ASK FATHER: Is cooking on Sunday a sin?

From a reader…


I saw someone say that cooking on Sunday violates the third commandment and food for Sunday must be made before Sunday. Is this true ?


As much as we honor our Jewish forbears, we do not keep their strict laws about cooking and sabbath food preparation, bishul.

We should avoid on Sunday unnecessary work, or unnecessary drudgery.  If it is necessary we do it.

However, some things that are drudgery for one are a pleasure for another.  There are some people who would rather have starving rats chew through their faces while kneeling on glass in salt water while being tormented with horseflies and rap music than do any gardening.  This is my attitude toward ironing clothes.  Others enjoy gardening, and even ironing, find it relaxing and even meditative.

People should eat on Sundays.  We don’t have to do food prep according to rabbinic laws, which permitted some continuation of heat but forbade initiating, by Jews at least, the warming of anything.   Chopping vegetables could even have been considered forbidden work.    We don’t have these restrictions.  We can prep and cook and clean up afterward.   Having a family meal on Sunday is a wonderful thing.   A measure of cooking is involved.

If one can do some of the cooking and prep the day before to lighten the load, that’s not just okay for Sunday observance, that’s smart cooking.

Frankly, while cooking a large and complicated meal is a good deal of “work”, it is work I thoroughly enjoy and find therapeutic.

Catholics can cook on Sundays.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Our Catholic Identity and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Rob in Maine says:

    When I was a kid we always had a big family meal on Sunday’s after Mass, either at home or at my grandmother’s (Mémère Nadeau). We kept our Church clothes on.

    Nowadays with the repeal of blue laws and youth sports on Sundays…. I usually cook a main evening meal like a roast.

    Rob in Maine

  2. Whiskey Galore, Sir Compton Mackenzie’s novel about a wrecked freighter and the Highlanders who salvage its precious cargo, has an interesting incident along these lines. The Presbyterians on Great Todday can only stand and watch as the whisky is lost to the waves, since it’s the Sabbath. The Catholics on Little Todday, once they have been to Mass, can row out to rescue the cargo but as the Maistir (their pastor) reminds them, they must not sell it. That would be servile work, whereas giving it freely is almost a corporal work of mercy! Sadly, neither film version preserves this element of the plot. It hardly needs to be said but Mackenzie was himself a convert.

  3. teomatteo says:

    Your responce brings to mind the ‘sabbath’ setting on my stove/oven. Like what’s up with that?

  4. jcariveau says:

    I know it’s sinful for a Catholic performing a non-essential function to work for pay on Sunday. Is it sinful for a Catholic to patronize businesses and receive goods and services from their employees on Sunday? Or is it like usury, Catholics were allowed to borrow at interest from non-Catholics, though they themselves couldn’t lend at interest. I’m curious to know opinions on this.

  5. JonPatrick says:

    @teomatteo, does the sabbath setting prevent the light from going on when you open the door? We used to have a refrigerator with a Sabbath setting so the light would not come on when you opened the fridge door. I believe it was intended for observant Jews for whom turning on a light violated the Sabbath laws. But I guess it was OK to get cold food out.

  6. teomatteo says:

    JonPatrick, now that you mention it I think you are right. Now the oven I thought was set up so you could maybe put food in and set the ‘sabbath’ and it would kick on/off in accordance to the Law. I’m not sure. Interesting though.

  7. Marion Ancilla Mariae II says:

    I think the key here is “unnecessary.” The normal operations of homemaking are necessary, however, and therefore to do them on a Sunday has never been deemed sinful by the Church. Even if the homemaker “could have” taken care of them the day before – such as pre-cooking the entire meal. To do so may not be possible, simply because other work needed to be taken care of on other days: caring for small children is a hectic, demanding job, and their little needs – a diaper change, a bath, a cup of milk, giving affection, attention; retrieving toys, laundering soiled clothes so that stains don’t set, refereeing arguments, caring for bruised fingers and skinned knees, looking for lost keys or phone (after the children have gotten hold of them), and a thousand other little jobs and errands that can’t wait. In addition to making beds, wiping up spills, running the vacuum, preparing meals for that day.

    For those who work full-time, and have only the weekend to take care of heavier work at home – if possible this kind of work needs to be undertaken on Saturday; changing the beds, scouring the bathrooms, vacuuming. Shopping involves transacting business, and so a homemaker may choose to do all shopping for the weekend – or for the entire week – on Saturday. To complete all of these chores and errands in one day may leave little time for cooking “ahead,” particularly when one is fatigued from the week’s work.

    When I was just out of college and still working in retail, our store was open 7 days a week, but only from 12:00 noon until 5:00 pm on Sunday. We had a staff of five or six salespeople who were expected to “volunteer” to work Sundays. Nobody really wanted to; and management, knowing this, expected us to take turns so that no one person would be stuck working two or three Sundays in a row. As a Catholic, I could have fought for every Sunday off, however, I didn’t because this would have meant that my few co-workers would be forced to pick up the slack. At the time, I felt that to demand every Sunday off would have utterly alienated me from the people I had to spend the other five days a week with. To me, to avoid annoying management, as well as having to work five days a week with people who hated me seemed to place working some Sundays from the “unnecessary” into the “necessary” category. I was resolved, however, to develop the skills necessary to switch to an office job with weekday-only hours, and I did, thank God!

  8. mo7 says:

    Going to Mass and a big Sunday family dinner, with special dishes reserved for Sundays and holidays are part and parcel of keeping the sabbath holy. It’s got the same weekly rhythm to it as no meat on Friday. I use my better table settings and no one is dressed sloppy. As to the cooking, it is done with joy and togetherness. Ultimately, it’s one of the ways to convey to your children that Sundays are different.

  9. Thorfinn says:

    I believe this misunderstanding is part of a corpus of knowledge picked up from Little House on the Prairie and other classics featuring non-Catholic families acting in accordance with their understanding of pious practices. Children notice a general laxity in home/school/life of appropriate times to refrain from work, or fast, and turn to models in literature (or TV) to compensate.

    As sports fans know, rules can be great fun to learn & discuss (and apply in practice, with creativity) – we should learn & teach required, optional, and historical rules from tradition for this sort of thing.

  10. L. says:

    My father used to say that in the 1950’s, my mother, a recent convert, asked the parish Priest if washing clothes was the kind of work that was sinful to do on Sunday. The Priest, who was an immigrant from Ireland where automation was not common, said, “Tell me- do you have one of those machines where you put in the clothes and a little soap, close the lid and turn it on to wash your clothes?”



  11. Eamonn Gaines says: Whiskey Galore

    Fantastic movie!


  12. GHP says:

    Fr. Z [“Whisky Galore”] sez: Fantastic movie!

    Read Compton Mackenzie’s book — I’ll bet it’s better. His Monarch of the Glen was superb, and the BBC Scotland’s version could not hold a candle to the novel; so I’ll bet Whisky Galore will outclass the movie.

  13. GHP says:

    Fr. Z: …being tormented with horseflies and rap music ….


    Remember: You can’t spell crap without rap.

    — Guy

  14. Diana says:

    Father! How did you know that was how I felt about gardening?! Amazing!

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There are _two_ Whiskey Galore movies, and a BBC radio drama, and different abridged and unabridged audiobooks. The B&W movie is full of authentic Hebrides music and dancing; and the BBC radio play presents the story in flashbacks, so as to make a straightfaced parody of BBC folklore/folk music programs with oral history accounts.

    Beyond that, there are a whole series of interconnected Monarch of the Glen and Galore books, some of which can be found in the US. has made a fair number of these available, including the direct prequel to Whiskey Galore, Keep the Home Guard Turning. It is not quite as funny (though it is very funny!), but it explains a lot about why the Todday islanders might feel justified in messing with their government, and what the UK actually did to a lot of their outlying areas during WWII.

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    The sequel to Whisky Galore – Rockets Galore, 1958 – is on YouTube. It is in color.

  17. KateD says:

    A related question….

    Can a mom and pop restaurant serve food on a Sunday…if….it’s an hour to the next nearest town, food options are limited for locals and tourists (of which there are lots) and the weather frequently makes travel difficult if not impossible?

  18. Volanges says:

    My grandmother once asked a priest if knitting on Sunday was a sin. She loved knitting and didn’t think of it as work. He replied, “If it’s so pleasurable, go ahead and knit, but then unravel it all at the end of the day because you did it for the pleasure of knitting. Start from scratch on Monday.”

    I guess back in the day when you knit so your kids could have clothes, that could have been a fair answer. Today, knitting is a hobby rather than a necessity. I don’t know anyone who considers knitting “work”.

Comments are closed.