Written by Fr. Francis Spirago; Edited by Fr. Richard Clarke, SJ
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, New York, 1927




On Mount Sinai almighty God spoke, and said: "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work" (Exod. xx. 8, 9). The Third Commandment thus contains two injunctions, the command to sanctify the Sunday, and the command to work.

In the Third Commandment of the Decalogue God commands us to sanctify the Sunday and to work six days in the week.


In order that amid the many cares and anxieties of life man may not forget God, his final end and high calling, God has enjoined upon him to keep one day in the week holy. As we have certain times set apart for the satisfaction of our bodily necessities, sleeping, eating and drinking, so we have appointed times for meditation upon the eternal truths whereby we may obtain fresh strength for our souls. On holy days we have the opportunity of expiating by prayer what we have done amiss, and of rendering to God the thanks due to Him for the benefits He has conferred on us during the week.

1. God commands us to sanctify the seventh day, because on the seventh day He rested from the work of creation.

In his account of the creation Moses says: "God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He had rested from all His work" (Gen. ii. 3). Man, who is made after the image of God, ought to follow the example of the Lord his God; as God ceased from work on the seventh day, so man ought to rest after six days' labor. Man needs this rest after working for six days. Just as one is obliged to sleep for six or seven hours after the work of the day is done, in order to recruit one's bodily powers, so one needs a longer period of rest after six days of labor. At the time of the French revolution, the observance of the seventh day was done away with and the tenth day appointed for the day of rest; but it was soon found indispensable to return to the old order of things. The number seven belongs to the natural order. God, Who set the lights in the firmament of heaven for signs and for seasons and for days and for years (Gen. i. 14), intended the changes of the moon, which occur every seven days, to point out to us the division of time into periods of seven days, of which one was to be a day of rest. Bishop Theophilus of Antioch, writing about the year 150 A.D., mentions the observance of the seventh day as a universal custom. We who are Christians keep the Sunday, the Jews keep Saturday, the Mohammedans keep Friday, the Mongols keep Thursday, the black population of Guinea and Goa keep Tuesday and Monday respectively. The cessation from labor every seventh day foreshadows our eternal rest in Heaven (Heb. iv. 9). By solemnizing the day of the Lord we renew and quicken our longing for the unending festival of joy above. The very fact that we wear our best apparel on that day serves to remind us of the celestial happiness that we hope will one day be our portion. [Emphasis in bold added.]

2. God commanded the Jews to keep holy the Sabbath day.

The Sabbath was a joyous festival for the Jewish people, because on that day they were delivered from Egyptian bondage. In addition to this, when God gave the law from Mount Sinai, He enjoined upon them to sanctify the day by cessation from work: "The seventh day is the Sabbath; thou shalt do no work on it" (Exod. xx. 10). The Sabbath was specially suited to be set apart for the public worship of God, because more than any other day it recalled God's benefits to His people (Ezech. xx. 12). It was, moreover, typical of the rest in the sepulchre of the future Messias. The Jews were extremely strict in their observance of the Sabbath; any profanation of the day was punished with death, no work of any kind might be done on it. A man found gathering a few sticks on the Sabbath day was stoned (Numb. xv. 36). The Pharisees would not allow that it was lawful to do a good deed on the Sabbath (Matt. xii. 12). No manna fell in the desert on that day.

3. Sunday was appointed by the Apostles as the day of rest instead of the Sabbath. because Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday.

Sunday is a festival ot the Holy Trinity; for on the first day of the week God the Father began the work of creation, God the Son rose from the dead, and God the Holy Ghost descended upon the Apostles. The Apostles were authorized to transfer the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, because it was not so much the observance of the Sabbath, as the observance of a fixed day in each week upon which God insisted in the commandment. They were all the more at liberty to change the day, as the Old Law was but a shadow of the New Sunday is called the Lord's Day, because it ought to be devoted to His service, because, on it He rose from the dead. [Ibid.] St. Justin (139 A.D.) is the first to make use of the word Sunday: it is a name befitting the day whereon the Lord, like the rising sun, rose from the grave in the brilliance of His glorified humanity. On this day also God made the light; the Holy Ghost came down in tongues of fire, and on this day we receive spiritual enlightenment. The Emperor Constantine the Great enjoined the observance of Sunday as a day of rest throughout the Roman empire; and Charlemagne caused those who violated it to be fined.

4. We are bound on Sunday to abstain from servile work and to assist at the public Mass; we ought, moreover, to employ this day in providing for the salvation of our soul, that is to say by approaching the Sacraments, by prayer, hearing sermons, reading spiritual books, and performing works of mercy.

Servile work is that which entails severe physical exertion, and is exhausting to the bodily strength. It is the work generally done by servants, menials, artisans, and laborers; in a word the work belonging to the class that serves, hence the name. Markets and all commercial transactions are included in the prohibition;
[Ibid.] yet in deference to local customs, the rule is relaxed in some countries. However, buying and selling must not be carried on during the hours of divine worship. As God rested on the seventh day, so we ought to rest. As Christ on Easter Sunday left the grave-clothes in the sepulchre and rose triumphant, so we ought to lay aside our earthly business, and on the pinions of prayer soar aloft to God. Physical repose is necessary, because it is impossible for one who is greatly fatigued to pray well. Public worship is the holy Sacrifice of the Mass, generally accompanied by a sermon. In the first centuries of Christianity the Christians were accustomed to assemble on Sundays to hear Mass, and a short exhortation was delivered after the Gospel, as is usual in the present day. There is no act of Christian worship that can compare in dignity and value with the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On Sunday we ought to provide for the interests of our soul's physical rest is ordained in order that we may labor more diligently for our spiritual welfare; and we must not content ourselves with putting on better clothes, but must cleanse and adorn our hearts. The cessation from the work of the week gives an opportunity to the faithful, in compliance with the mind of the Church, to approach the Sacraments. They are encouraged to receive holy Communion on Sundays and holy days, and to give themselves to prayer; for this reason afternoon services are held, and the churches stand open for private devotions. Our forefathers used to read spiritual books, homilies on the Gospel for the day, and the lives of the Saints. Many of Our Lord's miracles of healing were wrought on the Sabbath day - witness the man whose hand was withered (Matt. xii. 10); the man born blind (John ix.); the man that had dropsy (Luke xiv. 2) - although by doing so He gave great offense to the Jews. He intended to teach us to do good work on Sundays.

The work permitted on holy days of obligation is (1) Servile work which is absolutely necessary, especially works of mercy; (2) Light and trifling work; (3) Occupations of an intellectual nature; (4) Reasonable recreation.

We are not forbidden to do work that is absolutely necessary.

Our Lord does not desire man to suffer on account of the Sunday rest, for He says: "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark ii. 27). All work may be done which is required for the support of life; we may have our food prepared, and are allowed to gather in our crops if the weather threatens their destruction. All work that is indispensable for the public service may be carried on: e.g., the postal service, the railroad, telegraph, and police service. Ecclesiastical authorities have the power to grant special permission for servile work to be done on Sunday, if there is sufficient reason. Christ says: "The Son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath also," and the Church, His representative, can say the same. And as the chief and primary object for which Sunday is instituted is to promote the spiritual welfare and eternal salvation of mankind, all works tending to this end are enjoined upon us. Our Lord says: "The priests in the Temple break the Sabbath and are without blame" (Matt. xii. 5). Works of mercy are also enjoined; nothing is more profitable to salvation than these, for on them our eternal welfare depends (Matt. xxv. 35). We have Christ's example and precept also for the performance of charitable works on Sunday: "It is lawful to do a good deed on the Sabbath day" (Luke xii. 12). Some of the Saints used to visit the hospitals after Mass, and spend the remainder of Sunday in serving the sick. Yet it must be remembered that only such servile work as is absolutely necessary is permitted, although its object be a charitable one. For if it is lawful to do all servile work without distinction which was for the benefit of the poor, all artisans and laborers might go on with their work, and that would be by no means permissible (Suarez). Necessary works of mercy exempt from the obligation of attendance at public worship; they are in themselves an act of worship (Jas. i. 27). Our Lord says: "I will have mercy and not sacrifice" (Matt. ix. 13). But if it is in any way possible public worship should not be omitted. "These things you ought to have done, and not leave those undone" (Matt. xxiii. 23). What is it right to do if a conflagration breaks out just before the time of Mass, or if there is an inundation? Occupations of an unimportant kind may be engaged in, God does not require us to sit idle on Sundays; besides writing, music, and all mental employments are lawful. Sunday is also instituted as a day of rest; on it we may freely enjoy innocent diversions.

Sins Against the Third Commandment

The precept enjoining upon us to sanctify the Sunday is transgressed:

1. By doing or requiring others to perform servile work.

The Christian ought to allow his servants and even his cattle, to rest on the Sunday (Exod. xx. 10). Servants, apprentices, and all who are in a subordinate position, ought not to remain in a situation where they cannot fulfill their religious obligations. Servile work is a mortal sin, if it be done for more than two or three hours on Sunday without urgent necessity. Yet hard work, if done for a shorter time, or light work for the same time, is not mortal sin; nor is it so if a not very valid reason is counted on as an excuse, nor again if a servant does what his master, without cogent grounds. requires of him, through fear of evil consequences to himself. In the latter case the sin rests with the master. If scandal is given by doing servile work, even for a short time, it is a grievous sin. Our Lord says of one who gives scandal, "it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Matt. xviii. 6). God threatened the Jews most emphatically, saying that anyone who profaned the Sabbath should be put to death: "He that shall do any work in it, his soul shall perish out of the midst of his people" (Exod. xxxi. 14).

2. By carelessness about attendance at public worship.

Entertainments given on Saturday are often the cause why Catholics omit Mass on Sunday. "What folly," exclaims St. Francis of Sales, "to turn day into night and night into day, and neglect one's duties for frivolous amusements!"

3. By indulging in diversions which are over-fatiging, or which are of a sinful nature.

Games which involve much physical exertion, hunting, dancing, etc., ought to be avoided on Sunday; also those which lead to anything unseemly; brawls, extravagant expenditure, disinclination for work. Worse still, if the amusements are sinful in themselves; for whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin (John viii. 34), and thus servile work of the most degrading description is done. Woe to him who chooses the day which is consecrated to Divine service to offend against God and injure his own soul most deeply. Some people take advantage of the day of rest to indulge more freely in vice. Not infrequently the devil leaves people in peace all the week, and when Sunday comes he tempts them to all manner of sin, pride and ostentation in dress, gambling, dancing, excess in eating and drinking. In the present day men seem to think most of eating and drinking on the Lord's Day, women of adorning their person. How lamentable is the depravity of mankind, in thus abusing the most sacred institutions! On Sunday the devil of avarice is cast out, but it is as if seven other and worse devils entered in its place; the love of the world and all it entails; the frequenting of convivial scenes, disseverance of the ties of family life, squandering of savings, and dislike of work. "It is far better," St. Augustine says, "that one should occupy one's self with needlework or field-work on Sunday than indulge in vice." To spend the Lord's Day in worldly vanities amounts to a kind of sacrilege; to desecrate it by sin is worse than plundering the sanctuary.

Motives for the Sanctification of Sunday

1. God rewards with temporal blessings those who keep holy His day.

Consider the loving kindness of God; it is no toilsome service He requires of you, but that you should rest. There are one hundred and sixty-eight hours in the week. God only demands one day (twenty-four hours) for Himself; must you use this for your worldly affairs? Those who would prosper in their business must consecrate Sunday to the service of God. Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, when on his voyage always kept his vessels stationary on Sunday. God often protects in a special manner those who keep holy His day. One of the sailors on board a steamer on the Mississippi refused to shift the cargo - an unnecessary work - on Sunday; he was dismissed in consequence. Shortly after the boiler burst and several of the crew lost their lives; thus the God-fearing sailor escaped. God often increases the gains of those who abstain from the pursuit of their calling on Sundays. A pious friend once persuaded an artisan to desist from working on Sunday, saying he would compensate for the loss thus occasioned. In six months' time he returned, and the artisan acknowledged that far from losing, he had made more money than usual in the interval. Holy Scripture says "God blessed the seventh day" (Gen. ii. 3), that is to say, He made it productive of a blessing for us It is a false argument to allege that the suspension of work on Sunday is prejudicial to the produce of manufactures, for it is an ascertained fact that factory hands do more and better work if they have one day of rest in the seven. A bow never unspanned loses its elasticity; so the workman loses his powers if they are ever on the stretch. Rousseau, no friend to religion, used to say that holidays were essential to the welfare of a nation. In England the observance of Sunday is a strict rule, and see how her commerce has prospered. Some Jews still rigorously keep the Sabbath, and no disadvantages ensue to them.

2. The profanation of the Lord's Day is frequently punished with temporal evils, sickness and poverty.

Because the Jews habitually violated the sanctity of the Sabbath God permitted Nabuchodonosor to destroy Jerusalem and take the people into captivity (2 Esd. xiii. 18). The usual punishment for profaning Sunday and not hearing Mass is to become the captive of vice. Those who work continuously ruin their health; man can no more live without taking repose than without eating. Thus the day of rest is not only a religious duty, but a natural necessity. To those who work on Sundays God says as to the Jews of yore: "I will quickly visit you with poverty" (Lev. xxvi. 16). Those who through greed of gain desecrate Sunday, obtain the very opposite of their aim. The Chinese have no fixed day of rest, and to what a deplorable state of degradation and misery, both physically and morally, they have sunk as a nation!
3. The non-observance of Sunday undermines family life and social relations.

This sin causes the disintegration of the family. 'If the members of a family neglect public worship, they lose all sense of their duties and fall into evil ways. The father becomes dissolute, the mother indifferent, the children insubordinate. The father does not fulfill his duty to his children; occupied all the week he sees but little of them; on Sunday he has leisure to observe their individual characters, and give them useful instruction. The disintegration of society follows that of the family; the profanation of Sunday is an open violation of God's law; the yoke of the secular law is next thrown off; no respect is shown to the authority of the king, the bishop, the legislator, the parent. Catholics who are careless in regard to the holy days of obligation, gradually lose all sense of their religious duties; they forget God, their final end, and become like heathen. Those who are not found on Sunday among the children of God on earth, will be excluded from His presence to all eternity. By sanctifying Sunday, we lay up for ourselves treasures which will last forever.