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The Precepts of the Catholic Church says

You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor

This seems quite clear, that working on Holy Days of Obligation is a violation of the precepts of the church. The reason I want to get clarification is that the actions of myself and the Catholics I know seem to ignore this requirement, meaning we are either in violation, or I have missed something.

For example Thursday, Dec. 8th, 2016 - The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Blessed Virgin Mary

PS: I am aware that Holy Days falling on Saturdays or Mondays may be abrogated

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The short answer is “not necessarily.” There can be good reasons to go to work on Sunday or another holy day of obligation. (Note that these reasons do not generally excuse someone from attending Mass on those days, or at least at the vigil Mass the evening before.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses the issue of how to live out Sunday rest (applicable as well to other holy days of obligation), as follows:

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 (no. 2185, emphasis added).

Therefore, if the family greatly needs it (e.g., poor families that need money just to make ends meet), or if one’s profession is to provide an important service (e.g., doctors, nurses, police officers, clergy), then it is permissible to work even on Sunday or Holy Days.

(I will observe that, in the United States in particular, some of the holy days of obligation do not coincide with national holidays. In many, if not most cases, taking those days off from work will be too disruptive. In such a case, it is not a problem to work. That is one reason why in the dioceses of of the United States many solemnities that are traditionally celebrated in mid-week have been transferred to Sunday.)

The Catechism even goes on to specify that those whose profession is to help others live out their Sunday rest may also work on Sunday, for it is an important service:

Sanctifying Sundays and holy days requires a common effort. Every Christian should avoid making unnecessary demands on others that would hinder them from observing the Lord’s Day. Traditional activities (sport, restaurants, etc.), and social necessities (public services, etc.), require some people to work on Sundays, but everyone should still take care to set aside sufficient time for leisure (no. 2187).

Of course, such persons should be careful to set aside time for leisure (for themselves and their employees) at some other moment.

One final observation: for holy days of obligation that fall on Saturday or Monday, what is abrogated (in dioceses of the United States) is not the holy day, but the obligation to attend Mass. (Incidentally, this norm does not apply to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.)

  • To be sure I understand, if a Holy Day falls on a weekday, is not transferred, and I don't work in a necessary services industry, then it would be best to not go to work. But I may go to work if my absence would be too disruptive to my employer? – OrangePeel52 Aug 19 '16 at 14:06
  • @blake6489 A holy day of obligation works like a Sunday, hence Catholics are encouraged to rest on those days as well. In a country like Italy (where I live), that is easy, because all the holy days are also national holidays. In the U.S., there are only a few cases where the holy day is neither a Sunday nor a national holiday: the Immaculate Conception on December 8 or 9, the Assumption on August 15, All Saints on November 1, and—in a few dioceses—Ascension Thursday. It would be best to rest even on those days, but the Church understands if that is not possible. – AthanasiusOfAlex Aug 19 '16 at 14:43
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Just to add another point - if you need to work for some important reason on the holy day of obligation and you're not sure if it would be a sin or not, you can always go to your pastor and ask him for the dispensation. This way you will have peace in your heart that it will not be a sin. It is an acceptable practice in Lithuania.

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St. Bede's commentary on Mark 2:27 ("The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath"), taken from St. Thomas Aquinas Catena Aurea on Mark c. 2 l. 4, explains the rationale of observance of the sabbath day:

For greater is the care to be taken of the health and life of a man, than the keeping of the sabbath. Therefore the sabbath was ordered to be observed in such a way, that, if there were a neccesity, he should not be guilty, who broke the sabbath-day; therefore it was not forbidden to … [do a necessary work] on the sabbath […] the Maccabees, when necessity pressed on them, fought on the sabbath-day. Wherefore, His disciples being hungry, what was not allowed in the law became lawful through their necessity of hunger; as now, if a sick man break a fast, he is not held guilty in any way.

So, if you work not out of necessity on the sabbath (or other holy days of obligation), it is a sin.

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