French citizens held demonstrations at locations around Paris over the weekend to protest a court ruling that forced two retailers to close 15 locations every Sunday. The ruling has reignited a longstanding debate about a century-old French law that enforces Sunday rest for many businesses.
On one side of the argument are entrepreneurs like Jean-Claude Bourrelier, ceo of home improvement chain Bricorama, who argue that France’s stagnant consumer spending makes the law increasingly ridiculous. “I am a retailer. If my clients want to come on Sundays I have a duty to open,” he said, adding that the law costs his company as much as 20 percent of annual profits.
Alongside the entrepreneurs are a growing number of France’s workers, as well as the unemployed. The workers, struggling with rising taxes and pinched pocketbooks, are increasingly eager to work on Sundays in order to make ends meet. The unemployed—now 10.9 percent, or 3 million people—argue that the laws prevent thousands of sorely needed jobs from being created.
Protests like the ones staged over the weekend are not uncommon in Paris and other parts of France, and a recent survey showed that an unprecedented 63 percent of French people are now in favor of allowing shops to operate Sundays.
But on the other side of the debate is an ancient force unlikely to be swayed by public opinion and protests: the Roman Catholic Church.
“Sunday is the day of the Lord, but also a day for family time,” Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said in chastisement of then President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 2009 move to loosen the laws restricting Sunday commerce. “Is earning more money the main purpose of human existence?” the cardinal asked.
Despite a shift toward secularism and an influx of Muslim immigrants, the influence of the Catholic Church remains vigorous, not just in France, but all of Europe. And mandating Sunday rest throughout Europe is among the Church’s primary goals.
The broad scope of this goal is perhaps most evident in the Brussels-based European Sunday Alliance, a network of dozens of religious and nonreligious organizations from 27 European nations whose purpose, according to its website, is to “raise awareness of the unique value of synchronized free time for our European societies.” Of course, at the helm of these crusaders for Sunday rest is the Roman Catholic Church.
Coming up this January, the European Sunday Alliance will meet with politicians from all around the EU for the 2nd European Conference on the Protection of a Work-Free Sunday. According to the conference’s published agenda, its purpose is to “highlight that a work-free Sunday and a better synchronization of social rhythm with working hours, with less irregular and unsocial working hours, are of paramount importance for citizens throughout Europe.”
Why does this Sunday alliance exist and work so arduously to influence Europe’s labor laws? Why is the Catholic Church so adamant about instituting a continent-wide day of rest? And why must it be Sunday instead of another day of the week?
It is because it was the Catholic Church—in intentional violation of biblical teachings—that appointed Sunday as a day of worship. The Vatican is proud of the success it had in this colossal feat, and Sunday rest has become a mark of the Catholic Church’s authority.
This truth is best explained by the Vatican’s own:
- “Sunday is a Catholic institution and its claim to observance can be defended only on Catholic principles. … From beginning to end of Scripture there is not a single passage that warrants the transfer of weekly public worship from the last day of the week to the first” (Catholic Press, August 1900).
- “Of course the Catholic Church claims that the change was her act. … And the act is a mark of her ecclesiastical authority in religious things” (Letter from the office of Cardinal Gibbons, Nov. 11, 1895).
- “The Church is above the Bible; and this transference of Sabbath observance from Saturday to Sunday is proof positive of that fact. Deny the authority of the Church and you have no adequate or reasonable explanation or justification for the substitution of Sunday for Saturday in the Third—Protestant Fourth—Commandment of God” (The Catholic Record, Sept. 1, 1923).
- “Perhaps the boldest thing, the most revolutionary change the Church ever did, happened in the first century. The holy day, the Sabbath, was changed from Saturday to Sunday. ‘The Day of the Lord’ [dies domini (or “Sunday”)] was chosen, not from any direction noted in the Scriptures, but from the Church’s sense of its own power. … People who think that the Scriptures should be the sole authority, should logically … keep Saturday holy” (Saint Catherine Catholic Church Sentinel, May 21, 1995).
January’s conference could bring the Vatican-influenced EU closer to declaring Sunday as the official continent-wide day of rest. Any steps in that direction should alarm religious liberty watchers, those concerned about a failure to separate church and state, and anyone familiar with Europe’s violent history.
Back in 2005, when Pope Benedict xvi stressed the importance of Sunday worship for Europe and beyond, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote:
Pope Benedict perceives the secularist moral vacuum that has plagued Europe since the time of the Enlightenment. … But it seems Benedict wants to fill that vacuum—the old Roman way. That way was never sympathetic to the idea of the public voluntarily accepting its tenets. Rather, as even a cursory study of history will reveal, it was imposed by force. … Pope Benedict is committed to reinstating the active observance of the Roman Catholic Church’s chief icon: Sunday. He knows that to popularize religion in Europe, he has to reintroduce a means of promoting what marketers call brand loyalty. The most historic brand the pope can offer to bond the people together is the ancient day of worship, fashionable since Babylon, the old day of the sun—Sunday. Hence his promotion of that old Roman brand in his recent addresses. … If we understand how the church has enforced this day in its past history, we should be very alarmed.
Benedict is no longer the Church’s frontrunner, but his successor and other Catholic officials remain committed to the same ambitions that drove him. To learn the details of how the Catholic Church has enforced Sunday at different epochs over the centuries, and what to expect regarding Sunday rest in Europe’s future, read Mr. Flurry’s article “The Pope Trumpets Sunday,” and our booklet Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath? ▪