Opinion: Why Catholics should not play sports on Sundays

Diane Hofsess

Archbishop Allen Vigneron took back Sunday as a day of worship, rest, prayer and family when he issued a head-turning pastoral note in May to Detroit’s 1.3 million Catholics, saying there will be no more Sunday sporting events or practices for Detroit youths starting with this school year.

Grand Rapids Catholic Central receiver Jace Williams has put on more than 25 pounds since this time last season. He recently received a scholarship offer from Michigan State.


The archbishop's sensible and much-needed ban on Sunday sports is supported not only by the third commandment to keep holy the Sabbath, but also by church attendance requirements detailed in a bevy of Church publications.

Vigneron is absolutely right when he opines in his letter, “In our time, Sunday has slowly lost its pride of place. In the Archdiocese of Detroit, we are committed to setting aside this day as much as possible for God-centered pursuits.” Annihilating the cross-town rival on the football field just does not fall under the umbrella of God-centered pursuits — even if it’s accomplished with a Hail Mary pass.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron dispenses ash on the forehead of Espy Crisostomo of Grosse Pointe Park.

For Catholics, attending mass is required by both the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In fact, “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin,” according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which quotes the canon.

Beyond fulfilling a requirement, Catholics need to be at Mass, not basketball practice, to come together as a church to receive the Holy Eucharist and recite the Nicene Creed, which is the succinct statement of beliefs, much like the Constitution is a succinct statement of beliefs for America.

There is no doubt that some organized families could juggle the dual responsibilities of Sunday Mass and Sunday sports with aplomb, but others could find this a challenge, which is good reason to sideline Sunday sports.

According to Bishop Robert Barron, author of the newly published paperback "Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis," 75% of Catholics already skip Mass on Sunday. It only stands to reason that other Sunday commitments such as sports events or practices would only exacerbate this dire statistic.

Making the change will not be easy. It requires reworking athletic schedules and perhaps more sharing of sports facilities between schools. So what? Athletic directors and coaches in the diocese had advance warning that this ban would be coming. They were notified in 2016 to get ready for the idea, but it would not be required to be in play until the 2019-20 school year.

The time is ripe for taking back Sundays. It wasn’t that long ago that shopping malls weren’t even open on Sundays, and now they’re open on Sundays, Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving, signifying the gradual decline in respect for the Sabbath.

Some contend Catholics could attend Mass on Saturday evenings or Sunday mornings and still spend quality leisure time with the family watching kids play in a Sunday afternoon game. But let’s face it: that’s just not the same as devoting the day to the Lord.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron prepares communion during an Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Aloysius Church, in Detroit, March 6, 2019.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron rightly stopped the clock permanently on Sunday sports. It remains to be seen whether the decision is a home run with home teams and their coaches, but it is already a grand slam of respect for the Sabbath, at least in Detroit.

Diane Hofsess is a former Detroit News columnist and high school English and theology teacher. She is a member of St. Thomas More Catholic Church, in Troy.