PARTICIPATION in public worship is the positive obligation flowing from

the Third Commandment; abstention from labor is what is negatively

enjoined. Now, works differ as widely in their nature as differ in form

and dimension the pebbles on the sea-shore. There are works of God and

works of the devil, and works which, as regards spirituality, are

totally indifferent, profane works, as distinguished from sacred and

works. And these latter may be corporal or intellectual or both.

Work or labor or toil, in itself, is a spending of energy, an exercise

of activity; it covers a deal of ground. And since the law simply says

to abstain from work, it falls to us to determine just what works are

meant, for it is certain that all works, that is, all that come under

the general head of work, do not profane the Lord's day.

The legislation of the Church, which is the custodian of the Sunday, on

this head commends itself to all thoughtful men; while, for those who

recognize the Church as the true one, that legislation is authority.

The Church distinguishes three kinds of profane works, that is, works

that are neither sacred nor iniquitous of their nature. There is one

kind which requires labor of the mind rather than of the body. These

works tend directly to the culture or exercise of the mind, and are

called liberal works, because under the Romans, freemen or "liberi"

almost exclusively were engaged therein. Such are reading, writing,

studying, music, drawing--in general, mental occupations in whole, or

more mental than corporal. These works the Church does not consider the

law includes in its prohibition, and they are consequently not


It is impossible here to enumerate all that enters into this class of

works; custom has something to say in determining what is liberal in

our works; and in investigating, we must apply to each case the general

principle. The labor in question may be gratuitous or well paid; it may

cause fatigue or afford recreation: all this is not to the point. The

question is, outside the danger of omitting divine service, scandal or

circumstances that might lead to the annoyances and distraction of

others--the question is: does this work call for exercise of the mind

more than that of the body? If the answer is affirmative, then the work

is liberal, and as such it is not forbidden on Sunday, it is not

considered a profanation of the Lord's day.

On the other extreme are what go by the name of servile works, which

call forth principally bodily effort and tend directly to the advantage

of the body. They are known also as works of manual labor. Before the

days of Christianity, slaves alone were thus employed, and from the

word "servi" or slaves these are called servile works.

Here again it is the nature of the work that makes it servile. It may

be remunerative or not, recreative or not, fatiguing or not; it may be

a regular occupation, or just taken up for the moment; it may be,

outside cases of necessity, for the glory of God or for the good of the

neighbor. If it is true that the body has more part therein than the

mind, then it is a servile work and it is forbidden. Of course there

are serious reasons that dispense us from our obligation to this law,

but we are not talking about that just at present.

The reason of the proscription is, not that such works are evil, but

that they interfere with the intention we should give to the worship we

owe to God, and that, without this cessation of labor, our bodily

health would be impaired: these are the two motives of the law. But

even if it happened, in an individual case, that these inconveniences

were removed, that neither God's reverence nor one's own health

suffered from such occupations as the law condemns, the obligation

would still remain to abstain therefrom, for it is general and

absolute, and when there is question of obeying a law, the subject has

a right to examine the law, but not the motives of the law.

We shall later see that there are other works, called common, which

require activity of the mind and of the body in about an equal measure

or which enter into the common necessities of life. These are not

forbidden in themselves, although in certain contingencies they may be

adjudged unlawful; but, in the matter of servile works, nothing but

necessity, the greater glory of God, or the good of the neighbor, can

allow us to consider the law non-binding. To break it is a sin, slight

or grievous, according to the nature of the offense.