The Church is quite reasonable about what does and does not constitute violation of the Sunday observance. Necessary work such as that performed in hospitals, police and fire departments, and even hotels is seen as a reminder of Our Lord's words that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Works of charity are always proper to a Sunday, too, whether they involve caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, or simply ministering to our own families' physical needs for the day with meals and other works.
But it is unfortunate that in America, Sunday has blended into Saturday and simply gets called "the weekend." While large numbers of Americans do go to some form of church or worship service, equally large numbers treat the day as another business day. All Christians, Catholics included, find ourselves walking a fine line between meeting the demands of our secular, consumer-driven society, and insisting on some respect for Sunday as a day that should be set aside for worship, for family, for rest and recreation, and for charitable acts, not for business (and especially not for non-essential, unpaid work so often demanded by corporate employers on that day).
It wasn't all that long ago in America when most stores and businesses simply were not open on Sunday. Not every restaurant was, either, though some were to offer Sunday brunch or to meet the needs of travelers or or those who had to work in the fields mentioned above. By and large, Sunday just wasn't a day to do your shopping. People understood the concept of a rest from labor, and looked forward to Sunday as a break from the usual routine.
Once things changed, though, there hasn't been much of a push to go in the opposite direction (Chik-fil-A is a notable exception). The notion that giving up Sunday business meant giving up too much revenue became deeply ingrained in American companies, especially retail establishments. And now, with the economic crisis beginning to take its toll, some people are pushing to expand Sunday store hours even further, to make stores and businesses open the same hours on Sunday as they are the rest of the week.
Recognizing, perhaps, the reality that this particular genie is much harder to put back in the bottle than it was to take out, the European community is still fighting against Sunday shopping. Granted, many are more worried about losing Sunday as a secular holiday than in losing the religious significance of the day; some countries which fight hard against Sunday shopping have seen precipitous declines in the number of regular church-goers. Still, it's interesting to follow:
But over the past few years, Europe has faced a push from politicians to abandon the tradition to follow the American retail model. "Sunday is an extra day of growth," Mr. Sarkozy explained, when he announced his plan to overturn a 102-year-old law legally sanctioning Sunday rest. "It is extra purchasing power and other countries are doing it."
England took the lead in embracing the Sunday shopping culture in 1994, and was soon followed by Sweden and Spain. Once freed from communist dictatorships, countries like Hungary and Croatia joined the trend. In Roman Catholic Poland, Sunday shopping has become a national pastime. Now, with the issue dividing much of the Continent, the tide is shifting.
"American capitalism used to look great – you have lower corporate taxes, more freedom, it's easier to create your own business – but the recession has put a damper on it, and people are asking 'What is the point?' Has it made people richer?" asks Stephen Miller, author of "The Peculiar Life of Sundays." "Now, Europeans want to distinguish their capitalism from an American version they see as too frantic, too excessive. They want to protect their day off, they want to keep their social model."
Croatia had overturned bans on Sunday trading in 1994, but then slammed the door shut to Sunday shopping last month, when a new ban took effect. The change is seen as a concession to the Catholic Church. Major retailers have appealed, saying the change could lead to 7,000 jobs lost and score of store closures at a time when the Croatia can ill afford the blow.
I hope that Europe can succeed in retaining their Sunday laws. It's much harder to turn back the clock, and renew a sense that Sunday should be a day of rest, when the culture has decided that it no longer is.