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Is doing homework on the sabbath a sin

Homework on Sundays

One of the Ten Commandments is to keep the Sabbath day holy. The Catholic Church teaches that this means first and foremost going to Mass if possible. Another characteristic of keeping the Sabbath day holy involves resting from work.

So if you’re in school, is it okay to do homework on Sundays?

The Catechism and Work on Sundays

What the Obligation Is

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. 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.

CCC 2185

Let’s unpack this.

  • We should not engage in activities that make it difficult to:
    • Worship
    • Experience the joy of Sunday
    • Perform works of mercy
    • Appropriately experience rest of mind and Body
    • Family needs (for example, a sick child)
    • Important social service (this would only excuse someone from the obligation if it were impossible to do that service at any other time–for example, helping evacuation when a hurricane is coming)

    Our Obligations to Others

    The Catechism also teaches that we have an obligation to others on Sundays. We should not engage in behaviors that require others to work unnecessarily. No matter how much you enjoy shopping, it is better to do this another day of the week if possible so that others might be scheduled to work on days other than Sunday.

    Another Way to Understand Work on Sunday

    Sometimes the obligation to avoid work on Sunday is expressed as a prohibition of servile labor. This would be labors a servant would do and could include laundry, working at a job, or other things. Again, there could be exceptions to this. If you need to do laundry every day to serve your family, you could also do laundry on Sundays. If you are so poor that you can’t afford to take Sundays off for your job, you may also work on Sundays. These are not the ideal of how to live Sunday rest, but the Church recognizes that for some people, the ideal is not possible.

    One way to live this out would be avoiding unnecessary things that you find burdensome. If you hate doing a particular chore, avoid doing it on Sundays. For example, if you hate cooking, you might make enough food throughout the week to eat leftovers on Sundays instead of cooking. If you enjoy sorting clothes, perhaps doing laundry on Sunday would not feel like servile labor to you.

    Applying this to Homework

    Now, what does this mean when we apply this to homework?

    Our Obligations to Sunday

    Basically, doing homework on Sunday is a sin if it gets in the way of going to Mass or other important obligations. If it prevents you from serving others in the community or in your family, this is also a problem. Just like with other work, if it is impossible for you to avoid doing it on Sundays, that is permissible, although not ideal. For example, some students working in science labs cannot avoid going into the lab on Sundays due to the time-sensitive nature of certain experiments. A student with a heavy workload might not be able to avoid doing homework on Sundays. Even in these cases, however, going to Mass for one hour should be doable, and doing homework is not an excuse to skip Mass.

    Our Obligations to Others

    Most of the time, homework is an individual thing and doesn’t affect our obligations to avoid making others work on Sundays. However, if you want to have a study group, it would be better to do so on a day other than Sunday, if possible. Sometimes this is not possible due to the many other things students must do throughout the week. It is essential, however, to make sure that the time the study group is scheduled for does not make you miss Mass. Most parishes have several Mass times over the weekend, so making time for Mass is usually not a problem when it comes to scheduling study sessions.

    Servile Labor

    Another factor to consider when deciding whether homework is appropriate on Sundays is your attitude towards homework. Homework in itself does not count as servile labor, but disliking it might make it feel like a difficult and frustrating task that deprives you of the joy you could experience on Sundays. If you absolutely hate doing math but enjoy reading books for your literature classes, do math on Saturday and read on Sunday. In this case, math might feel burdensome but reading might feel like a way of enjoying Sunday. If you find math interesting, however, and enjoy the logic of solving problems, then math homework might not feel like work.

    To go back to the study group idea, if people enjoy the study group, it might not feel like work. In that case it could be an example of serving the good of the community of students, then the obligation to avoid making others do unnecessary work does not apply.

    Regardless of how much you enjoy a particular subject, you should do your best to get any burdensome homework out of the way before Sunday. Furthermore, you should not do so much homework on Sundays that you neglect obligations towards God, towards your family, or towards the community.

    Ask the Pastors

    Questions from real people answered by experienced pastors

    Should I do school work on Sunday?

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    Question: The commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy has more of a legal sound to it than the other commandments. Since Jesus abolished the law (in the sense that we don’t have to make x number of sacrifices in such and such a fashion, etc., anymore), do we still need to do absolutely no work on the Sabbath? If I do school work, for example, on Sunday, is that wrong?

    Answer: It is not wrong to do work on Sunday if your conscience is not condemning you for violating the Sabbath. Paul says in Romans 14:5-6, in regard to matters upon which Christians disagree that are individual concerns of conscience, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord.” He further argues, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith” (14:13,15,22).

    The ten commandments are all repeated in the New Testament except for the Sabbath command. It is referred to, of course, but we are never told in the epistles to observe it. However, many in the church have chosen to observe the Sabbath on Sunday, the commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection and the day the church chose to meet. The Sabbath (Sabbath means ‘seventh’) day is Saturday, but the church has hallowed Sunday instead. Because we are not under the law of Moses, we are not obligated to keep Sunday as the Sabbath. However, as Paul says, if your conscience tells you that it is wrong to work on the Sabbath (Sunday) you must obey your conscience. If your conscience does not condemn you, you are still responsible for observing the Sabbath principle of trusting God to provide for you when you take time to care for yourself with rest. You may do this some every day, or you may take a day (any day) during the week to do this. There is no New Testament legislation that tells you how you must observe it.

    Is working on Sunday a sin?

    Working on Sunday is definitely not a sin. Working on Sunday is not prohibited in the Bible. The idea that Christians should not be working on Sunday comes from a misunderstanding of Old Testament Sabbath-keeping for the Israelites and its relation to Sunday worship for Christians. According to Exodus 20:8–11, the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week on which the Israelites were to rest in remembrance that God created the universe in six days and then “rested” on the seventh day. “Keeping the Sabbath holy” was defined as not working on the Sabbath.

    When God provided manna in the desert during the Exodus wanderings, He commanded that the manna was to be gathered for six days only with enough gathered on the sixth day to feed the people during the Sabbath rest. Gathering the manna was considered to be work, just as planting and harvesting was considered work. Exodus 31:14–16 and 35:2 prescribed death for anyone who worked on the Sabbath. Buying and selling on the Sabbath day was also considered a desecration of the Sabbath (Nehemiah 13:15–17). Clearly, keeping the Sabbath day “holy” required the cessation of all work for the Israelites.

    The Sabbath day was established so the Israelites would rest from their labors, only to begin again after a one-day rest. Why, then, do Christians not have to observe the same law? The key to understanding this is to see that the various elements of the Sabbath symbolized the coming of the Messiah, who would fulfill the Law by providing a permanent—as opposed to a one-day—rest for His people. With the establishment of the Old Testament Law, the Jews were constantly “laboring” to make themselves acceptable to God. Their labors included trying to obey all the commandments of the ceremonial law, the temple law, and the sacrificial law. Of course, they couldn’t possibly keep all those laws, so God provided an array of sin offerings and sacrifices so they could come to Him for forgiveness and restore fellowship with Him, but only temporarily.

    Just as they began their physical labors after a one-day rest, so, too, did they have to continue to offer sacrifices. Hebrews 10:1 tells us that the law “can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” But these sacrifices were offered in anticipation of the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross, who “after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). Jesus rested after performing the ultimate sacrifice—He ceased from His labor of atonement because there was nothing more to be done, ever. Because of what He did, we no longer have to “labor” in Law-keeping in order to be justified in the sight of God, and this includes the observance of the Sabbath. Jesus was sent so that we might rest in God and in what He has provided.

    By saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), Jesus was restating the principle that the Sabbath rest was instituted to relieve man of his labors, just as Jesus came to relieve us of our attempting to achieve salvation by our works. We no longer rest for only one day, but forever cease our laboring to attain God’s favor. Jesus is our rest from works now, just as He is the door to heaven, where we will rest in Him forever. There is no other Sabbath rest besides Jesus. He alone satisfies the requirements of the Law, and He alone provides the sacrifice that atones for sin. He is God’s plan for us to cease from the labor of our own works.

    In Colossians 2:16–17 the apostle Paul declares, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” We are no longer commanded to cease working on the Sabbath, nor is Sunday now the “Christian Sabbath.” Although many Christians prefer to take Sunday off and spend at least part of it in corporate worship, working on Sunday is not sin. Many Christians, such as doctors and nurses, have no choice but to work on Sunday and, as a society, we should be very grateful to them. But Christians who work on Sunday should do so with the understanding that worship is not limited to any one day of the week but is to be an ongoing part of their lives.