top of page

Economics & The Sabbath

Q: Should we refrain from eating out or shopping on Sundays, on The Sabbath?

Some Scriptures on The Sabbath to help us understand

  • It is an external sign of God's Covenant with all creation - Genesis 2

  • It is a participation in God's rest from Creation - Genesis 2

  • We eat food gathered on other day's, on the sabbath - Genesis 16

  • The sabbath day is a way of sanctifying time - Exodus 5

  • We are commanded to uphold it and keep it holy - Exodus 20

  • It is a feast day - Leviticus 23

  • It is upheld in all our homes - Leviticus 23

  • It is to be kept from Saturday evening throughout Sunday evening - Leviticus 23

  • The Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) is a Sabbath of sabbaths (7 days x 7 weeks + 1) - Leviticus 23

  • The Jubilee Year (Popes still pronounce these!) is seven sabbaths x seven years + 1 (50 years) - Leviticus 25

  • A sabbath breaker is executed for picking up sticks on The Sabbath - Numbers 15

  • Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath; its purpose is to get you to him - Matthew 12; Luke 6

  • The Sabbath has a purpose, it is not lack of activity, but re-creation - Matthew 12

  • Jesus 'sabbathed' in the grave the day after his crucifixion - Matthew 28; Mark 16

  • A Sabbath Rest remains where we will be in perfect communion with God - Hebrews 4

  • The final Sabbath Rest is having resurrected, glorified bodies, in perfect communion with God, in the New Heavens and The New Earth - Revelation 20

*NOTE: None of these bullets are replacements for knowing the Story of the Scriptures and how Sabbath operates there. One must read and know the tale to really fathom has it functions then, and now in our lives! This article thus presumes some knowledge of our story. In essence, Sabbath is about admitting God says "I AM" and when I speak I say "I AM not." It recalls our dependence on Him, that Creation renews itself whether we live or die, that scarcity is an economic lie, and that eventually we'll rest from our labors.

Before we can answer this perhaps we ought ask, "What are Sundays for?"

A good place to start with this ethical question is The Catechism. It compiles "the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15). These two we call The Oral Tradition (The Church's tradition) and Written tradition (The Holy Scriptures). These two aspects make up the one holy Catholic Apostolic Tradition. They are two sides of one coin.

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...

If we are going out to eat, then who is cooking and waiting on us? If we are shopping then who is stocking the shelves and checking us out? The real underlying question is:

Q: Can my 'rest' require others to work on the Sabbath?

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.

I failed at this recently. I used to not spend a dollar on Sundays and in my last few years as an Episcopal priest I fell into some bad habits. Having gone to Mass one Sunday, I ventured to a restaurant with friends. Our waitress came over and said, 'Hey! I just saw y'all in Mass!" Indeed we had.

Now a train of thought swept through my mind.

  1. I wanted to rest, so I required my own Sister in Christ to not rest.

  2. I'm trying to vindicate myself by saying such people might need the money, when its the groups of people like me that make them have to work Sundays to get it.

  3. If the 70.6% of self-reported Christians restrained their desires for one day out of the week, Sunday would become an economic dead day, like a Monday.

I felt a sense of shame, and rightfully so. The Catechism however takes note of this real world problem:

2187 ...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.

While acknowledging this, it still upholds what is thought to be The Tradition of Sabbath.

2186 ...Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly...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.

You'll notice here "leisure" is not absence of activity, nor binging on bad activities, not a vegetative state on the couch or comatose on a cell phone app, but it is the fullness of good activities amongst The Lord, friends, family, and the Congregation of His Poor & Needy.

The Catechism continues by stating the solution to the problem of commerce on the Sabbath is obtained through "common effort." I can't simply reduce the question to it just being about me and the waitress, for that single event relied on a whole social structure to come into being.

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....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.

To the Social Justice crowd, a real social justice issue might ask, "How might we apply The Gospel to our personal, familial, and civil lives such that rest may be obtained for all?" To our more cutthroat capitalist crowd this might seem a pipe dream, but recall weekends off, not working 16 hour shifts, and no children in factories was once thought impossible in the early 20th c. too. Catholics then and now can effect virtuous change through virtuous living. The solution starts at hand, with ourselves.

To help you make a decision on whether or not you're eating out or shopping on The Sabbath, here is a question based on paragraph 2187:

Q: Do you think necessities and wants are different or the same?

Q: Do you deem eating out or shopping on Sunday necessary?

or, based on what you know about Christ--

Q: What would Jesus do? Take you to Shorthorn's Steakhouse or the Taco Hut? Or might he aim at hospitality through a homemade meal in someone's home?

Whatever you choose, as Bl. John Cardinal Newman said, "To conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards," but know objective truth and an objectively good answer is out there. The aim of conscience is to become aligned to that Truth, so let us seek to keep the Sabbath holy.

Happy Sabbath'ing!

bottom of page