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St. Thomas Aquinas
Catechetical Instructions

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  • THE THIRD COMMANDMENT: "Remember that You Keep Holy the Sabbath Day."
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"Remember that you keep holy (sanctify) the Sabbath day." We have already

said that, as the Jews celebrated the Sabbath, so do we Christians observe

the Sunday and all principal feasts. Let us now see in what way we should

keep these days. We ought to know that God did not say to "keep" the

Sabbath, but to remember to keep it holy. The word "holy" may be taken in

two ways. Sometimes "holy" (sanctified) is the same as pure: "But you are

washed, but you are sanctified"20 (that is, made holy). Then again at times

"holy" is said of a thing consecrated to the worship of God, as, for

instance, a place, a season, vestments, and the holy vessels. Therefore, in

these two ways we ought to celebrate the feasts, that is, both purely and

by giving ourselves over to divine service.


We shall consider two things regarding this Commandment. First, what should

be avoided on a feast day, and secondly, what we should do. We ought to

avoid three things. The first is servile work.


Avoidance of Servile Work. - "Neither do ye any work; sanctify the Sabbath

day."21 And so also it is said in the Law: "You shall do no servile work

therein."22 Now, servile work is bodily work; whereas "free work" (i.e.,

non-servile work) is done by the mind, for instance, the exercise of the

intellect and such like. And one cannot be servilely bound to do this kind

of work.


When Servile Work Is Lawful. - We ought to know, however, that servile work

can be done on the Sabbath for four reasons. The first reason is necessity.

Wherefore, the Lord excused the disciples plucking the ears of corn on the

Sabbath, as we read in St. Matthew (xii. 3-5). The second reason is when

the work is done for the service of the Church; as we see in the same

Gospel how the priests did all things necessary in the Temple on the

Sabbath day. The third reason is for the good of our neighbor; for on the

Sabbath the Saviour cured one having a withered hand, and He refuted the

Jews who reprimanded Him, by citing the example of the sheep in a pit

("ibid."). And the fourth reason is the authority of our superiors. Thus,

God commanded the Jews to circumcise on the Sabbath.23


Avoidance of Sin and Negligence on the Sabbath. - Another thing to be

avoided on the Sabbath is sin: "Take heed to your souls, and carry no

burdens on the Sabbath day."24 This weight and burden on the soul is sin:

"My iniquities as a heavy burden are become heavy upon me."25 Now, sin is a

servile work because "whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin."26

Therefore, when it is said, "You shall do no servile work therein,"27 it

can be understood of sin. Thus, one violates this commandment as often as

one commits sin on the Sabbath; and so both by working and by sin God is

offended.28 "The Sabbaths and other festivals I will not abide." And why?

"Because your assemblies are wicked. My soul hateth your new moon29 and

your solemnities; they are become troublesome to me."30


Another thing to avoid on the Sabbath is idleness: "For idleness hath

taught much evil."31 St. Jerome says: "Always do some good work, and the

devil will always find you occupied."32 Hence, it is not good for one to

keep only the principal feasts, if on the others one would remain idle.

"The King's honor loveth judgment,"33 that is to say, discretion.

Wherefore, we read that certain of the Jews were in hiding, and their

enemies fell upon them; but they, believing that they were not able to

defend themselves on the Sabbath, were overcome and killed.34 The same

thing happens to many who are idle on the feast days: "The enemies have

seen her, and have mocked at her Sabbaths."35 But all such should do as

those Jews did, of whom it is said: "Whosoever shall come up against us to

fight on the Sabbath day, we will fight against him."36


20. I Cor., vi. 11.


21. Jerem., xvii. 22.


22. Levit., xxiii. 25.


23. John, vii. 22-23.


24. Jerem., xviii. 21.


25. Ps. xxxvii. 5.


26. John, viii. 34.


27. Levit., iii. 25.


28. St. Thomas' comparison of sin and servile work follows from the words:

"Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin," quoted above. This does

not mean that commission of sin on the Sabbath changes the species of the

sin or gravely increases its malice.


29. This refers to the celebration and special sacrifices offered on the

first day of the month. The Lord here is displeased not with the external

ritual itself, but with the lack of proper internal dispositions on the

part of the Jews.


30. Isa., i. 13.


31. Ecclus., xxxiii. 29.


32. "Ep. ad Rusticum."


33. Ps. xcviii. 4.


34. I Mach, ii. 31-38.


35. Lam., i. 7.


36. I Mach., ii. 41.


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