A space for freedom

The European Churches in favour of a work-free Sunday

The debate on the protection of Sunday has been revived and once again become a topical event at the European level, given that the EU Directive of 1993 has expired and in the months ahead the European Commission will be called to draft a new one to replace it. A huge cartel of associations, trades unions and church organization in various European countries has entered the field to champion the cause of Sunday as a day of rest. COMECE and the “Church and Society” Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) are also actively involved in the question and have promoted in Brussels the first European Conference on the “Protection of a work-free Sunday”. The Churches of Europe and also the Pope have often expressed their views on the need to preserve Sunday as a day of rest.Benedict XVI. The Holy Father has repeatedly returned to the question of the defence of Sunday. In his homily in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, during his pastoral visit on 9 September 2007, Benedict XVI had said: “Without the gift of the Lord, without the Lord’s day, we cannot live”. And he had explained: “In the word dominicum/dominico two meanings are inextricably intertwined, and we must once more learn to recognize their unity. First of all there is the gift of God – this gift is the Lord himself: the Risen one, whom Christians simply need to have close and accessible to them, if they are to be themselves. […] The encounter with the Lord is inscribed in time on a specific day”. And he had concluded: “We need this encounter which brings us together, which gives us space for freedom, which lets us see beyond the bustle of everyday life to God’s creative love, from which we come and towards which we are travelling”. More recently, on 12 July 2009, welcoming the French pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Angelus, he said: “Sunday is good for man”. For it permits us to “recoup our spiritual energies and support our own life by listening to and meditating on the Word of God”. “Sunday is at the same time a day of well-deserved rest and relaxation, to spend at home in our family or among friends. I exhort each of you to live this moment of grace which is Sunday as a day of rest!”.France. The Council for familial and social questions of the French Bishops’ Conference published a document with the title “Sunday at risk in contemporary life” in April 2008″. It points out that, thanks to Sunday as a day of rest, “each person also has the time to rest, to live in his family, to meet others, to have a social life and enjoy the various, sporting or other proposals that are on offer. Sunday leaves each person free to choose how to spend his/her own time (…): it is therefore a space for freedom and relaxation, in contrast to the rest of the week. Sunday enables us to recover for our life a balance that is too often threatened by the hectic pace of our working life”. The document further underlines that “the economy and work must not be the last word of social life” and adds: “extending the opening hours of shops to Sunday would lead to a cheapening of this day and to the laws of commerce triumphing over the convivial, familial and spiritual dimension of existence. The no longer having a common day of rest would also accentuate the fragmentation of French society”.Switzerland. “Let us protect our Sunday, let us reinforce the bonds of our community” is the title of the Ecumenical Contribution of the Churches published in November 2005 with regard to a planned reform of the Swiss law on work. This document of the Federation of Evangelical Churches of Switzerland and of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference underlines that the significance of Sunday goes “far beyond the aspects internal to the Church” and that “Sunday is a fundamental value for social cohesion”. The concern expressed by the Churches on this occasion referred in particular to a bill before parliament which regarded the flexibility of Sunday work. According to the Churches “the repercussions of this reform on competition will undoubtedly lead to a generalized demand for the liberalization of opening hours of shops on Sundays and holidays”. Scandinavian countries. The Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the Nordic countries on the sanctification of Sunday was published on 21 September 2009. “One of the most important signs of a balanced Christian life is maintaining the sanctity of the Sabbath: ever since the days of the first Christians, Sunday was the one day in the week in which Christians met together to offer the Eucharist. On Sunday they did no heavy work and they rested”, write the bishops. “It is essential that Sunday be a day of physical and mental rest, to enable people to devote themselves to their family and friends, to visiting the sick and the lonely, and also to cultural and intellectual pursuits” and they warn: “there’s a risk of Sunday becoming a day just like any other during the week”. In their conclusions the bishops affirm: “Each must do everything possible to defend the sacred nature of this day”. “By defending Sunday we show how leisure time can become a significant and valuable time of mental and physical rest”.

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