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I work for a large, Fortune 500 company as a software developer. One of the pinch points is that we need to be 'on call' for one week at a time on a rotation and this might include Sundays.

We are not paid extra for being on call and the work can be done remotely at home. There is not always work to be done while 'on call'; it's just if there is a severity 2 bug then you will need to be available to investigate the bug. I still attend mass on those days. It's rare that this occurs on Sundays, because most of our customers do not work on Sundays.

It would be very inconvenient to change my rotation to exclude Sundays and given that it's rare to be called on Sundays, I'm wondering if this is really an issue from a Catholic perspective?

We are not called on Sundays for just any type of bug, but bugs just for things which may take the system down or pose massive security threats.


Edit: For clarity, the software I work on is not being used to support hospitals or emergency services, it's purely for commercial purposes.

I have talked to my local priest and he did mention that missing mass and working on a Sunday are two separate concerns as well. He did mention that I could attend a Vigil mass on Saturdays if I cannot attend on a Sunday. He said working on every Sunday is not acceptable but it's not the case for me, it's every 6 weeks at max.

I talked to my HR department and they said there is no legal way out of working on Sundays. The local laws apply and the local laws are more in support of employers in this situation and they also mentioned the contract I signed.

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    You're a software engineer? It wouldn't seem life-and-death necessary that the bug be addressed immediately on Sundays. Necessary work that can be done on Sundays is work like a doctor saving someone's life, firefighters putting out a fire (that can't wait until Monday!), etc.
    – Geremia
    Oct 30, 2023 at 1:31
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    @Geremia, that really depends on the case. Flappy bird goes down; not an emergency. Navigation systems for that fire truck or communications for those doctors go down: that's a bit different!
    – Josiah
    Oct 30, 2023 at 8:58
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    @Geremia: I work in software for retailers. If our software goes down, stores do not get replenished. Usually, nobody dies from that, but the disruptions are still very expensive for our customers. And yes, we do have 24/7 SLAs and developers on standby around the clock. Oct 30, 2023 at 10:04
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    @Geremia I'm guessing you don't work in Software. Plus, necessary in terms of Sunday doesn't mean strictly life and death necessary only.
    – eques
    Oct 30, 2023 at 12:18
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    @Geremia It's rare for a software problem to literally be a matter of life and death, though it does happen in cases of infrastructure systems, medical equipment, air traffic control systems, nuclear reactors, and other high-stakes industries. But it's not a matter of literal life and death versus unimportant. A software outage can lead to enormous financial losses, causing businesses to downsize or shut down entirely: workers lose their incomes, bankruptcies, and home foreclosures result. If I knew a problem I could fix would cause a small customer to lose a lot of money, I would try to help.
    – barbecue
    Oct 31, 2023 at 3:01

6 Answers 6

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Also a software engineer and Catholic here.

One thing I've said to my own employer is that I won't work on Sundays. I'm blessed in that I don't have your on-call obligations, of course!

The Mass that takes place the evening before is known as a "Vigil Mass". A Vigil Mass fulfills any obligations that would apply on the following day.

So, if your parish has a Mass on Saturday evening, you can go to that one and you've fulfilled your Sunday obligation.

Regarding working on Sunday, my view is that, if possible, you should arrange a call with your manager and discuss the possibility of different working hours that free you to rest on the Lord's day.

You should do this, because even if they say no, you have now fulfilled a moral obligation. You have made the effort to make the Lord's day holy; if the world and your work restrains you from that, and you've made all reasonable efforts to change this, the blame will not fall upon your shoulders.

I'm not a priest of course; as much as I love SE, I encourage all lay Catholics to consult their priest and the Catechism first and foremost for guidance over the advice of strangers.

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    However, being on call is not the same as working in general on Sundays. The latter would be planned, ongoing etc. Your points above make more sense in the latter case than the former.
    – eques
    Oct 30, 2023 at 12:20
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    That's a fair point. The above is definitely more applicable for actually working on a Sunday. Though I might argue that being on call is, in and of itself, obstructive to the purposes and nature of the Lord's Day. I've only been on call a few times in my life but it certainly isn't conducive to rest, heh. And issues potentially come up when OP does eventually get called. Oct 30, 2023 at 13:11
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    I like your answer; just want to highlight the personal circumstances factor which informs a moral situation that in turn contributes as a criteria for our moral decisions. Examples: family obligation to provide income when this is the only job available at the moment, this job provides work-at-home flexibility allowing us to care for our young children, the knowledge of the estimated frequency of actually having to work on due to the on-call status, etc. So if we cannot quit this job, have made reasonable effort, and have consulted a priest, I would say we are not in the wrong. Oct 30, 2023 at 14:29
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    100% agree with you @GratefulDisciple. We're all in different boats on the same stormy sea. In this modern era where the Sunday obligation isn't taken seriously at a societal level, it's far harder for us to secure that time, and the Lord certainly knows and understands this. Oct 30, 2023 at 15:03
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    @ConnieMnemonic It somewhat depends on the organization but on call doesn't guarantee having to work and in many cases if on call frequently means each rotation you will have to work, the organization has some degree of disorganization which should be fixed or avoided (i.e by leaving). Being on call apart from the actual responding shouldn't actually be that disruptive to rest since you generally need to be contactable but otherwise can do what else you would like.
    – eques
    Oct 30, 2023 at 15:55
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It is an issue, but the Catechism does allow for it:

2188. If a country's legislation or other reasons require work on Sunday, the day should nevertheless be lived as the day of our deliverance which lets us share in this "festal gathering," this "assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven."125

125 Heb 12:22–23 — But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.

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    I did think about mentioning vigil masses and the like and how OP might organise his life, but it wasn't asked for. Oct 30, 2023 at 11:53
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    I'd be tempted to close the question as seeking pastoral advice if this wasn't in the Catechism. I'm in the same boat work-wise, software engineer at a fortune 500 company made to work an on-call rotation. Somehow, in 20 years (where I average one or two callouts each rotation), I can recall only once been called during Mass - and that was during Our Lady of Guadalupe Mass. So my unsolicited advice, echoing Padre Pio, Pray, hope and don't pick up the phone when work calls during Mass.
    – Peter Turner
    Oct 30, 2023 at 13:46
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There are two separate issues here: working on Sunday and attending Mass on those specific Sundays where you are on call; I'll only address the latter.

For Mass, I suggest that you familiarize yourself with the Mass schedules of the various local parishes and when you are on call, attend the earliest practical Mass, so that if a Sev2 bug comes up later in the day you will not lose your chance to attend Mass that day. (There are other precautions you can take, like sitting close to the exit so you can dip out unobtrusively if need be, putting your phone on vibrate, and possibly even selecting your on-call church for the nearby availability of WiFi for your laptop.) I assume the priest who celebrates the earliest Mass in the neighborhood is used to hosting "attendees of convenience".

Your own priest may have other suggestions, such as attending a midweek Mass before or after you are on call. (Several commenters have also suggested Saturday evening vigil Mass.)

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    +1, and Saturday evening vigil masses, of course. Oct 30, 2023 at 10:05
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    Saturday evening vigil masses are the way to go here, almost certainly. A midweek mass does not fulfil the Sunday obligation and I don't know many ways the Sunday obligation can be abrogated for OP. Oct 30, 2023 at 11:45
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Prümmer, O.P., Manuale Theologiæ Moralis II (14ᵃ ed.) (1955), p. 406 (§496) (my emphases):

I. By reason of necessity of oneself or of another, whether this [necessity] be corporal or spiritual, [the following] are excused [from the precept to refrain from prohibited works on holy days]:
a) farmers who because of a past or imminent storm need to immediately pick their corn or fruit. […]
[…]
e) workers who need to watch over machines in large factories; repairers of bridges, railroads, etc., if there is danger in delaying. […]


I. Ratione necessitatis propriæ aut alienæ, sive hæc sit corporis sive sit spiritus, excusantur:
a) agricolae, qui ob praeteritam vel imminentem pluviam statim colligere debent segetes aut fructus. […]
[…]
e) operarii, qui vigilare debent in magnis fabricis super machinas; restauratores pontium, viæ ferreæ etc., si periculum est in mora. […]

Thus, will your entire software "machine" halt if you don't address the bug immediately? Is there a "storm" of bugs that will cause an immanent danger to your computer system? If not, then you'd need to seek a dispensation to perform such work on Sundays; speak with your priest.


The Third Commandment has two parts:

  1. Hearing Mass on holy days (positive precept)
  2. Refraining from prohibited works (negative precept).

Forensic/commercial works (opera forensia) such as buying and selling are prohibited.

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  • "will your entire software "machine" halt if you don't address the bug immediately" that strictness is not quite implied by your source.
    – eques
    Nov 1, 2023 at 14:22
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    While I think your interpretation is perhaps a little strict, I adore the way you've approached this. I can definitely see OPs situation as "trouble has come upon me and I must act to protect my livelihood". Nov 1, 2023 at 15:21
  • @eques In fuller context, yes. I added: "…repairers of bridges, railroads, etc., if there is danger in delaying."
    – Geremia
    Nov 1, 2023 at 21:42
  • Again, I will repeat my comment from above "I'm guessing you don't work in software" because your speculations from your source don't match how software works in reality. Engineers are too expensive to be on call just for giggles; engineers are on call because something critical may go wrong. The challenge is that you may not know how severe a particular interruption is until it occurs and someone has an opportunity to examine it.
    – eques
    Nov 2, 2023 at 0:05
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    @eques How doesn't that fall under "workers who need to watch over machines in large factories"?
    – Geremia
    Nov 2, 2023 at 23:46
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This is not a Catholic answer, but a scriptural answer.

[Jesus] said to them, "Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?" (Luke 4:5)

23One Sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24And the Pharisees were saying to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" 25And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?" 27And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:23-27)

Frequently skipping meals, whether physical meals or spiritual meals (i.e. Mass), is not healthy... but God Himself acknowledges that sometimes one does what one must.

You are asking about a situation which might happen infrequently... or never. IMNSHO, anyone that would make a law saying "you must attend Mass according to such-and-such criteria", or saying that it is sinful to miss Mass due to circumstances not entirely in your control, is guilty of the same Legalism as the Pharisees, which Christ Himself spoke against. If that describes your church leaders, perhaps you would do well to take a close look at Scripture and see how your church's teachings compare to the teachings of God.

Indeed, I would be skeptical of any claims that one must attend Mass (to be Saved), period. Certainly it is better to attend Mass, but to paraphrase Jesus, 'Mass was made for man, not man for Mass'.

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There are many Catholic churches, for instance, Basilica of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, Washington which offer Live TV Mass service. It is a blessing for those who are not able to attend the church on a Sunday. Though the practice developed as a COVID- related dispensation, it is still in vogue.

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    Watching Mass on TV does not fulfill obligation.
    – eques
    Oct 31, 2023 at 18:03

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