QUAERITUR: Sunday rest from servile work for the children

From a reader:

My question is, I think, pretty straightforward. One of the precepts of the Church is that we attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and rest from servile labor. From what I’ve read, family obligations are exempted from this, but what about the case of parents requiring children to do chores that could be done on another day? Would you consider this something the children should obey, or an abuse by the parents?

Your question may be straightforward but I am not sure that any answer I can give can be.

Depending on the circumstances of the rest of your Sunday, I cannot bring myself to write that little stupor mundi, or your multiple bundles of joy, should not have to do chores.

In the case of real chores, such as those which are connected to the care of animals on a farm, something simply must be done, and they must be done by someone, and children are involved.  When it comes to the harvest and the weather is right, the work must be done.

At the urban or suburban home, I suppose you could have stupor mundi mow the lawn on a weekday, but after a large meal there is washing up to do.  I don’t consider washing the dishes servile work.   I don’t think Sunday is the day to send stupor mundi out to scrape and paint the garage, however.

Works of mercy are certainly not out of order on a Sunday.  Yet some of those works can be servile in one sense of the word, in that through them you serve God and neighbor.  And some of those works can be real work.

Cooking, cleaning up, straighten things up for the coming of guests, even some yard work is not, in my book at least, servile.  Shifting the six foot high pile of pavers for the driveway probably would be.  Taking out the garbage or recycling on Sunday night is not, as I see it, a violation of the sabbath precept for rest.

Arrange your week so that you can keep Sunday free for other things, always including your obligations to God and time for friends and family and not forgetting works of mercy.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. I thought ‘servile work’ meant work done for remuneration. [If a kid shovels an old woman’s sidewalk in the winter, for pay or gratis, I don’t think that is servile work in the sense of work to be avoided because it is Sunday.] By the way still praying that the Devil and his minions back off.

  2. Liz says:

    This is a constant topic of discussion around here. I think that’s because we didn’t grow up with it so it’s hard to figure out. I think we have finally come to what father describes in the post, but there are still some issues. For example, some say working in the garden in wrong (and it would be for me because it would be work , unless of course something had to come in because it was ripe) but my husband loves it so it’s enjoyable for him. To me it seems like that’s a hobby and it would be okay. Then, they are businesses: libraries, restaurants, pools etc. It is wrong to cause people work so you can go out to eat out or relax at the pool? Some say that is okay because you are recreating. Why would it be wrong to go to the grocery store, but not the library? In both cases somebody has to work for you to go there. I don’t know. I go back and forth. Actually, since we are a bit out of town we sometimes stop by a store on the way home from Sunday mass. We don’t do our big monthly shopping or anything, but we do sometimes pick up milk or something on sale. (My kids love it because we always seem to stop by stores when we’ve been to mass, even daily, so it adds to the freak show…big family, with adopted kids, AND all dressed up and homeschoolish looking. Yah, we are used to being gawked at. Well, we do actually homeschool, but they don’t want to necessarily look like it.)

  3. Jon says:

    I think as long as you make time for Holy Mass, recreation/meal with the family, and a little extra prayer you’re okay, unless of course you also decide to dig out the septic tank or clear-cut the back forty.

    I wouldn’t be scrupulous.

  4. My 13 year old has used the answer in the Baltimore Catechism on several occassions as an excuse not to do chores we have assigned him. “But mowing the lawn on Sunday is servile work!” But up here in Maine we don’t have the guarentee of good weather some weeks for mowing the lawn and by Sunday it really needs to be cut. “Good try son, but Father Z says that it doesn’t count, especially since it is an act of mercy toward your overworked parents.”

  5. benedetta says:

    Interesting the others’ experiences. I guess it’s possible to get things done on Saturday. I must admit I am very lax about results. By upbringing and choice while hard work is important there must be balance and joy of life. Read an article yesterday on how America is one of the worst cultures in terms of vacation time and actually using it if one has it. I think kids need free unstructured time to explore and be creative. But probably incorporating chores couldn’t hurt.

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