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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Canon Law

On the ethical value of Sunday rest

Tue, 13 Mar 2012 11:35:00 +0000 Published in

It is worth asking whether Sunday rest is an important value in society or not; and, if it is not, whether it could yield to other imperatives such as economic ones or simply consumption. Is Sunday rest not linked to religion and, therefore, should not everyone be allowed to rest as and when they want?

In this sense, there are certain presuppositions for an open discussion on Sunday, in a non-confessional society that respects human values and therefore also religious values.

First of all, it should be noted that work is a necessary good for man, but not absolutely everything can be subordinated to it; rest is also a human good to which everyone has a right. Those societies that have imposed work without allowing rest are those that have subjected people, in one way or another, to the slavery of work. And this is not only in the forms that were abolished in the 19th century or in the concentration camps of totalitarian states. The slavery of work is still present in a Economics centered on profit; on profit, unfortunately, not of all; and, that, at the cost of the exploitation of many.

In the second place, the opening of man to the realities of the spirit, transcendence and the cult of God, is not only nor in the first place a question of religion or religions, but it is part of human existence. Every man can arrive with his reason to the existence of a superior being, with whom he must count on if he wants his life to be realistic and fulfilled.

Third, the biblical tradition places great value on weekly rest as a guarantee of a truly human life: guarantee that man will not self-destruct by working, because work is not everything and is not the first thing, even if it is very important; guarantee that he will devote time to others, starting with his family; guarantee of openness to spiritual values, which constitute him essentially, because man is not a collection of molecules or instincts, and when he reflects on himself he realizes this; guarantee also that society or the State will not exploit him or employ him as a pure means of production. Weekly rest is a way of protecting the weakest.

Fourth, Christianity, while always defending Sunday, has played an important role in the promotion of human rights. The weekly rest is a right implied in the right to a dignified life and also in the human right to religious freedom, without overlooking the fact that it protects, as we are seeing, other human rights.

Some will argue, perhaps, that we are moving away from topic, because it is not about Christians, but about everyone. This is so, and, for this very reason, in a society with Christian roots and a Christian majority, as is the case in much of the Western world, it is also logical and just that a time be respected for Christians to be able to exercise Christian worship.

Certainly, the fact that for them Sunday worship is a duty of conscience does not give them the right to oblige others. But let us insist that the weekly rest does not concern only Christians or, in a broader sense, believers; it is a right of persons, which derives from human nature, and which, therefore, must be protected and respected.

Note that it is not a matter of opposing "economic well-being" (or the possible increase in jobs work) to the "sanctification of feasts". It is a matter of underlining that economic well-being (when not simply greater consumerism, which in itself does not improve the economic status ) must not jeopardize the dignity of workers, the care of their families, their right to cultivate spiritual values, all of which makes weekly rest necessary. Therefore, in order to alleviate the economic crisis, it is better to look for other means that respect this rest, and thus we all win, including the Economics at the service of man.

In short, Sunday rest should be considered in the context of human rights: specifically, the right to a dignified life (which implies both work and rest) and, derivatively, the right to religious freedom, which is also a human right. This, by the way, shows that biblical religion has a very reasonable foundation and promotes what is good for all.

In his Apostolic Letter Dies Domini ( May 31, 1998), John Paul II pointed out the "obligation to strive to ensure that everyone can enjoy the freedom, rest and relaxation that are necessary for human dignity, with the corresponding religious, family, cultural and interpersonal demands, which can hardly be satisfied if there is not at least one day of rest per week in which to enjoy together the possibility of rest and celebration. At the same time, he called for the promotion of solidarity with those who have no access to work.

He went on to say: "Through Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their right dimension: the material things we worry about give way to the values of the spirit; the people we live with recover, at meeting and in the most serene dialogue, their true face. The very beauties of nature - often impaired by a logic of domination that turns against man - can be discovered and deeply enjoyed".

He added that this also makes it easier for man to rediscover the primacy of God and to dedicate time to prayer and worship in full harmony with the Gospel. In this context, Sunday and holiday rest underlines, for believers and non-believers alike, "the primacy and dignity of the person in relation to the demands of social and economic life".

Having said this, John Paul II concluded that "it is natural for Christians to see to it that, even in the special circumstances of our time, civil legislation takes into account their duty to keep Sunday holy". Sunday is certainly the Lord's day, but it is also the day of man (cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, May 31, 1998, nn. 65-68).

In the same vein, Benedict XVI has pointed out to all that Sunday protects reason and freedom. What we Christians celebrate is that "thanks to the Risen One, it is definitively shown that reason is stronger than irrationality, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death"(Homily at the Easter Vigil, April 23, 2011). In fact, we do not impose an interpretation of life; we only propose it, also with valid arguments for reason and ethics.