From a reader…
What hobbies are permitted on Sundays? I like to knit and crochet clothing and blankets for pleasure, but have heard that this is considered servile labor. Yes, perhaps historically this was work, but nowadays this is a welcome break from my actual labors. Please help me understand.
A question that is both simple and complicated.
Let’s start with a foundation: the 3rd Commandment of the Decalogue. This is God’s positive law.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work. (Ex 20:8-10; cf. Deut 5:12-15.)
First, Sunday, the “first day” and the “eighth day” (outside of time) is not “the sabbath”, which is the “seventh day”. However, for Christians, we see the meaning of the sabbath fulfilled in Christ’s saving work and Resurrection. Hence, we rightly fulfil the observance of sabbath rest on Sundays. This has been our Christian practice from the very beginning of the Church.
Second, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath. (Mk 2:27-28)
Third, notice that the 3rd Commandment commands that we rest, but it also commands that we work. It doesn’t suggest that we work.
Fourth, the sabbath (or the day that supersedes, Sunday) is “a sabbath to the Lord your God”. Therefore, it involves not just rest from work but also worship. Holy Church has a precept, a positive law founded in divine positive law, concerning the obligation to participate at Holy Mass on Sundays and other Holy Days of Obligation. NB: All Sundays are Holy Days of Obligation.
Obviously we are not bound to do what is impossible. If there is no Mass or we are impeded, there is no obligation. That’s the stuff of other posts.
Fifth, a hobby can be work but it isn’t toil. A hobby can very much be manual, but not servile (done in the manner of a slave, unavoidable). And there is a difference between “work” and “toil”. Because of the fall of our First Parents, much work has become toil. But, as John Paul II explained beautifully, work gives us dignity, where toil… not so much. Toil is a punishment due to Original Sin.
The sabbath obligation involves rest and worship. Worship is pretty clear. What is rest?
Let’s see the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
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. [Cf. CIC, can. 120.] Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life, and health.
The charity of truth seeks holy leisure- the necessity of charity accepts just work. [St. Augustine, De civ. Dei 19,19:PL 41,647.] [“Leisure” or “otium” and the tension with”negotium”, the lack of otium is a constant theme for Augustine. He longed for the one (for readings and praying) but was, as a bishop, constantly required for “business”.]
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. Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the elderly. [Doesn’t sound like “recreation” or a “hobby”.] Christians will also sanctify Sunday by 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.
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. 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. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees. [There’s a reason why lots of people drive to Chick-fil-a instead of other places.]
Returning to the question, which includes:
“I like to knit and crochet clothing and blankets for pleasure…”
Whereas according to Jewish laws that might be prohibited as work on the sabbath, I cannot fathom how a Christian understanding of the sabbath would prohibit knitting for pleasure. This is not exactly ditch digging, is it. If you were a day laborer and an 18th c. Belgian lacemaker’s shop, with an exacting task master standing over you all the time, that might qualify as “servile work”.
Provided that significant, meaningful time is given to the worship of God and rest from work, it seems entirely within the bounds of the Decalogue and the Precepts of the Church to play some tennis (which is hard “work” but not “labor”), or to do some gardening (which can be strenuous and dirty, but quite therapeutic for some), or build a tree house for the kids (certainly involving heavy lifting and effort), cooking for the family (cooking is one of the most strenuous and even dangerous jobs I had in my life… in a restaurant kitchen, but at home for friends… hard? Sure. A pleasure? Da bomb!).
Avoid unnecessary work, toil.
Hobbies can be strenuous, but they are, by definition, leisure. Challenging and exhausting doesn’t line up with onerous and wearying: the former can be restorative while the later are debilitating.
Note also the emphasis on works of mercy. Talk about hard work! But is that “labor”? I guess so, in that it is a labor of love. That which is done for charity, sacrificial love for the good the other, is entirely in the spirit of the 3rd Commandment, Christ’s gloss and personal example, the Precept of the Church, the Code of Canon Law, common sense….
There are some things which really need to be done on a Sunday. For example, the toilet backs up. Do you ignore it? No. The floor ought to be scrubbed. Can it wait one day, for Monday? Probably, unless its a health hazard. Who knows what that stuff is on the floor that junior tracked in? Dry wall has to be put up in the room that will become the nursery. Can it wait? The missus is due a) in 3 months or b) in 3 days. Make the call. AFTER Mass, perhaps you can get some of that work done on the nursery.
Friends, don’t torture yourself with Sunday rest or work. It helps to have a plan for your Sunday, so you are not just bumping around. Make sure you have time for rest – or what passes for rest when you have lots of kids or dependents or some activities helpful for others depend on you. Never neglect worship of God.
By the way, I wrote this on a Sunday – and it is work to write this – as a spiritual work of mercy.
Office fulfilled, Mass celebrated, restorative nap checked off, now I shall play some chess. And if you don’t think that that is work, you have never really played chess.