Working on Holy Days of Obligation

A “Closed for Mourning” sign on a business in Italy — more on why I chose this photo, below.

There are five [or six] Holy Days of Obligation each year in the United States: Immaculate Conception (December 8), Christmas (December 25), Mary, Mother of God (January 1), Assumption (August 15), and All Saints (November 1). [In a few regions the Ascension is observed on Thursday instead of being transferred to Sunday and is also a day of obligation, but that does not apply here in Alabama. Your mileage may vary depending on where you are from.]

The rules about Holy Days of Obligation are confusing and frustrating, and I won’t get into that here. They should be changed. We can handle going to Mass five (or six) extra days besides Sunday. I always encourage people to form the habits of always going on these five [or six] days, because they are both important and often we are obliged to do so anyhow. That said, even if the rules are confusing, it is clear that the obligation is removed from some Holy Days from time to time: I am not suggesting that because the rules are confusing, we are obliged to go on all the days anyhow. But I think we should go on all the days.

So hopefully we make it to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligations. (Failing to do so could be a mortal sin.) But how do we spend the rest of the day?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes canon 1248 of the Code of Canon Law on this one. We should treat it like a Christian sabbath — we should rest:

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.

This brings me to another thing I encourage: taking time off on Holy Days of Obligation. Yes, not everyone has a job that gives much vacation time or flexibility in its use. Yes, some people’s jobs require them to work at odd times, including Sundays. Yes, there are always those who have legitimate excuses. I know…..

But many people have do have generous amounts of vacation time or PTO. I strongly encourage them to plan out their use of it each year so that they have a day off on the holy days of obligation also. So that they can relax on those days, take themselves and their families to church, engage in other family activities, and so forth.

And that brings me to a final point: I also encourage Catholic business owners to close on those few days each year. You’re already closed on Christmas and New Year’s (Mary, Mother of God), in many cases! So it’s a question of adding three [or four] more days to your schedule of closing days each year. If you honor God and your Catholic faith in this way, is there really such a great concern about lost business? Will not God bless your business even more?

Look at businesses that are famous for closing on Sundays: Hobby Lobby, Chick-fil-A, and others. Every time I go to Chick-fil-A – doesn’t matter what time – there is a huge line of cars and inside is booming as well. Hobby Lobby seems to be doing just fine. And that, in spite of the fact that many people go shopping on Sunday nowadays (in violation of the Third Commandment) or go out to eat on Sundays (not necessarily in violation of the Third Commandment). Folks still patronize them because they value their products; they adjust and go on the days they are open.

Another common objection goes something like, “Look, I get it intellectually, but non-Catholics won’t understand why our business is suddenly closed on a certain day and will take their business elsewhere”. Again: you’re probably already closed on two of those days. We’re talking just three [or four] extra days a year on top of that. And what’s to say you couldn’t be open on a couple of the Federal Holidays on which you might otherwise close, in order to make up for the days lost to Holy Days?

Moreover, this is 2018. We have social media. We can put up signs weeks in advance advising customers about a closure. We can print it on receipts. And so forth. In Italy (picture at top of post), it’s not uncommon to be going about your shopping and being unable to complete it because a business is “closed for mourning”. You adjust, you go back another day. Life happens.

“Closed to allow for worship.”

What a great opportunity for evangelization it would be, for a Catholic business owner to close on a day like today and hang a sign on the door: “Closed to allow our families to celebrate the Feast of All Saints”.

Our Church offices are closed today and on every Holy Day of Obligation that falls on a business day. Other Catholics organizations and businesses should do likewise. We should rest on this day. And we should get to Mass.

All Saints, pray for us!

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