ROME, 28 AUG. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: I have seen novenas prayed together by the congregation, led by the
priest directly after the Gospel of a weekday Mass. Is this correct?
C.H., Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Q: I was wondering if it is appropriate to insert the Chaplet of Divine
Mercy into the liturgy? Our parish recited this after the homily on
Divine Mercy Sunday, led by our pastor. It seemed as if a beautiful, but
optional, devotion was forced on a captive congregation.
L.S., Hutchinson, Kansas
A: This topic referred to in these two questions is dealt with in the
December 2001 document "Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy,"
published by the Congregation for Divine Worship.
No. 13 of this document states: "The objective difference between pious
exercises and devotional practices should always be clear in expressions
of worship. Hence, the formulae proper to pious exercises should not be
commingled with the liturgical actions. Acts of devotion and piety are
external to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and of the other
"On the one hand, a superimposing of pious and devotional practices on
the Liturgy so as to differentiate their language, rhythm, course, and
theological emphasis from those of the corresponding liturgical action,
must be avoided, while any form of competition with or opposition to the
liturgical actions, where such exists, must also be resolved. Thus,
precedence must always be given to Sunday, Solemnities, and to the
liturgical seasons and days.
"Since, on the other [hand], pious practices must conserve their proper
style, simplicity and language, attempts to impose forms of 'liturgical
celebration' on them are always to be avoided."
Therefore it is incorrect to mingle any devotional exercise such as a
novena or non-liturgical litanies within the context of the Mass; this
mixing respects neither the nature of the Eucharistic celebration nor
the essence of the pious exercise. Novenas or non-liturgical litanies
may, however, be recited immediately before or after Mass.
Some readers ask if devotions may be carried out during Eucharistic
adoration. The above-mentioned directory suggests in No. 165:
"Gradually, the faithful should be encouraged not to do other devotional
exercises during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament." It adds, however:
"Given the close relationship between Christ and Our Lady, the rosary
can always be of assistance in giving prayer a Christological
orientation, since it contains meditation of the Incarnation and the
Although the rosary is the only devotion specifically mentioned, it is
possible that other devotions that can likewise be given a
Christological orientation. These include novenas in preparation for
Christmas and other feasts, which could be used as vocal prayers and
acclamations immediately before Benediction.
This would not be the case for a novena or devotion to a particular
* * *
Follow-up: Novenas and Devotions
During Mass [9-11-2007]
In the wake of our column on mixing devotions and Mass (Aug. 28) a
priest from Conway Springs, Kansas, asked for a clarification.
I had written: "[I]t is incorrect to mingle any devotional exercise such
as a novena or non-liturgical litanies within the context of the Mass."
Our correspondent asked: "Could you clarify the difference between
'non-liturgical litanies' and 'liturgical litanies'? Are the only
'liturgical litanies' those in the sacramentary (e.g., at the Easter
Vigil or an ordination)? I was taught that certain litanies, such as of
the Sacred Heart, were approved for use within a liturgy of the Church."
By "liturgical litanies" I referred to the various litanies specifically
found in the liturgical books for the celebration of Mass as well as
other sacraments (such as baptism, ordination and anointing of the sick)
and sacramentals, such as the crowning of an image of Our Lady.
These would be the only litanies used as a specific rite within Mass,
although some other forms of prayer, such as the prayer of the faithful
and the Kyrie, are also technically litanies.
As our correspondent says, there are other approved litanies that may be
used in public worship, such as during exposition (if consonant with the
aims of adoration) and other public devotions and novenas. The principal
approved litanies are found in the Roman Ritual and are also listed in
the Enchiridion of Indulgences (concession 22.2 partial indulgence).
The litanies (liturgical and devotional) thus universally approved are
the litanies of the Holy Name, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Precious
Blood, Blessed Virgin Mary (those of Loreto and the Queenship, which is
used as part of the order of crowning an image), St. Joseph and All
Many other litanies have been approved either for private use of the
faithful or in some cases for particular groups.
Among such litanies are the litany of Jesus Christ Priest and Victim,
much beloved by Pope John Paul II, and the litany of Divine Mercy, both
of which are often prayed in common. Others, usually prayed privately by
individuals, include the litany of the Holy Spirit, of the Infant Jesus,
of the Blessed Sacrament, of the Passion, and for the souls in
The distinction between private and public use derives above all from
the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1259.2). It forbade the public
recitation of litanies that had not been approved by the Holy See. This
prohibition included not only the public recitation of unapproved
litanies by priests but extended to particular groups of the faithful
who prayed in common without an ordained minister present.
This canon has not been retained in the present code. And while the law
today is somewhat more flexible, it does not necessarily mean that all
litanies formally approved for private use can now be publicly used.
There were and are good reasons for not multiplying the number of public
litanies. Canon 839.2 of the 1983 Code directs the local ordinary to
assure that "the prayers and pious and sacred exercises of the Christian
people are fully in keeping with the norms of the Church."