ROME, 30 OCT. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
Q: Why is it that we never invoke or ask intercession of any of the
"holy ones" from the Old Testament in the prayers of the Mass, nor do we
have feast days to honor them? I am thinking of those such as Elijah,
Hannah, Samuel, Ruth, King David, or Isaiah, to name a few. Though we
may refer to them, no feast day appears on the Roman calendar, nor any
mention when praying in the Eucharistic prayers to be united with the
saints in heaven. —
J.K., Portland, Oregon
A: The reason that there are no feast days to Old Testament saints in
the Church's universal calendar is probably due to the historical
process in which the calendar was formed. At first, only martyrs for
Christ were remembered on their anniversaries, and shortly afterward the
Blessed Virgin was also honored with feast days.
St. Martin of Tours (died 397) was probably the first non-martyr
remembered with a feast. But the tradition has generally been that the
saints in the calendar have been heroic examples of the life in Christ.
This does not mean that Old Testament saints were not recognized or that
their intercession could not be sought.
The Roman Martyrology, a liturgical book first published in the 1600,
collects all of the saints and blessed officially recognized by the
Church and organized according to their feast day. Those classified as
saints in this book may be celebrated on their feast days, provided that
the day is free of any other obligatory celebration.
Most of these saints, who far outnumber those of the general calendar,
have no specific Mass formulas. Whenever they are celebrated, the most
appropriate formulas are chosen from the common of saints.
Among the great saints of the Old Testament traditionally remembered in
the Martyrology are the Prophet Habakkuk, celebrated on Jan. 15; Isaiah,
July 6; Daniel and Elias, July 20 and 21; the Seven Maccabees and their
mother, Aug. 17; Abraham, Oct. 9; and King David, Dec. 29.
There are also other occasions when the intercession of Old Testament
saints is invoked in some way or another, for example:
Every time the litanies of the saints are prayed they are invoked in
generic terms: "All holy Patriarchs and Prophets, pray for us."
Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek are referred to in the Roman Canon as
examples of true devotion to God.
Abel and Abraham used also to be specifically invoked in the brief
litany in the rite recommending a departing soul, but this has now been
replaced with a generic form.
In the Libera (Deliver, etc.), which follows shortly after, many Old
Testament names still appear, for example: "Free your servant, Lord, as
you freed Daniel from the den of the lions."
* * *
Follow-up: Invoking Old Testament Figures [11-13-2007]
After our reply on invoking Old Testament saints (Oct. 30) several
readers suggested that I had given insufficient consideration to the
fact that almost all the Eastern Catholic Churches do have specific
feast days for Old Testament figures.
The objection is valid, although some such oversights are almost
inevitable, as a result of the relatively brief extension of our replies
as well as of our incomplete knowledge of the Eastern liturgies. This
goes to show that we often learn more from our readers than we manage to
Among the celebrations readers mentioned were some saints of the Melkite
(Greek or Byzantine Catholic) calendar. A reader cites "Malachi, Jan. 3;
Zechariah, Feb. 8; Job, May 6; Amos, June 15; Ezekiel, July 23; Eleazar,
the Seven Holy Maccabees, their mother Salome, Aug. 1; Joshua and Moses,
Sept. 1 and 4; Hosea, Oct. 17; Daniel and the Three Holy Youths, Dec.
Many of the other holy ones celebrated are grouped toward the last four
months of the year. Also, the reader notes: "The Sunday between Dec. 11
and 17 commemorates the holy ancestors of Christ, and the Sunday between
Dec. 18 and 24 commemorates all the Old Testament saints from Abraham to
Joseph, the husband of Mary."
Besides St. Joseph, both the Latin and Eastern calendars celebrate some
saints who are on the frontier between the Old and New Testaments. These
include Joachim and Anna, Simeon and the prophetess Anna, Zechariah and
Elizabeth, and St. John the Baptist.
Finally, the calendar of the extraordinary form of the Roman rite (1962
missal) celebrates, with proper texts, the feast of the Holy Maccabees
on Aug. 1.