RE: Is this a sin against the Third commandment or not?

This was asked in the ‘Ask an Apologist forum’ see link above. The substance of the question was:

He has a vegatable garden on my land which he gardens on Saturday and Sunday. He also mows our lawn. Is this a sin against the Third commandment?

The answer was in substance that the activity could be recreational for the person and not a sin, but that the heavier work should be done on Saturday.

Unless there is something I do not know about, this answer is flawed, as it goes against the restriction that ‘servile work’ not be done on Sunday. What is servile work? It is work that a common laborer would do. And this would include gardening or farming.

Of course there are always excuses made for necessities and so forth – that is not the question here, there is no necessity or emergency.

The reason given that it is allowed was ‘can be recreational for some’ but this is a flawed reasoning, as it is ‘servile work’ and servile work is not determined by the motivations of the person doing the work, but the work itself.

‘Mowing a lawn’ is the clearest part of this that is manual labor, or servile work. One does not mow one’s lawn or anyone else’s on a Sunday. Neither does one garden, one may keep a garden for pleasure but it is basically servile labor to care for it however pleasant.

Now I can think of reasons one would want an elderly person to have a routine of exercise for health or whatnot, and the difficulties changing a person’s habits – that is that – this is something different. We shouldn’t presume difficulties that are not necessarily there or cannot in fact be overcome by simple changes. :smiley:

All things being equal, given the information given – the person should not be doing what he is doing on a Sunday, mowing and gardening, as it is the Lord’s day, a day of rest and devoted for contemplation of the Lord and peaceful actions, not servile labor or profane focus. :slight_smile:

Honestly I wanted to discuss this more later and talk about all the good benefits of observing Sunday, but the question came up before I had all my papers and sources at hand which is the main reason why I put a qualifier ‘unless there is something I do not know about’ in there.

The simple answer is no. Although, at the very very least, one could say that the answer is unknown given the information presented (whether the act noted is sinful).

One obvious point of contention is that the third commandment refers to the 7th day, or sabbath, which in our current reckoning is Saturday. In that respect, what happens on Sunday is irrelevant…right?

“Servile work” is at present a rather uncommon term that originally referred to unnecessary and, therefore, sinful physical activities that a Catholic might engage in on a Sunday, in violation of the Third Commandment to “Keep holy the Lord’s day"–at least, according to earlier understandings of sinful activities, the third commandment, and so on. It’s not a term one comes across frequently.

I think the bigger question regarding " He has a vegatable garden on my land which he gardens on Saturday and Sunday. He also mows our lawn" is:

So what?


Saturday was originally the Sabbath, but Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. Sunday is the “New Sabbath”. When Christians refer to the Sabbath, we mean Sunday. When Jews refer to the Sabbath, they mean Saturday.

Read what Jimmy has to say about it. Things have changed from the old law to the new mostly because our lives have changed. How you approach “servile” work depends upon your situation in life. The spirit of the law is that you worship appropriately and you take some rest.

Well, reading a little further – I can’t say I’ve caught up to where I wanted to be yet, I have read the following:

‘The Catholic Answer Book’ by Peter M.J Stravinskas says: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass; they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body” (Canon 1247) It is important to note that Canon Law is not a textbook in moral theology; therefore, the stipulation of the penalty of sin is not part of the language. Standard works of moral theology, however, do attach the penalty of sin to this omission, which violates the Third commandment. It should also be observed that the Code repeats the traditional prohibition against what used to be called “servile work”.

Now, simply not using the terminology “servile work” does not really mean anything has changed morally here, it is simply a change in terminology in the Canon Law, not tradition AFAIK – though there may easily be statements from the Vatican offices that clarify this I am unaware of as yet. :slight_smile: The intent however is a slight change in focus from what is ‘servile work’ to ’ those labors and business concerns. . . which impedes… proper relaxation of mind and body’ etc.

With the ‘mind’ part in there, this would in fact broaden from servile work to some of the white collar labors previously in the letter of the law perhaps some might see as permitted, but which clearly strained the peace of the soul during the Sunday – while perhaps allowing slightly more physical activities as long as it was not at all straining or work. This is all only inference I haven’t read any declarations on the matter which probably have come out sometime or another.

But we are to think of the spirit of the matter here which is basically: Sunday is a day for peaceful contemplation of the Lord, and no physical straining work with only the usual exceptions, of course including real necessity (not created necessity).

Mowing the lawn is generally work, so is gardening, and a bad example even when for one person with a riding mower and only a brief patch of lawn. Now if you like the above person who has clearly missed the point, don’t consider the spirit of how you are to be and dedicate Sunday as the Lord’s day, you fiddle around with loopholes to arrange the day as you like – but if you consider the spirit of the thing, and the good example you are to provide – you know you’re not to be as active as during the week. In fact you should clearly live Sunday at a different pace than the rest of the week, performing different activities, even if perhaps they are permitted because it is a day of -rest- for -the Lord-.

That is the spirit of it.

I think it’s fine to continue to use the servile work standard here, with Canon Law giving a clearer eye to the intent or spirit of the prohibition. Mowing the lawn takes work. Gardening takes manual labor.

Now a pastor can dispense a person from the Sunday obligation for good and serious reasons – He cannot just casually do it, that can be sinful.

So perhaps a dispensation was being given in the above link, though it wasn’t made clear. I think it should’ve made clear if that was the case because the responses there aren’t just for the person and people are apt to take them as standards. :slight_smile:

And a standard of mowing the lawn and gardening on Sunday instead of resting and contemplating the Lord is bad.

“And a standard of mowing the lawn and gardening on Sunday instead of resting and contemplating the Lord is bad.”

Not necessarily. As the Canon you cite states: “they are also to abstain from those labors and business concerns which impede the worship to be rendered to God, the joy which is proper to the Lord’s day, or the proper relaxation of mind and body” (Canon 1247)

For some, mowing the lawn and gardening may be done in a spirit of worship (think of Benedictine ora et labora–prayer and work), may bring joy to the person, and/or may be proper relaxation of mind and body. That’s something each individual would have to determine.


See you said ‘et labora’ which means labor or work, precisely what is not supposed to be part of it. :slight_smile: Can’t get around it, that is what it is. Sure one can prayerfully ‘work’ but that’s not what one is supposed to do on Sunday. On Sunday one prayerfully -rests-.

didn’t the guy work all week the only time he has to do gardening and yard work is on the week-ends. As long as he goes to Mass and sets aside some prayerful time on Sunday.

Actually, no: “et” means “and.”

We use it in English, think et cetera (etc.) which means “and others” (not “or others”). Similarly et alii (et. al.).


I’m not too sure about the “servile labor” prohibition myself. It was in the old CCL; it is not present in the new one. Whether or not the traditional moral theological definition of “servile work” is actually part of the natural law rather than the canonical code I do not know. I did find this in an old (1805) Spanish moral theology manual:

P. ¿Se prohiben en este precepto todas las obras serviles? R. Que aunque a los Judíos se les prohibía el ejercicio de toda obra servil, como consta del Éxodo cap. 20. Omne opus servile non facietis in eo; a los Cristianos no se nos prohiben las que son necesarias ad vitum, como dice Santo Tomás, 2. 2. q. 122. art. 4. ad. 4. Por lo que, aunque este precepto obligue a [374] culpa grave, admite parvidad de materia, como el espacio de una hora, o algo más, con tal que no llegue, o se acerque mucho a dos. Esta opinión nos parece la más razonable; pues no debe medirse en esta materia el tiempo matematice , sino moralmente. Bien que en cuanto al mercado, juramentos, juicios, y otras obras que se nos prohiben en los días festivos, no tanto se ha de graduar la gravedad, o levedad de la materia por el tiempo, cuanto por la cualidad de la obra. Por esto el controvertir la causa judicial, tomar juramento para su curso, o dar sentencia sobre ella, será culpa grave, aun cuando se haga en muy poco espacio de tiempo."

Q: Are all servile works prohibited in this precept?

R: Even though the Jews were prohibited from all servile labor, as Exodus 20 states: “Omne opus servile non facietis in eo”, Christians are not prohibited from those that are necessary “ad vitum”, as St. Thomas says, St. II-II q. 122 art. 4 ad. 4. Because of this, even though the precept obliges with grave guilt, it admits parvity of matter, as if it only takes place in the space of an hour, or something more, as long as it does not reach two hours or get really close to it. This opinion appears to us to be the most reasonable; so in this matter one does not measure time mathematically, but morally. In terms of markets, oaths, judgments, and other works that are prohibited to us on the “dias festivos” (Sundays and holy days of obligation), one does not measure the gravity, or levity of matter by the time, but by the quality of the work. According to this, hearing a judicial case, taking an oath for its course (?), or to give a sentence regarding it, would incur grave guilt, even when it is done in a very short space of time.

The Summa Theologica citation reads (from Newadvent):

Reply to Objection 4. In the New Law the observance of the Lord’s day took the place of the observance of the Sabbath, not by virtue of the precept but by the institution of the Church and the custom of Christian people. For this observance is not figurative, as was the observance of the Sabbath in the Old Law. Hence the prohibition to work on the Lord’ day is not so strict as on the Sabbath: and certain works are permitted on the Lord’s day which were forbidden on the Sabbath, such as the cooking of food and so forth. And again in the New Law, dispensation is more easily granted than in the Old, in the matter of certain forbidden works, on account of their necessity, because the figure pertains to the protestation of truth, which it is unlawful to omit even in small things; while works, considered in themselves, are changeable in point of place and time.

(Part 2)

If gardening or mowing are not prohibited by the natural law itself, I do not see a problem with doing those activities on Sunday if they are done in a recreational spirit. Sunday is a day of contemplation of God and prayer, but it is also a day for recreation. The Catechism states:

2187 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. With temperance and charity the faithful will see to it that they avoid the excesses and violence sometimes associated with popular leisure activities. In spite of economic constraints, public authorities should ensure citizens a time intended for rest and divine worship. Employers have a similar obligation toward their employees.

2194 The institution of Sunday helps all “to be allowed sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their amilial, cultural, social, and religious lives” (GS 67 § 3).

For a lot of office workers, mowing a lawn can actually be quite refreshing and perhaps even leisurely. Gardening is even more so for a lot of people. I can’t think of an activity that characterizes “leisure” more for my mother than gardening. And I can perfectly see somebody contemplating God and the bounty of his creation gardening.

Still, I’m not completely sure whether the answer given was right.

As has been stated, there are allowances in case of necessity - and yes, in view of the dangers of untrimmed lawns (provides a breeding ground for pests, dangerous for kids and pets who may wander through long grass etc etc) I’d say at least a minimal level of garden maintenance absolutely is a necessity.

We don’t just keep our lawns trim for the sake of good looks y’know! Note that of course such reasoning doesn’t provide a complete justification of any and all gardening activities on Sundays.

Secondly - as has also been pointed out already, for a lot of folks gardening isn’t work at all, but a pleasure. We are allowed to indulge in recreational activities. Permitted to eat out at restaurants or other folks’ houses on Sundays, attend sporting matches (or even play sport recreationally), go to art galleries, movies etc etc, as part of the rest and relaxation of the day.

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