Is Dining Out on Sunday Sinful?

Bulletin Q&A article published 9-11-22:

Is it a sin to go out to a restaurant for a meal on Sunday?

The Third Commandment is: “Remember the Sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested.That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

But how strictly do we define work? The Pharisees used this commandment to attack Jesus for performing healings on the Sabbath. And when Jenni and I visited the Holy Land for our 25th anniversary, I was surprised to find that one of the elevators at our hotel was designated as the Shabbat elevator. On Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, this elevator stopped at every floor whether people were getting on or off. For orthodox Jews, pushing the elevator button was considered to be work, and this elevator allowed them to move up and down to their rooms without “doing work”. We currently do not believe that healing the sick and riding in elevators are actions that interfere with keeping the Sabbath holy. But it is good to stop and reflect on our actions to make sure we haven’t become a little too lenient regarding our definition of work.

The heart of today’s question, however, does not refer to doing work ourselves. It centers on whether our actions interfere with someone else’s ability to keep the Sabbath holy. The full text of the commandment—it is actually the longest commandment—indicates that the Israelites were not to require even their slaves to work on the Sabbath. Does going to a restaurant on Sunday prevent the cooks and the wait staff at the restaurant from keeping the day holy? This same question could also apply to many other activities such as shopping or watching a professional football game. Almost anything we do on Sunday, other than sitting at home, requires someone else to do work. The question might be whether they would still have to work even if we didn’t participate.

The Catechism gives consideration to this subject, but not a definitive answer. “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” (CCC#2187). The implication is that it is necessary for some people to work at restaurants on Sunday, and this is acceptable as long as they still have time for leisure and strive to keep the day holy. The good news is that with Mass times on Saturday evenings and some even on Sunday evenings, those working on Sunday are still able to attend Holy Mass.

So, I do not think that going out to a restaurant on Sunday is a sinful action, but admit that it may be a gray area. If you do, tip your server generously. They may depend on their job for their livelihood and your actions might help to sustain them. The Catechism states: “Those Christians who have leisure should be mindful of their brethren who have the same needs and the same rights, yet cannot rest from work because of poverty and misery” (CCC#2186).

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