Question: Is it wrong to shop on Sunday? I find shopping enjoyable, not work. A priest on the radio recently said shopping on Sunday is a mortal sin.
— Kathy Cerroni, via email
Answer: The violation of the Third Commandment can involve grave matter, but of itself, shopping on Sunday is not likely among them unless it is done with a kind of malicious attitude to break the Sunday rest or it keeps us from greater duties such as attending Mass.
The first and most serious obligation for us on Sundays is to attend holy Mass. Scripture, referring to the Third Commandment, says, “There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly” (Lev 23:3).
Hence not only is rest from work required, but so is attending the sacred assembly we call Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (No. 2181).
As for shopping or going to a restaurant, etc., on Sunday, things will vary as to the admissibility or advisability of such practices. Two extremes are to be avoided. On the one hand, a heavy-handed legalism should be rejected. The Catechism says, “The Gospel reports many incidents when Jesus was accused of violating the sabbath law. But Jesus never fails to respect the holiness of this day. He gives this law its authentic and authoritative interpretation: ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.’ With compassion, Christ declares the Sabbath ... is the day of the Lord of mercies and a day to honor God” (No. 2173).
Thus, an excessive scrupulosity, harshness or legalism about what can or cannot be done should be set aside, especially when it becomes an occasion to excoriate others or makes Sundays burdensome. This turns the whole thing into a countersign.
On the other hand, we ought to strive to make Sundays different than other days insofar as possible. We should avoid unnecessary work and stay closer to home and commune with family and parish. We also should remember that, in our modern demands for convenience, we have largely removed a day of rest from the scene. We hurry about to accomplish many things on Sunday and expect everything should be open and available. In justice we should remember that this ultimately requires many people to work on Sundays, and this burden usually falls on the poorer among us. So while avoiding harsh legalism, we also should make greater efforts than is common today to preserve Sunday for rest, worship, family and simple pleasures. We should seek this not only for ourselves but for others as well, especially the poor.
Singing the Exsultet
Question: Shouldn’t the Exsultet be sung by a member of the clergy? In our parish, the choir sings a version of it.
— Name withheld, Chicago
Answer: The Exsultet is a lengthy chant sung at the Easter Vigil when the paschal candle has been lit and brought into the sanctuary. Ideally a member of the clergy should sing it. However, there are provisions for a nonordained person to sing it, and there are certain lines that are omitted, if that is the case. The chant is complex, and not all clergy can sing it well. So, at times, it is better if a skilled singer chants it.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.