Moral Briefs – Chapter LIV – Commons Works

cover of the ebook 'Moral Briefs' by Father John Henry StapletonThere is a third sort of works to be considered in relation to Sunday observance, which, being of their nature neither liberal nor servile, go by the specific name of common works. This class embraces works of two kinds, viz., those which enter into the common, daily, inevitable necessities of life, and those in which the mind and body are exerted in an equal measure.

The former are not considered servile because they are necessary, not in certain circumstances, but at all times, for all persons, in all conditions of life. Activity of this kind, so universally and imperiously demanded, does not require dispensation from the law, as in the case of necessary servile works properly so-called; but it stands outside all legislation and is a law unto itself.

These works are usually domestic occupations, as cooking and the preparation of victuals, the keeping of the house in becoming tidiness, the proper care of children, of beasts of burden and domestic animals. People must eat, the body must be fed, life requires attention on Sunday as well as on the other six days; and in no circumstances can this labor be dispensed with. Sometimes eatables for Sunday consumption may be prepared on the previous day; if this is not done, whether through forgetfulness, neglect or indifference, it is lawful on Sunday to prepare a good table, even one more sumptuous than on ordinary days. For Sunday is a day of festival, and without enthusing over the fact, we must concede that the words feast and festival are synonymous in human language, that the ordinary and favorite place for human rejoicing is the table, and in this man differs not from the other animals of creation. This may not be aesthetic, but it is true.

In walking, riding, games, etc., the physical and mental forces of man are called into play in about equal proportion, or at least, these occupations can be called neither liberal arts nor manual labor; all manners of persons engage therein without respect to condition or profession. These are also called common works; and to them may be added hunting and fishing, when custom, rightly understood, does not forbid them, and in this region custom most uniformly does so forbid.

These occupations are looked upon as innocent pastime, affording relief to the body and mind, and in this respect should be likened to the taking of food. For it is certain that sanitary conditions often as imperiously demand recreation as nourishment. Especially is this the case with persons given to sedentary pursuits, confined during the week to shops, factories and stores, and whose only opportunity this is to shake off the dull monotony of work and to give the bodies and minds necessary relaxation and distraction. It is not physical rest that such people require so much as healthy movement of a pleasing kind, and activity that will draw their attention from habitual channels and thus break the strain that fatigues them. Under these conditions, common works are not only allowed, but they are to be encouraged.

But it must not be lost sight of that these pursuits are permitted as long as they remain common works, that is, as long as they do not accidentally become servile works, or go contrary to the end for which they are allowed. This may occur in three different manners, and when it does occur, the works known as common are forbidden as servile works.

1. They must not expose us to the danger of omitting divine service. The obligation to positively sanctify the day remains intact. Sin may be committed, slight or grievous, according as the danger to which we expose ourselves, by indulging in these pursuits, of missing public worship, is more or less remote, more or less probable.

2. These works become illicit when they are excessive, when too much time is given to them, when the body receives too large a share of the exercise, when accompanied by overmuch application, show or fatigue. In these cases, the purpose of the law is defeated, the works are considered no longer common and fall under the veto that affects servile works. An aggravating circumstance is that of working for the sole purpose of gain, as in the case of professional baseball, etc.

3. Lastly, there are exterior circumstances that make these occupations a desecration of the Lord’s day, and as such evidently they cannot be tolerated. They must not be boisterous to the extent of disturbing the neighbor’s rest and quiet, or detracting from the reverence due the Sabbath; they must not entice others away from a respectful observance of the Lord’s day or offer an opportunity or occasion for sin, cursing, blasphemy and foul language, contention and drunkenness; they must not be a scandal for the community.

Outside these contingencies of disorder, the Sabbath rest is not broken by indulgence in works classified as common works. Such activity, in all common sense and reason, is compatible with the reverence that God claims as His due on His day.