American men, there may be a slavish addiction to televised Sunday sports, undermining the Sabbath goals of family time, reflection, and rest.

And finally, nowhere does your question mention Sunday Mass, which should always be the central element of a Catholic’s observance of the Sabbath. For 2,000 years, followers of Jesus have come together as a family of faith to celebrate the day of Christ’s resurrection and feed on his body and blood.

Q. I appreciate the work you do with your Q&A section. Your answers reflect both wisdom and patience. And that prompts me to ask the following question: What are some of the things about the ward or church today that you find exciting? Or, to put it another way, what changes have you been happy to see during your years in ministry? (Virginia Beach, Virginia)

A. Normally, I wouldn’t choose to answer an open-ended question like this. Readers, I believe, are more interested in factual answers than my thoughts. But as I have just celebrated my 50th anniversary of ordination, I am happy to have the opportunity to share some reflections on those years.

Space constraints limit me to two developments that I consider to be great blessings in Catholic life. The first is the wider involvement of the laity in the work of the church.

When I was ordained half a century ago, many parishes had two lay organizations: a Rosary Society, made up of several women who offered prayers for the parish and helped decorate the church; and a Holy Name Society, men who would make an annual retreat and sponsor an annual parish smoker.

In the parish from which I have just retired, there are now over 400 lay parishioners helping with the work of the church — lay catechists; Extraordinary Readers and Ministers of Holy Communion; those who visit and bring communion to those locked up, to hospital patients and to residents of nursing homes; men and women who tend to a parish pantry and house homeless families for the night in a parish facility, and so on.

The other is Francis’ election as pope in 2013. As the editor of Time magazine said, “He didn’t change the words, but he changed the music.” While many may have associated the church in the past with rules and prohibitions, some of these same people now associate the church primarily with helping the poor, mercy and forgiveness.


Questions can be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 40 Hopewell St. Albany, NY 12208.


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