ASK FATHER: Should we open our business on Sunday?

From a reader…

My family and I are considering buying a business. One point of debate within the family is the idea of opening on Sunday. The business is a candy store, but more than that will also provide a place for people to sit, rest and enjoy each others’ company for a bit.

Is it a greater good to close on Sunday to provide respite for the
owners and employees, or to open for reduced hours later in the day in order to provide a place for families and friends to gather and rest?

Canon 1247 enjoins the faithful, on Sundays and Holy Days, to “abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, or the due relaxation of mind and body.”

Exceptions for necessary workers (doctors, nurses, police, firemen, church musicians…) are understood as are the burdens that are placed on the faithful in a non-Christian society.

The witness of a Christian-owned business that closes on Sundays and Holy Days can be a powerful one.

I recommend a conversation with your pastor, your parish priest.  He should be more able to assess your situation and provide insight.

If there are not many wholesome places for friends and family to gather, socialize, and rest, and if you and your employees do not find the work to inhibit their worship of God and due relaxation, then perhaps opening for a few hours could be salubrious.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I grew up in the 1990s in an average ordinary form parish in the Midwest, my parents sent me to Catholic school for 12 years, we attended Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, etc.

    I do not remember it ever being discussed in school or at home that we should not be needlessly working or needlessly utilizing the servile labor of others on Sundays. In fact, Sundays were often our “yard work” days since my sister had sporting events most Saturdays. When I got into highschool and got a weekend shift job at a restaurant, half of my shifts were Sunday shifts. I never questioned it and apparently neither did my family or my high school educators.

    I wonder if other people had similar experiences.

  2. Imrahil says:

    As we all do know that Sundays are days of, among other things, rest and joy (only some Protestants of the past got them mixed up with what actually belongs to the fasting days), I consider the work that goes with usual and legitimate leisure activities (read: restaurants, ice cafés, beer gardens out there in the countryside available to those making bicycle trips, etc.) exempted from the Sunday obligation.

    A shop that is about selling things, leastways things that are not for immediate consumption and remarkably better when fresh (which is why bakeries are often open too) should, ideally, be closed. (At least not long ago, in Germany gas stations were open, but were forbidden by law to sell anything but gasoline.)

    So, is it something like a café that you’re opening?

    But then, also, where public law fails to protect the day the way it should be, sometimes the lack of revenue caused by closing on Sunday can either substantially surpass the amount proportional to the time the business actually is closed (less availability -> less popularity and so on) or just be more than the proprietors can afford (because a society that is not as Christian as it should be says “well then work more, read: on the Sunday, if you want to earn more”). In this case, I’d personally hold that people can make their exemptions, etc.; the Sunday rest is about giving God his due (and, secondary but yes, about other things), but not aimed at making sure that practicing Christians lose out in the competition with non-practicing or non-Christians.

    (Bottom line: this goes heavily into detail. And in such detail, as our rev’d host wisely recommends, the probable thing to do is asking one’s proper pastor…)

    Also, as the thing shunned is chiefly “servile labour”, one might think about concentrating the work to be done on Sundays on members of the family, instead of employees*, as far as possible.

    And I think one should make clear that any employee, and the family itself, can make it to Mass – today, at least, when there’s both morning Masses and evening Masses easily available.

    [* Chesterton considered it a measure or at least to be considered, in the direction of distributism of course, to allow people keeping their own business open on Sundays – as long as they are small businesses, and don’t rely on a large force of employees outside the entrepreneur and his family.]

  3. lana says:

    is it ok to go to restaurants on Sunday? yesterday i ordered some takeout for myself, feeling too lazy to cook. isn’t it encouraging business owners to stay open on Sunday by providing them with business?

    At LaSalette, Sunday work was one of the major issues.

    Scrupulously yours,

  4. APX says:

    Some things need to stay open (or at least be accessible) on Sundays (ie: gas stations). I once had to go door to door looking to buy a little bit of gas for my car on a long trip requiring Sunday travel. I got stuck on a long stretch of highway with only small towns and villages along the way with nothing open (or accessible) to purchase additional fuel to get me to the next city. I ended up paying $20 for two litres of gas because the guy I bought it off of didn’t have change.

  5. Imrahil says:

    Or in short, work on the Sunday is okay as long as it is work for the Sunday.

    Where “Sunday” means the entire celebration of a devout Catholic, embracing all aspects of life (except, it is to be hoped, sin), not only the religious exercise in the strict sense.

    (And sorry that it takes a lot of commenting before seeing the point and being able to express it in short.)

  6. Geoffrey says:

    I always felt that if I had to have employees work on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation, I would treat it as overtime and pay accordingly, whether they are Catholic or not.

  7. These days, when the Sabbath is routinely desecrated, we have to extra careful about it. Unless someone might need an emergency candy bar (and as Fr. Z often says, emergencies can’t be scheduled), I’d stay closed.

  8. Imrahil says:

    Dear Lana,

    yes, and no.

    In Catholic countries, restaurants have always been open on Sundays. The only countries that closed them were, I think, Scotland and Puritan England (to Charles Dickens’ heavy protest as in A Christmas carol).

    Christendom didn’t do that wrong for centuries including pious times, so, our Lady in La Salette war speaking about other work.

    Dear Andrew Saucci, I’d rather say that at times like this the single business-owner is exceptionally excused if staying open on the Sunday – which if he in an ideal society shouldn’t do it is to be deplored, of course.

  9. ghp95134 says:

    I remember growing up in the South in the 50s-60s when almost everything was closed on Sunday (cf Blue Laws). The drug store would open, but that was about it. Possibly gas stations and grocery stores … but I wasn’t paying attention to those. All I remember is we couldn’t really shop on Sunday.


  10. handmaid says:

    This is a great question. It shows that the reader really wants to honor God. It is only because we live in a society devoid of love of God this becomes a question. Christians of old would have planned their entire week around Sunday in a similar, but not identical, way to the Jews and preparing for the Sabbath. Meals prepared, errands run, work finished etc. After awhile the preparation becomes second nature and you look forward to that true repast of Sunday. Many early Christians had to work on Sunday, after all, they lived in a pagan culture that was out to destroy them. Maybe we are living in a similar pagan time, however, since we aren’t being fed to the Lions yet, our response should be one of greater zeal to honor the God we love. We show the greatest witness to our God and our Faith by the acts of love we perform. Sacrificing a day of business, which no doubt is a big sacrifice, is a great act of love. We show God, ourselves and others that this God of ours and our Catholic faith is worth everything we can give. Can we ever give more than God? I’m am confident that God will honor your devotion and if he chooses not to do so monetarily, He is giving you more to suffer for His sake. I have lost jobs, been unable to take jobs, and have tried to arrange my schedule to make the most room for God as I can. For Lent God put on my heart to attend daily mass at our parish, that meant hauling five kids to the TLM Mass 2 hours round trip every day. I didn’t think I could do it because I had a heavy schedule just making sure the kids were educated properly and they got to all their lesson on time. Silly rabbit, I should never have doubted God’s faithfulness and generosity. Most days I have those extra three hours, the days I don’t I know it’s because of my own sloth or God’s calling me to be home with a sick child. And just a side note on the daily mass attendance, I’m a better mother and teacher and the children age 5-14 are showing a much deeper love for God now (the bigger ones all begged for missals for Easter!). Deo Gracias. My in laws have a real estate business and they are closed for the Lord’s Day. That means on one of their busiest days, a Sunday, they do not hold open houses, show houses, take calls from potential clients. That could definitely be considered a hardship. I’m sure that they have lost business, but they have been successful. They say that they are successful by the grace of God and they are right because they put all of their business in the hands of God. We live in a society of people who are obsessed with getting what they want, when they want it. How about giving to God what He wants, WHEN He wants it. Good luck on your business venture and may God reward your faithfulness!

  11. Volanges says:

    My grandmother told the tale of asking a priest if it was OK to knit on Sundays. Back in those days knitting was part of a woman’s work to put clothes (socks, at least) on the family. She said that she enjoyed knitting so much that she didn’t consider it “work” but more of a hobby. His reply was that if she truly did it for the enjoyment, then on Monday morning she should be perfectly happy to unravel what she’d done on Sunday and start again.

  12. mysticalrose says:

    I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s when most businesses were still closed on Sunday’s. My parents were pretty strict about Sunday obligations: we were not aloud to play noisily, run up and down the block or things like that. We had to do quite things, like reading or light gardening — my father would never mow the lawn or do heavy yard work on Sunday. And we always ate at home, usually a big dinner unlike what we would eat the rest of the week (roast or baked fish). I’ve kept these customs in my own family so far, particularly the big dinner. Obviously, Mom has to work on Sunday or none of the children would be dressed and prepared for Mass and there would be no dinner! But we really look forward to just relaxing as a family. It also gives us the opportunity to invite neighbors and friends over for dinner. So I would keep the business closed on Sundays.

  13. pelerin says:

    When I was a child I remember being sent off each Sunday to buy ice cream for our Sunday pudding – we had no fridge or freezer then. Most shops were closed then on Sundays although small corner shops were allowed to open. However there were rules as to what they could or could not sell and it did seem odd that you were allowed to buy ice cream but not allowed to buy a Bible on a Sunday in England.

    My husband once told me that when he was a child even the swings in his area were chained up on a Sunday. Children were not allowed to enjoy themselves in this way which seemed particularly harsh and perhaps a hangover from Victorian England. However I find it sad now that shopping centres/malls are heaving with potential customers just as on any other day of the week. But from an entirely selfish point of view it is a relief to be able to go out and buy a loaf of bread or milk should one suddenly run out. I would not want to return completely to the English ‘Sunday’s closed’ although I don’t see the need for clothes shops to be open on Sundays.

  14. Imrahil says:

    Well, should one run out of bread, then one has to open one’s purse and go to a restaurant for eating… assuming, of course, restaurants are open, which they should be able to do.

    Chaining up swings (which bind just about zero workforce) so that children cannot enjoy themselves on the Sunday is something I’d not even have thought the Puritans capable of.

    (Though, in an ideal state, we might think of doing that on Good Friday. As I said, somewhere among the non-Catholics who don’t fast, the notion of what a “fast day” is and what a “feast day” is seems to have been completely mixed up.)

  15. yatzer says:

    I was visiting relatives in the American South a couple of decades ago when the newspaper ran an article comparing sales of businesses from before the recent repeal of “blue laws” and after. I remember this because the result was that retail income had not changed much at all; it was just distributed over 7 days instead of 6. So my thought was there is no good reason to trample on the one day most people can count on for family and friend events. And of course there are the usual exceptions, but still.

  16. Giuseppe says:

    A friend opened his restaurant on Sundays in a community that had become increasingly elderly (younger folk moved out). It was a blessing to those who could get hot food. Much of what he did were deliveries. He was open from 11-5 p.m. and attended morning mass. I like to think Jesus (or at least Martha would have been pleased). It was not really a moneymaker. Mostly, it was soups, stews, or grilled cheese, and homemade potato chips and cole slaw. Old people food. Or classic comfort food.

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