Expert Answer Forum

Sunday QUESTION from Anthony December 19, 1999 What is the Church Teaching about eating in restaurant and shopping on Sunday?
God Bless! Thank you!
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on December 20, 1999 Dear Mr. Anthony:
The Precept of the Church for Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation is (Catechism 2043): The fourth precept (You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.
But as our Holy Father made clear in his Apostolic Letter, Dies Domini, On Keeping the Lord's Day Holy (No 52): Sharing in the Eucharist is the heart of Sunday, but the duty to keep Sunday holy cannot be reduced to this.
The Holy Father goes on to say in that same paragraph:
In fact, the Lord's Day is lived well if it is marked from beginning to end by grateful and active remembrance of God's saving work. This commits each of Christ's disciples to shape the other moments of the day — those outside the liturgical context: family life, social relationships, moments of relaxation — in such a way that the peace and joy of the Risen Lord will emerge in the ordinary events of life. For example, the relaxed gathering of parents and children can be an opportunity not only to listen to one another but also to share a few formative and more reflective moments. Even in lay life, when possible, why not make provision for special times of prayer — especially the solemn celebration of Vespers, for example — or moments of catechesis, which on the eve of Sunday or on Sunday afternoon might prepare for or complete the gift of the Eucharist in people's hearts? Our Holy Father affirms that..
(no 48) …the Lord's Day', on which the Church comes together to renew the remembrance of the Easter mystery in hearing the word of God, in offering the sacrifice of the Lord, in keeping the day holy by means of prayer, works of charity and abstention from work. The Holy Father further explains….
68. In order that rest may not degenerate into emptiness or boredom, it must offer spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, opportunities for contemplation and fraternal communion. Therefore, among the forms of culture and entertainment which society offers, the faithful should choose those which are most in keeping with a life lived in obedience to the precepts of the Gospel. Sunday rest then becomes prophetic, affirming not only the absolute primacy of God, but also the primacy and dignity of the person with respect to the demands of social and economic life, and anticipating in a certain sense the new heavens and the new earth, in which liberation from slavery to needs will be final and complete. In short, the Lord's Day thus becomes in the truest sense the day of man as well. 69. Sunday should also give the faithful an opportunity to devote themselves to works of mercy, charity and apostolate.
The full test of the Apostolic Letter can be found at: http://www.petersnet.net/research/retrieve.cfm?recnum=419
But to bring this down to practical advice we go to the Catechism Nos 2185-2188:
2185 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord's Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. 123 Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.
The charity of truth seeks holy leisure- the necessity of charity accepts just work. 124
2186 Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind, and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life.
2187 Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure. With temperance and charity the faithful will see to it that they avoid the excesses and violence sometimes associated with popular leisure activities. In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees.
2188 In respecting religious liberty and the common good of all, Christians should seek recognition of Sundays and the Church's holy days as legal holidays. They have to give everyone a public example of prayer, respect, and joy and defend their traditions as a precious contribution to the spiritual life of society. If a country's legislation or other reasons require work on Sunday, the day should nevertheless be lived as the day of our deliverance which lets us share in this festal gathering, this assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven. 125
The revealing passages in this text I think are…

Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery.

Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day.

Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc), and social necessities (public services, etc), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure.

In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees.
From these passages I believe that we can find that we have an obligation to not only set aside Sundays for the Lord ourselves, but we should be careful not to participate in activities that would hinder others from setting aside Sundays for the Lord – with the exception obviously noted of needed public and social necessities such as police, fire, hospital, utilities, etc.
The catechism does give a reference to Traditional activities, such as sports and restaurants, noting that these traditions require some people to work. But this does not necessarily imply that we, as Christians, should actively support Sunday openings of sports and restaurants.
However, the Church does not appear to be specifically prohibiting one going to a restaurant (which can be a good family activity consistent with a personal observation of Sunday, while at the same time requiring others to work on Sunday). Since there is no specific prohibition, it is left up to the discernment of the individual.
Same with shopping on Sunday.
I am old enough to remember the Blue Laws. These were state laws that did exactly what the Catechism suggests public authorities and employers to do – to ensure Sunday as a time of rest and worship as best as possible.
The Blue Laws prohibited the sale of all merchandise on Sunday except that which was considered a possible necessity. Thus grocery superstores would be able to sell food, but they would block off aisle that contained other merchandise on the prohibited list (toys, hardware items, books, magazines, electronic devices, etc.). Most businesses were closed voluntarily or had to be closed because they only sold items that were prohibited on Sundays.
This meant that one did their non-food shopping, for sure, on Saturday.
If we go back even further, almost all stores were closed on Sundays including grocery stores. One had to be sure to have what they needed by Saturday.
Guess what? We survived.
The Church teaches that we need to set aside Sunday as the LORD’S DAY, to worship, pray, religious study and reading, do works of charity, spend time with family, rest, recreate. The Church teaches that our government and employers ought to ensure people are allowed to set aside Sundays for God in as much as is possible.
The Church teaches that we should be an example to the rest of society.
The details, the Church leaves up to our discretion and maturity.
Personally, I think we can find ways, if we really want to, to set aside Sunday so that we do not have to mow the lawn, fix the roof, grocery shop, certainly shop for other things besides needed food.
Resturants and movie theaters and the like I think are acceptable as they are good family activities, but depending on how strictly one wishes to avoid supporting a Sunday work economy, one might want to take the family out to dinner and a movie on Saturday night.
The bottom line is that Sunday is to be set aside for God, worship, prayer and study, works of charity, family, and rest. Other than assisting at Mass, which is a specific requirement, the other specifics are left to your discretion.
Summary from the Catechism:
2193 On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound . . . to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord's Day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body (CIC, can. 1247). 2194 The institution of Sunday helps all to be allowed sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their amilial, cultural, social, and religious lives (GS 67 # 3).
2195 Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord's Day.
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