What the Obligation Is
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. (CCC 2185)
Let’s unpack this.
- We should not engage in activities that make it difficult to:
- Experience the joy of Sunday
- Perform works of mercy
- Appropriately experience rest of mind and Body
- There are reasons that in some cases we would not be obligated to rest on Sundays:
- Family needs (for example, a sick child)
- Important social service (this would only excuse someone from the obligation if it were impossible to do that service at any other time–for example, helping evacuation when a hurricane is coming)
- We should not use legitimate reasons as excuses to form bad habits that are opposed to the goods of rest on Sundays
Our Obligations to Others
The Catechism also teaches that we have an obligation to others on Sundays. We should not engage in behaviors that require others to work unnecessarily. No matter how much you enjoy shopping, it is better to do this another day of the week if possible so that others might be scheduled to work on days other than Sunday.
Another Way to Understand Work on Sunday
Sometimes the obligation to avoid work on Sunday is expressed as a prohibition of servile labor. This would be labors a servant would do and could include laundry, working at a job, or other things. Again, there could be exceptions to this. If you need to do laundry every day to serve your family, you could also do laundry on Sundays. If you are so poor that you can’t afford to take Sundays off for your job, you may also work on Sundays. These are not the ideal of how to live Sunday rest, but the Church recognizes that for some people, the ideal is not possible.
One way to live this out would be avoiding unnecessary things that you find burdensome. If you hate doing a particular chore, avoid doing it on Sundays. For example, if you hate cooking, you might make enough food throughout the week to eat leftovers on Sundays instead of cooking. If you enjoy sorting clothes, perhaps doing laundry on Sunday would not feel like servile labor to you.
Applying this to Homework
Now, what does this mean when we apply this to homework?
Our Obligations to Sunday
Basically, doing homework on Sunday is a sin if it gets in the way of going to Mass or other important obligations. If it prevents you from serving others in the community or in your family, this is also a problem. Just like with other work, if it is impossible for you to avoid doing it on Sundays, that is permissible, although not ideal. For example, some students working in science labs cannot avoid going into the lab on Sundays due to the time-sensitive nature of certain experiments. A student with a heavy workload might not be able to avoid doing homework on Sundays. Even in these cases, however, going to Mass for one hour should be doable, and doing homework is not an excuse to skip Mass.
Our Obligations to Others
Most of the time, homework is an individual thing and doesn’t affect our obligations to avoid making others work on Sundays. However, if you want to have a study group, it would be better to do so on a day other than Sunday, if possible. Sometimes this is not possible due to the many other things students must do throughout the week. It is essential, however, to make sure that the time the study group is scheduled for does not make you miss Mass. Most parishes have several Mass times over the weekend, so making time for Mass is usually not a problem when it comes to scheduling study sessions.
Another factor to consider when deciding whether homework is appropriate on Sundays is your attitude towards homework. Homework in itself does not count as servile labor, but disliking it might make it feel like a difficult and frustrating task that deprives you of the joy you could experience on Sundays. If you absolutely hate doing math but enjoy reading books for your literature classes, do math on Saturday and read on Sunday. In this case, math might feel burdensome but reading might feel like a way of enjoying Sunday. If you find math interesting, however, and enjoy the logic of solving problems, then math homework might not feel like work.
To go back to the study group idea, if people enjoy the study group, it might not feel like work. In that case it could be an example of serving the good of the community of students, then the obligation to avoid making others do unnecessary work does not apply.
Regardless of how much you enjoy a particular subject, you should do your best to get any burdensome homework out of the way before Sunday. Furthermore, you should not do so much homework on Sundays that you neglect obligations towards God, towards your family, or towards the community.