To My Readers: This week, my guest poster Lee gives me a much needed break so I may concentrate on my work and family obligations. He has written a thought provoking post on the Third Commandment which I'm sure you will enjoy. Please feel free to leave comments, as always. If a comment or question is directed specifically to me, I will answer as usual, but it may take me a little longer to respond this week.
God Bless you all, my dear readers---Introibo
The 3rd Commandment Reconsidered
Prior to Vatican II, the third commandment was taken seriously. Catholics had it drilled in their head to go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days with punctuality and reverence. It was never tolerated to miss Mass or else it was a mortal sin. When Mass was over, the general customs were different from country to country but the thing to do was to either go home or to a relatives place and spend time with one another. Shops and businesses were not open. Emphasis on football games or some other Sunday past time was not as popular. If you had to work it had to be for a necessary reason which was also stressed. The third commandment was important to people back then because it was one of the Church's six precepts to assist Mass on all Sundays and Holy days throughout the year.
In the last fifty or sixty years all the opposite things I mentioned have flipped in the Novus Ordo Church and the world has followed its lead. Holy days are no longer obligatory in many dioceses and so it's not uncommon for a bishop to say that it should be fulfilled on the following Sunday. People no longer have any problem working on Sundays so long as they get paid well or if it's just getting caught up on something which would require a few hours of work which could otherwise be put off for another day. Many businesses or shops are open and the excuse you'll hear for staying open is "if I don't open on Sunday I could lose my business" or "due to the economy it's necessary to be open" yet some of these same places will be closed on Mondays or Tuesdays.
Sporting events or games have become a distraction to such a degree that one could waste their whole day on Sunday thinking nothing about God and worrying about whose fantasy team is doing the best. Novus Ordos and even some Traditionalist Catholics who live within an hour of time from church, have no scruple of missing Mass. To sum it up, the Third Commandment has been watered down to a recommendation instead of a strict obligation.
Theologian Thomas Slater S.J.
A Manuel of Moral Theology for English Speaking Countries:
On Hearing Mass of Precept-
"Ecclesiastical laws of the early Christian centuries show us that the precept of hearing Mass on Sundays dates from the earliest times. This obligation is grave, for Innocent XI condemned a proposition which asserted the contrary...
Besides hearing Mass it is a laudable thing to spend some time on Sundays in other acts of piety and prayer, as all good Catholics do. Still there is no other positive obligation besides that of hearing Mass which binds under sin. It is not a sin, then, to omit evening service or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament; and when it is impossible to hear Mass, there is no strict obligation to have private devotions instead. In order to fulfill the precept of hearing Mass according to the mind of the Church, the whole of Mass must be heard, in the proper place, while bodily present where it is being celebrated, with devout attention. Something must be said on each of these points.
The whole of Mass must be heard, so that at least a venial sin is committed if one be willfully absent during any portion of it. The sin will not be grave unless a notable part of the Mass be missed. What is a notable part depends partly on its importance, partly on the length or quantity. Inasmuch as the essence of the Mass in all probability consists in the act of consecration, to be voluntarily absent during the consecration would be mortally sinful ; one would not have heard Mass. Certainly it is a grave sin to be willfully absent during both the consecration and the communion. Up to the offertory is called the Mass of the catechumens, and as this forms a kind of introduction to the Mass proper, to come in only at the offertory probably does not amount to more than a venial sin.
We may take it as a general rule that a mortal sin is committed if a third part of Mass be missed, and less is sufficient for a grave sin when any action of special importance in the sacrifice is in the portion missed. In case of involuntary absence during a notable portion of Mass there will be an obligation of making it up by hearing that portion of another Mass if there be an opportunity of doing so on the same day. The consecration, however, and the communion must always be in the same Mass. There is no obligation to make up small portions of the Mass which have not been heard...
One would not hear Mass so as to satisfy the precept if he were stationed apart at a considerable distance from the place where it was being celebrated, even though he might be able to see and hear what was being done. He must be morally present so as to form one of those who are together hearing and offering up the Holy Sacrifice. It is not necessary that he should be able to see the priest or the altar, nor even to hear what is said. It will be sufficient if he follows the principal parts of the Mass. So that a person could hear Mass if he were stationed in a side chapel of a great cathedral while Mass was being said at the high altar, though he might not be able to hear or see anything that was going on.
Similarly, if Mass is being said for a large army or crowd of people, those on the outskirts of the multitude may hear Mass, though they are at a great distance from the altar. If the church is full and large numbers cannot get inside, still these latter may hear Mass being celebrated inside. On the other hand, if while Mass is being said in a church, someone were posted on the opposite side of a wide street or square, he could not hear the Mass so as to satisfy the precept, though he might be able to see what was going on through the open door.
It is necessary to have the intention of hearing Mass, and it must be done with the requisite attention. The Church prescribes a human action to be performed in the service of God, and so there must be the necessary constituents of a human act. The act, then, must be voluntary; there must be the wish or the intention to hear Mass. So that one who was forced to be present against his will, or who came to church merely as a companion to another, or to hear the music, would not hear Mass.
Attention is an act of the mind by which we advert to what is going on. This is attention in the proper sense of the term, and is called internal to distinguish it from external attention, which is the avoidance of any external action which is in- compatible with internal attention. Thus if one is distracted during Mass and thinking of other things, but does no external action which is incompatible with hearing Mass, he has external, but not internal attention. If during Mass he engages in a prolonged conversation with a neighbor, or reads a profane book, or paints, he has not even external attention.
The Church commands at least external attention while Mass is being said, otherwise the precept will not be fulfilled. All, too, admit that voluntary distractions during Mass are venially sinful, just as they are during ordinary prayer. It is a disputed point among theologians whether internal attention is also necessary for the observance of the Church's law. The more common opinion holds that it is. The contrary, how- ever, is probable, for actual attention does not seem to be an essential element of prayer; the form of Extreme Unction, which is a prayer, is certainly valid even if said by a priest without internal attention. The Church's law, therefore, which directly provides for external decorum in the service of God, would seem to be fulfilled, provided that there is at least external attention while hearing Mass. This opinion does not foster the careless hearing of Mass, but it does serve to relieve the scrupulous conscience from needless anxieties.
We have here to do with a positive precept, and any serious inconvenience or loss, spiritual or temporal, affecting one's self or one's neighbor, which would follow from hearing Mass, will excuse the faithful from fulfilling the obligation.
So that the sick, the convalescent who could not venture out of doors without danger, those who have to take care of the sick, mothers of families who have little children to attend to, those who live at such a distance that it would take them more than an hour to walk to church, all these are excused from hearing Mass regularly.
On Servile Work-
In order that all, and especially the poor, may have the opportunity of fulfilling their religious duties, the Church has forbidden servile work to be done on Sunday. Servile work is the rougher and harder sort of manual labor which is done by common workmen and laborers, and which used to be done by slaves. It comprises ploughing, digging, building, sewing, and similar occupations. It is distinguished from liberal and from mixed work.
Liberal work is done mainly by the intellect, and comprises writing, studying, painting, and so forth. Mixed work comprises a class of occupations which are neither exclusively liberal nor servile, but which are done indifferently by all conditions of men. In this class are hunting, fishing, traveling, and similar occupations. Of these only servile work is forbidden on Sundays, and in determining what is servile work, and therefore for- bidden, we must consider not only the nature of the work itself, but also the way in which it is done, the light in which it is commonly regarded, and other circumstances. Thus it is usually held that although the rougher work of the sculptor is servile and unlawful, the more delicate is liberal and may be done on a Sunday.
Similarly, fishing with rod and line is not unlawful, but going out to sea with a fishing-smack and plying the trade in the ordinary working- day way is forbidden. In the same way one who lives by photography should not ply his trade on a Sunday, but it would not be wrong for an amateur to do the same work on that day by way of recreation and amusement.
This part of the precept of keeping the Sunday holy also binds under pain of grave sin. If, however, the matter be light, the doing of a little servile work on a Sunday will be only a venial sin, and none at all if there be good reason for it. According to the common opinion, it would be necessary to work for well over two hours at something which is forbidden in order to commit a grave sin. Still longer time would be required for a mortal sin in doing servile work of a lighter kind, which had for it some sort of excuse on the ground that it helps on the cause of religion and charity. Making rosary beads or scapulars belongs to this category.
Public trading is also forbidden on Sundays, as well as judicial proceedings in the exercise of contentious jurisdiction, and the solemn and public taking of oaths (Can. 1248).
English municipal law goes farther than the law of the Church in its provisions for the due observance of the Lord's Day. Thus not only is Sunday a dies non for the sitting of courts or the meeting of public bodies, but contracts such as are within the ordinary calling of tradesmen, workmen, laborers, or other persons of the same sort, made and completed on Sunday, are void, and abstention from work and even from play is required by a series of statutes.
Although these provisions of the civil authority do not impose an obligation in conscience under pain of sin, yet indirectly they have caused the Sunday to be observed among us with greater strictness than is absolutely required by ecclesiastical law.
As we saw with regard to the hearing of Mass, so in this matter too, if the precept cannot be observed without serious inconvenience, it ceases to bind. And so, work in foundries or in agriculture which cannot be stopped without grave in- convenience and loss may be done on Sundays. Work, too, in the direct service of religion, or necessary works of charity connected with the care and nursing of the sick, or the burying of the dead, are not forbidden. Custom permits of the sweeping of the house and the cooking of meals, and certain other more or less necessary occupations on Sunday. Finally, ecclesiastical authority can, for good reason, dispense in the observance of this law. Not only Bishops, but priests who have the cure of souls, have discretionary power to give dispensations in particular cases. (Pgs. 169-175; Emphasis mine)
Thoughts on the way to Church
"If there were three men such as you, my kingdom would be destroyed" said devil to St. John Vianney. In his classic work The Sermons of the Cure St. John Vianney had some wise words to say in his sermon, 'thoughts on the way to Church:'
"And you, fathers and mothers, what are your dispositions when you come to church, to the Mass? Alas! We must admit it with sorrow that most frequently the fathers and mothers that we see are coming into the church when the priest is already on the altar, or even in the pulpit! Ah, you will tell me, we came as soon as we could. We have other things to do.
Undoubtedly you have other things to do. But I know very well, too, that if you did not leave until Sunday the one hundred and one things in your homes which you should have done on Saturday, and if you had got up a little earlier in the morning, you would have done them all before holy Mass, and you would have arrived at the church before the priest had ascended the altar. It can be the same thing, too, with your children and your servants: if you had not been giving them orders until the very last stroke of the Mass bell, they would have arrived at the church at the beginning. I do not know whether God will receive all these excuses easily; I hardly think so.
We have work to do, you tell me.
Well, my friends, if you were to tell me that you have neither faith, nor love of God, nor the desire to save your poor souls, I would believe you much better. Alas! What can anyone think of all that? .... There is a great deal to lament in what is to be seen of the dispositions of the majority of Christians! A great many seem to come to church only in spite of themselves or, if I dare to put it that way, as if someone were dragging them there. From the house to the church, temporal matters only are discussed.
A group of young girls together will talk about nothing except style, beauty, and all the rest of it; the young men only of games and amusements or of other matters which are more evil. The fathers or the masters of households will chat about their property or business, about buying and selling. The mothers are preoccupied only with their households and their children. No one will go so far as to deny that. Alas! Not a single thought will be given to the happiness they are about to have, not a single reflection on the needs of their poor souls or those of their children or their servants!
They enter the holy temple without respect, without attention, and a great many of them as late as is possible. How many others do not even go to the trouble of coming in at all, but stay outside, in order to find better ways of distracting themselves? The word of God does not trouble their consciences: they look around at those who are coming and going.... Dear God! Are these really the Christians for whom You suffered so much in order to make them happy? And this is all they think of it? ....
With dispositions like that, how many sins must be committed during the services? How many people must commit more sins on Sunday than during all the rest of the week! ....
Listen to what St. Martin has to tell US.... While he was singing the Mass with St. Brice, his disciple, he noticed the latter smiling. After it was all over, he asked him what had made him smile. St. Brice replied: "Father, I saw something extraordinary while we were singing the holy Mass. Behind the altar I saw a devil and he was writing on a huge sheet of parchment the sins which were being committed in the church, and his sheet was rather full before the Mass was finished. So the devil took the sheet of parchment between his teeth and tugged it so hard that he tore it into shreds. That was what made me smile."
What sins, and even mortal sins, we commit during the services by our lack of devotion and recollection! Alas! What has become of those happy times when Christians passed not only the day but even the greater part of the nights in the church, mourning for their sins and singing the praises of God? See, even in the Old Testament, see holy Anna the prophetess, who withdrew into a tribune in order to leave the service of God no more. Look at the holy old man Simeon.
See again Zachary and so many others who passed the greater portion of their lives in the service of the Lord. And note, too, how marvelous and how precious were the graces which God bestowed upon them. To reward Anna, God willed that she should be the very; first to recognize our Lord.
The holy old man Simeon was also the first, after St. Joseph, to have the happiness, the very great happiness, of holding the Savior of the world in his arms. The holy Zachary was chosen to be the father of a child destined to be the ambassador of the Eternal Father in announcing the coming of His Son into the world. What wonderful graces does God not grant to those who make it their duty to come to visit Him in His holy temple as much as they possibly can....
The sanctification of Sunday and Holy Days is a duty and obligation. It's easy to be lukewarm and dismiss either some of the Third Commandment or the whole thing. The world could care less whether we fulfill our obligations. Within the past few years, there has been talk of taxing people every mile they drive on Sunday. If that ever happens, it's nothing more than a punishment for the laxity of obeying God's law.
Distinguishing what is necessary and what isn't necessary work can at times be a tricky decision depending on the circumstances. We could always justify in our heads whether something is necessary when it's really only for our convenience. I think Fr. Thomas Slater gave some good rules to keep in mind when determining those factors. If one is in doubt it is best to consult a priest and ask him.
My suggestions: For those who cannot get to a Mass on Sunday because of extreme distance, just be sure to make an effort to reflect on the readings in the missal for that day, say the rosary, and study either a little of the catechism, Scripture, or some other religious book approved by the Church. For those who have to work on Sundays, try to make an effort to have your boss not require you to work on that day. If they don't allow it and you cannot get another job, be sure to make an effort to either get to Mass, or if not, at least try to get some prayers in that day when you have a break. God must glorified and His day must be remembered. If this Commandment is forgotten, the rest of them follow.