Bartolomé Esteban Murillo "The Holy Family with a Little Bird" (modified) c.1650

In Me You Shall Find Rest: The Three Rests of Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation

“Take up My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls” (Matthew 11:29).

We have previously covered the importance of observing Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation by the two-fold precept of attending Holy Mass and refraining from servile works. Saint Thomas Aquinas also asserts that on such days the faithful have an obligation to hear sermons and engage in pious works. There are various ways we can honor these days beyond doing the minimum (e.g., reading the Sunday Mass Propers, studying the Holy Catholic Faith, praying more, engaging in true leisure, and more).[1]

Using St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catechetical Instructions as our guide, there are three primary things from which we must abstain on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation: servile works, sin, and idleness.


Abstain from Servile Works

The Angelic Doctor writes: 

Avoidance of Servile Work. “Neither do ye any work; sanctify the Sabbath day.” And so also it is said in the Law: “You shall do no servile work therein.” Now, servile work is bodily work; whereas free work (i.e., non-servile work) is done by the mind, for instance, the exercise of the intellect and such like. And one cannot be servilely bound to do this kind of work.

The prohibition of servile works – and four principal exceptions – are covered in more detail in a prior article on the topic. Suffice to say, resting from housework and from employment is one of the three rests we must generally observe on Sundays and Holy Days.


Abstain from Sin

While we must always abstain from sin, we have a greater obligation to avoid sin on days mandating a sabbatical rest. Saint Thomas writes: 

Avoidance of Sin and Negligence on the Sabbath. Another thing to be avoided on the Sabbath is sin: “Take heed to your souls and carry no burdens on the Sabbath day.” This weight and burden on the soul is sin: “My iniquities as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me.” Now, sin is a servile work because “whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” Therefore, when it is said, “You shall do no servile work therein,” it can be understood of sin. Thus, one violates this commandment as often as one commits sin on the Sabbath; and so both by working and by sin God is offended. “The Sabbaths and other festivals I will not abide.” And why? “Because your assemblies are wicked. My soul hateth your new moon and your solemnities; they are become troublesome to me.”

The next time you are tempted to sin, understand that by giving in to the temptation on a Sunday or Holy Day you not only defile your own soul but also defile the Sunday or Holy Day. 


Abstain from Idleness and Sloth

True rest is not found in idleness. The Christian does not rest from servile works merely to sit at home and wait for the day to pass so he may work again. The Sabbath rest is a means not only for us to recharge but also – and more so – for us to render fitting worship and honor to God. It is a time for us to contemplate the divine and for us to engage in prayer and apostolic works. Idleness is not rest; and we must reject vain idleness on the Sundays and Holy Days, as St. Thomas next teaches:

Another thing to avoid on the Sabbath is idleness: “For idleness hath taught much evil.” St. Jerome says: “Always do some good work, and the devil will always find you occupied.” Hence, it is not good for one to keep only the principal feasts, if on the others one would remain idle. “The King’s honour loveth judgment,” that is to say, discretion. Wherefore, we read that certain of the Jews were in hiding, and their enemies fell upon them; but they, believing that they were not able to defend themselves on the Sabbath, were overcome and killed. The same thing happens to many who are idle on the feast days: “The enemies have seen her and have mocked at her Sabbaths.” But all such should do as those Jews did, of whom it is said: “Whosoever shall come up against us to fight on the Sabbath day, we will fight against him.”

The Three Rests of Sunday and Holy Days

St. Thomas goes on to state that on Sundays and Holy Days we are obliged to occupy these days in three ways: assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, performing works of piety, and hearing sermons. Yet, to sufficiently contemplate the Sunday or Holy Day and to observe both the letter and the spirit of the law, the soul must be at rest. Saint Thomas concludes by summarizing the three rests in the following terms:

The first is the rest from the turmoil of sin: “But the wicked are like the raging sea which cannot rest.” The second rest is from the passions of the flesh, because “the flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh.” The third is rest from the occupations of the world: “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and art troubled about many things.”

The Joy of Sunday and Holy Day Rest

To love Jesus is our life and our rest. On Sundays and Holy Days, we should hide ourselves in the Sacred Heart that we might be overwhelmed by the Love of God, that we might thirst for Him. We must pray in such a way that we are obsessed by thoughts and affections of Jesus, especially as we picture ourselves with Him in Heaven. We must imagine ourselves walking around with Him with an eager and excited heart. 

We must – just like Mary instead of Martha – care for Him so much during this time that we become so enraptured that we forget to eat, that we fast unintentionally, for such a love is necessary in these times and in the times to come. Truly, the soul at rest on Sundays and Holy Days, is at true rest with the One Who is truly meek and humble of heart (cf., Matthew 11:29). And in His heart alone we find true and lasting rest. We do not approach Sunday and Holy Day rest as the Pharisees or the Amish – we approach it as true disciples who find in it the rest we need for our wayward lives.

Please join me in praying to St. Joseph for the Observance of Sundays and Feast Days.

[1] For ideas see the previous article

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