Joint Pastoral Letter

of the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines

on the Dominical Rest


Beloved Brethren in the Lord:


It is easy to see at a glance how the modern world is busily engaged in vain activities, occupying too much of its time in them, and foolishly hoping, by so doing, to gain temporal prosperity and happiness.  These material gifts, however, were never as far away from us as at present, as if to give more meaning to these biblical words:  “Lift not up thy eyes to riches which thou canst not have:  because they shall make themselves wings like those of an eagle, and shall fly towards heaven”.

The world will never enjoy true happiness, even temporal happiness, if it will insist in divorcing itself from God and His divine laws, with which only we can expect to attain our ultimate goal.

The world is so much engrossed in temporal pursuits, that one precept of the Decalogue, in particular, “Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day”, is fast being relegated to the realm of oblivion.  Owing to these circumstances, beloved children, we are moved by necessity and by our duty to insist once more on the observance of this precept, in order to keep it ever alive and fresh in your minds and to keep you from forgetting it, because “you are not of this world”.  We shall, therefore, explain to you, briefly, what is the sabbath and in what does it consist, how can it be sanctified, the punishments that follow its non-observance and the advantages of its fulfillment.

What is the day of rest?

Natural reason demands that man divide his time, in a convenient and adequate way, for the fulfillment and satisfaction of his multiple needs, — for his eating, sleeping and other physical activities.  Man is composed of body and soul; he is not, therefore, only an animal.  He is a rational animal.  He has, not only his physical and material concerns, but also his spiritual needs to attend to and his religious and moral obligations to fulfill, both as an individual and as a member of society.   It becomes, therefore, imperative that he should devote part of his time to these spiritual concerns, resting or taking time off from his material activities that may impede him from attending to the former.  Hence the necessity, backed up by Natural Law, that man observe a day of rest, in order to dedicate it to his soul and to God, individually and socially.

Natural Law, however, does not determine this day of rest, nor the intervals of time between such days.  It is God himself Who, being the loving Father of all, specified His will in a positive law, contained in the Decalogue, obliging man to have a full-day rest, and that this special day should be one of the seven of the week.

So far goes the moral law, natural and divine, that does not admit of any human change.

The choosing of a definite day of the week, for rest, falls within the sphere of a ceremonial precept in the religious order.

In the Mosaic Law, — the ceremonial precepts of which were all figurative of the coming of Christ and of His Church, — God Himself declared, among other things, that the day of rest should be the seventh day of the week, which was called the sabbath, and which in Hebrew means rest, cessation, vacation .  In the Book of Exodus, the third precept of the Decalogue combines the moral aspect with the ceremonial, when it says, “Remember that thou keep holy the sabbath day.  Six days shalt thou labour, and shalt do all thy works.  But on the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God:  thou shalt do not work on it, thou nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy beast, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them, and rested on the seventh day:  therefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it”.

Saint Thomas Aquinas is very clear in his explanation of this law.  “To set aside — he says — a specific time for divine things is a moral obligation.  But to determine a special day in memory of the creation of the world is a ceremonial precept.  It is ceremonial according to the allegorical sense, inasmuch as it was made a symbol of the rest of Christ in the sepulchre, which took place on the seventh day.  It is also ceremonial in the moral sense, which signifies the cessation from sin in us and the rest which the soul should enjoy in God; in this sense it becomes a general precept.  Finally, it is likewise ceremonial in the anagogic sense, inasmuch as it gives us a foretaste of the fruition of God in heaven.  Hence the precept of the sanctification of the sabbath is  enumerated as one of the commandments of the Decalogue by reason of its being a moral law, and not as a ceremonial precept”.

The ceremonies of the Old Law which prefigured Christ ceased to be binding with the death of Our Lord; although, for sometime, their observance was more or less tolerated.  With the spread of the Gospel, however, compliance with these old ceremonies became pernicious, as they were still imbued with the old spirit and could lead the faithful to believe that Jesus had not yet come, or that He was not the Messiah prophesied in them.  For this reason, the Apostles started celebrating the first day of the week, instead of the seventh, as we read in the Acts:  “And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread, Paul discoursed with them.”  The same St. Paul ordered the Corinthians to make the collection on the first day of the week.  St. John, in the Apocalypse, calls this day Sunday, the Lord’s day, and as such it has come to stay and to be obligatory in the Universal Church since the beginning of the second century.  Says St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians:  “Instead of the seventh day, all lovers of Christ should celebrate Sunday, day of the Lord’s resurrection, He being the King of all days.”

All christians, therefore, are obliged, under pain of mortal sin, to observe Sunday as the day of rest.  Those who might still profess to consider Saturday as the day of rest, in accordance with the Old Law, will incur in the heresy of the protestants, called sabbatists.

Aside from Sunday, we christians have also to observe the prescribed feasts of the Church, except when we are excused by some privilege.  In the Philippines, we are bound to observe all the feasts that are prescribed in canon 1247, & 1, which are as follows: — Christmas (December 25), Circumcision (January 1), Epiphany (January 6), Ascension and Corpus Christi (movable), Immaculate Conception (December 8), Assumption of the Bl. Virgin Mary (August 15), St. Joseph (March 19), Saints Peter and Paul (June 29), and All Saints’ Day (November 1).

In what does Sunday rest consist?

In the Book of Exodus , referring to the third precept of the Decalogue, we infer the obligation to work, as imposed by God to man, on account of the first sin.  We read in the Book of Genesis:  “With labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.”  And in order to save us from a purely materialistic interpretation of the text, the Lord Himself divides the time between work and rest ; ordering us to work during the six days of the week, and to refrain from the same, by resting, on the one day left.  The same Lord defines for us the kind of work that we should abstain from, when He says:  “You shall do no servile work therein”.  Servile works are those that are done with physical exertion, proper of laborers.

The Angelic Doctor distinguishes three kinds of servitude:  the servitude to sin, the servitude of one man to another man, and the servitude to God.  Of the servitude to sin, the Gospel has the following to say:  “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin”.  We should always abstain from sin, particularly if it is in the form of a servile work done on Sundays or on other feastdays, as the circumstance of the holiness of the time renders the sin more grievious.

The servitude of one man to another refers only to the body and never to the soul, as the soul of man is subject only to one God.

Masters and servants are equally obliged to serve God, body and soul, in work as well as in rest, everyday, according to the divine law.  For this reason, spiritual or corporal works that are directly ordained for divine worship are not called servile, nor are they forbidden on feastday, since the divine worship is the end or object of the dominical and feastday rest.  To adorn the church, for example, to erect an altar for religious purposes, or any other work that is directly related to divine worship, is permissible on Sundays and feastdays.

If the soul of man, as we have already affirmed, is not subject to any man but to God alone, it follows that spiritual work, or the good acts of the intellect and of the will, are not servile either.  And neither are the corporal works that are directly ordained towards the perfection of our intellectual faculties, such as teaching, writing, drawing and other artistic labours, which are more properly called liberal works.

Because some of the so-called exterior or corporal works are of common, universal necessity, they are not considered servile.  “Everybody”, says St. Thomas, “be he a slave or a freeman, is obliged to provide himself and his neighbors with the necessities of life”, especially in matters pertaining to his health and to the upkeep of his possessions.  Of this nature, permissible on feastdays, are the works of preparing the food, arranging one’s apperance, cleaning the house, caring the sick, and safeguarding one’s properties, or his neighbor’s, from a grave danger of unforseen calamity, according to the words of the Lord:  “What man shall there be among you that hath one sheep:  and if the same fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not take hold of it and lift it up?”

The law of Sunday rest consists, therefore, in abstaining from any corporal work that is properly servile; that is, those works which since early times have always been considered as onerous and difficult, such as carpentry, iron-work, masonry, laundry, tailoring and other similar works because they are really fatiguing.

Canon 1248 forbids also forensic duties, public markets, fairs and public business enterprises, unless excused by legitimate customs or by a special indult.

In cases when there is urgent need to work on feastdays, the faithful are enjoined to obtain first a dispensation and to avoid scandal.  These dispensations (canon 1245, & 1) can easily be obtained from the Ordinaries, or from the Parish Priests in particular cases.

How to sanctify the day of rest

The abstinence from servile work on Sundays and feastdays is only a negative factor that leads, or should lead, to the positive sanctification of these days.  This positive aim is clearly understood in the third precept of the Decalogue:  Remember to keep holy the day of rest.

St. Thomas teaches that, according to this law, those things are sanctified that are offered for divine worship.  We should therefore dedicate to the worship of God our Sundays and feastdays.  The principal act of our worship is the holy sacrifice of the mass; hence the grave precept of Holy Mother Church that we hear a complete mass on Sundays and other feastdays of obligation.  It should be heard with the physical presence of the individual, and with his attention focussed on some spiritual truths as meditating on the mysteries represented by the ceremonies or praying with devotion.

This precept obliges all christians who have reached the age of reason, under pain of mortal sin unless excused by sickness or other grievious causes, as great distance from the church and lack of available transportation.  It is highly recommended that these people who may be justly excused from the hearing of mass on the days of obligation make up for this omission by the recitation, in common, of the rosary or any other pious devotion.

Not only the time spent for Holy Mass, however, is to be sanctified; the rest of the day should likewise be sanctified in the way most convenient to each individual.  Confession and Holy Communion are very laudable numbers in the program of the day.  The hearing of the sermon and some spiritual reading would be very beneficial towards our religious perfection and that of our subordinates.  Some acts of charity would also come in handy, remembering the words of St. James the Apostle:  “Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this:  to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world”.  To visit, therefore, the sick and those people who might have special need of us, as also to enjoy a decent recreation with the family, are very much in order, as long as no offense against God would result from it.  These feastdays, for good christians, should serve as prelude to the eternal rest that we expect to enjoy, afterwards, in heaven.

Punishments that threaten the non-observance of the Sunday rest.

We read in the Book of Numbers that “when the children of Israel were in the wilderness, and had found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day, they brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole multitude.  And they put him in prison, not knowing what they should do with him.  And the  Lord said to Moses:  Let that man die.  Let all the multitude stone him without the camp.  And when they had brought him out, they stoned him:  and he died as the Lord had commanded”.  A severe punishment is this which the Lord God of mercies has willed to record in the Holy Scripture for the perpetual memory and instruction of man.  Why do we profane the Lord’s day doing servile work on them?  In order to provide for the necessities of life?  Have we forgotten that the same God Who reserved that special day for Him could also punish us by taking away our life?  The example given above confirms this principle.

There is another consideration, besides.  Do you consider it a light matter to work on feastdays?  By divine declaration it is a mortal sin.  The physical death of that man in the Scriptures is only an outward reflection of the spiritual death of his soul, depriving him of the life-giving grace of God.

We have other examples of how the Lord punishes the non-fulfillment of this third precept.  We read from Leviticus :  “Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths all the days of her desolation.  When you shall be in the enemy’s land, she shall keep a sabbath, and rest in the sabbaths of her desolation:  because she did not rest in your sabbaths when you dwelt therein.”  From Jeremias:  “If you will not hearken to me, to sanctify the sabbath day, and not to carry burdens, and not to bring them in by the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day:  I will kindle a fire in the gates thereof.  And it shall devour the houses of Jerusalem; and it shall not be quenched”.  And we know how all these terrible threats of the Lord came to pass.  You work  unceasingly, even on Sundays and feastdays, to build your houses and to harvest your fields; God’s typhoons come without warning and destroy what you have painstakingly done.  Do you think that these are merely accidental circumstances?  Let us not deceive ourselves.  Nothing happens without the providence of God, as “when he uttereth his voice the waters are multiplied in heaven:  he lifteth up the clouds from the ends of the earth, he hath turned lightning into rain and hath brought forth the wind out of his treasures”.  And God disposes of many ways to bring His words into realization.

Advantages of the observance of the dominical rest

God knows not only how to punish but also to reward His deserving children.  He talks to us thus:  “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy own will in my holy day and call the sabbath delightful and the holy of the Lord  glorious and glorify him, while thou dost not thy own ways and thy own will is not found, to speak a word:  Then shalt thou be delighted in the Lord, and I will lift thee up above the high places of the earth and will feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob thy father.  For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it”.

We see here  described, in prophetic language, the individual, familiar and social advantages of the dominical rest.

We are busy the whole week in the fields or in the office.  And because our physical resistance is limited and weak, the human body necessarily looks for a period of rest which the Creator has wisely fixed to be one day of each work.  We are human creatures, and we are on earth only as wayfarers on our way to heaven; our spirit needs at least one day of the week on which to meditate about life eternal and our home beyond the grave.  We are, moreover, christians and we know that sanctification consists, mainly, in our union with Christ, through grace.  Christ offered Himself for our sins on the summit of Calvary; hence the need of the sacrifice of the altar for renewing this union in us.  “Then shalt thou be delighted in the Lord.”  What greater delight than that body and soul should rest in the Lord after the fatigues of the week’s labours!  All the strength of the individual is renewed on that day, and he feels rejuvenated to tackle the works of the succeeding days.

The members of the family are perhaps separated from each other during the weekdays:  the father in his work, the children in the school, the mother in the home.  Sunday is their day of reunion; together they can go to church, together they enjoy their meals and together they laugh off their problems and worries of the past week.  Family ties are thus strengthened and each one feels in himself the fulfillment of those words:  “I will feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob thy father”.

And these are not all the advantages either.  Sunday rest gives the family occasion to visit their friends and relatives, and open more their eyes to the fact that we form part of a community, of a nation, with whom we are tied with the bonds of citizenship.  In church, during the offering of the mass, men of different social strata kneel side by side as children all of the same Father, Author of the individual and of society, and partakers on the same table of the holy communion, fed by same Body and Blood of Christ, the Lamb of God Who takest away the sins of the world.  It is in church where we breathe the spirit of universal fraternity which the world tries so much vainly to seek where God is not.  Only He could have promised:  “I will lift thee up above the high places of the earth”.

May the leaders of nations realize these advantages which the sabbath observance gives to the individual, to the family, to society and to the world at large.

Words of H.H. Pope Pius XII

We shall put an end to this Joint Pastoral Letter of Ours, beloved children, with the exhortation given by the common Father of all christendom, Pope Pius XII, in his allocution to parish priests and lenten preachers of Rome on March 13, 1943:  “The sanctuary of the family”, he said, “no matter how attractive, beautiful and well-kept it may be, is not the same as the church; and your duty should be to bring back Sunday to its former status of being the day of the Lord, and the Holy Mass the centre of the christian life, the spiritual nourishment of bodily rest and of the virtuous perseverance of the spirit.  Sunday is the day of rest in the Lord, that we may have full time to adore Him, to bring to him our petitions, to thank Him, to atone for our sins and to implore His light and spiritual strength for the week to come.  Remind your people that Sunday is the perpetual remembrance of the Lord’s resurrection, and that they should stay away from doing any servile work on that day, lest the manifold and varied distractions in their offices and in the fields prevent His soul-stirring breath from infusing His life in us and thus annul our natural desire for life immortal.  Sunday is the rest of the body and the raising up of the spirit; and not of excessive games and pleasures that weaken the body more than during the weekdays and take man further away from God…  Sunday should unite the whole family together, and not disperse them;  it should be a day of spiritual reading and of devout prayers, and not of dissipation”.

Listen, beloved children, to these words of the Vicar of Christ on earth and of your Bishops, and receive Our Blessing with which to implore from Our Lord the grace of seeing these our admonitions put into practice by the whole nation.


Given in the city of Manila, on the 20th day of January, 1948.



Archbishop of Manila


Archbishop of Cebu


Bishop of Lipa


Bishop of Nueva Segovia


Bishop Tuguegarao


Bishop of Zamboanga


Bishop of Bacolod


Bishop of Calbayog


Bishop of Palo


Bishop of Lingayen


Bishop of Nueva Caceres


Bishop of Surigao


Bishop of Jaro


Bishop of Tagbilaran


Apostolic Prefect of Palawan


Apostolic Prefect of Montañosa


Apostolic Prefect of Mindoro


Auxiliary Bishop of Manila



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Joint Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Hierarchy of the Philippines on the Dominical Rest