Answer from: Fr. Julian
Although I have been raised and educated in the Catholic tradition, many of the rules continue to offer so much room for interpretation. Here is my example. The Church limits the amount of time a Catholic can engage in work on Sunday. The church also states that one must not support the need for a person to work on Sunday (unless they are involved in critical services). As such, for me personally, Sunday has become a nightmare. Can we read the paper? After all, someone was employed to deliver it. Can we listen to/ read the news on the internet or watch T.V. After all someone must be involved in ensuring that such comes together. I have even read that certain forms of handiwork are not permitted! I am sure that most human beings want to do the right thing, but the “right thing” has become way beyond my understanding. Any help would be appreciated!!
St. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Dies Domini (DD), wrote: [Christians] are obliged in conscience to arrange their Sunday rest in a way which allows them to take part in the Eucharist, refraining from work and activities which are incompatible with the sanctification of the Lord’s Day, with its characteristic joy and necessary rest for spirit and body (67).
St. John Paul II’s key point is to urge Christians to arrange their Sunday rest in a way that allows them to attend the Divine Liturgy and to refrain from work. In other words, he is suggesting to Christians to plan ahead—to arrange their schedules, insofar as possible, to allow them to fulfill their obligation to attend the Divine Liturgy and to rest.
Sunday is not a day to do nothing. As St. John Paul II noted: “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” (DD, 68).
The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Christ Our Pascha, paragraph 983 reads: “Rest corresponds to the will of God himself. The creation account in the book of Genesis testifies to this (see Gn 2:2-3; Ex 20:8-11). Rest is a ‘holy’ matter, for it allows a person, who is sometimes excessively preoccupied with earthly concerns, to be reminded that everything is God’s creation. Having been endowed by God with magnificent dominion over creation, we can sometimes forget that it is God who is the Creator. It is for this reason that for Christians, rest is the celebration of the ‘Lord’s Day.’ Sunday is also a day of man – a day of rest, joy, fraternal fellowship with neighbour, a day for works of mercy and apostolic works.”
If you have a family, perhaps you might wish to get together as a family to plan special family activities for Sunday. This does not mean you need to spend money. You are looking for something that might offer opportunities for spiritual enrichment, greater freedom, and fraternal communion when done together as a family.
If you are single, you could plan to spend the day with friends or with extended family. If you have a skill you truly enjoy, such as cooking or some other creative activity, perhaps you might offer it to someone in need. For example, perhaps you have an elderly neighbour who would enjoy a home-cooked meal and you will be the Good Samaritan that is going to prepare it for him or her.
In short, Sundays should be a time each week to live out the joy of our Lord’s Resurrection. Understood and lived in this fashion, Sunday in a way becomes the soul of the other days, and in this sense we can recall the insight of Origen that the perfect Christian “is always in the Lord’s Day, and is always celebrating Sunday” (St. John Paul II, DD 83).
Your question also poses your dilemma when you say that “The church also states that one must not support the need for a person to work on Sunday (unless they are involved in critical services).” In that regard, let me commend you for your social sensitivity. It reflects the broader teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) which states “Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brothers and sisters who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery” (par. 2186). Still, I would be interested to know where you found the statement to which you have referred.
For the most part, the Church has placed a high value on human work and has dedicated specific teaching on it from the encyclical of Pope Leo XIII in 1891, expanded by Pope St. John Paul II in his encyclical On Human Work in 1981. In every instance, the Church has deemed it important to emphasize the dignity of human work and how unjust societies can demean it by the extremes of concentration camps and oppressive labour practices based on greed.
Now I believe your question does not extend to situations of that degree. It appears that your concern is for our whole economic structure which allows and even encourages work on Sundays, and how we can be complicit in sustaining that. Here the CCC is also instructive when it declares,
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 (par. 2187).
The key here is that we avoid excesses with regard to our own work and that of others on the Lord’s Day. Perhaps our best guide could be the words of St. Augustine who said in the City of God, “The charity of truth seeks holy leisure; the necessity of charity accepts just work” (19,19).
Respectfully submitted by Fr. Julian Bilyj