|ROME, 6 JAN. 2009 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father
Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum
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Q1: We here in Nepal have a very peculiar situation. Sunday is a
normal working day in this country (I believe also in many Arabian
countries). Therefore, over many years (30-plus), we have been having
our entire Sunday celebration shifted to Saturday, the only day on which
people could participate fully. However, this has led to some confusion:
For some people it is hard to feel that the Sunday obligation is
fulfilled by attending Mass on Saturday. Another problem is the question
over what Mass to celebrate on Sunday. Some of us just repeat the same
Mass; some others instead celebrate the Saturday Mass on Sunday. At
times, some of the feasts on Saturdays are lost because of our
particular situation. I personally miss the Saturday Mass, because I am
used to celebrating on both days. And to add to all this, is our
national calendar, which is different from the Gregorian calendar; the
month begins somewhere in the middle of the Gregorian calendar. For all
official purposes we have to use that national calendar, and most of our
people too use that calendar. For example, we had debates on several
occasions: When is the first Friday of the month? As per the Nepali
calendar or the Christian calendar?
P.P., Katmandu, Nepal
Q2: Here in our country, very often parishes celebrate the parish feast
on Sundays, e.g. the feast of St Jude's Church, etc. Is this correct? If
the Sunday Readings are not proclaimed but some other readings
pertaining to the feast day are read, I thought that it is not right to
M.J., Colombo, Sri Lanka
A: As both questions are related to the Sunday liturgy, I will
attempt to answer them together.
In the first case, it is important to remember that for Christians
Sunday as such is not a transferable feast. During the first three
centuries Christians met on Sunday even though it was a normal working
day, and many of them were slaves taking a great risk. This often meant
getting up very early or perhaps sneaking out in the evening. (Of
course, we are also in an epoch when the mere fact of being a Christian
could lead to a painful death.) As one group of ancient martyrs famously
related to the magistrate who sentenced them, "We cannot live without
Sunday Mass has not lost any of its value or importance to the lives of
Catholics, nor have they become less heroic in defending their faith as
recent events have shown. At the same time, the present circumstances of
Christian living and the Church's desire to care for the spiritual needs
of as many of the flock as possible can lead to some innovations.
Therefore what is the situation of Sunday in Nepal, Arabia and some
First of all, Sunday always remains Sunday, and the proper liturgy of
the day should always be celebrated. Likewise as far as possible the
faithful should attend Mass on Sunday or on Saturday evening. If it is
necessary and useful, then priests should be willing to celebrate Mass
at unusual times.
In those cases where permission has been granted for Sunday liturgy to
be celebrated on a Friday or Saturday morning because Sunday is a normal
workday, it is important to note that it is not a case of transferring
Sunday to another day. Rather, it is a pastoral response so that those
Catholics who find it impossible to attend Mass on Saturday evening or
Sunday might not be deprived of the riches offered by the three-year
cycle of biblical readings and prayers.
Canonically speaking, those who are objectively unable to attend Sunday
Mass are dispensed from the precept and in fact have no obligation to
attend Mass on Friday or Saturday Morning. If they do attend, then they
do something that is very good. And when this is a common situation
pastors act well in addressing their spiritual needs by providing the
best liturgical fare while being careful to avoid the impression that
they are moving Sunday to another day.
As our correspondent points out, this can sometimes lead to losing some
celebrations that fall on a Saturday. In some cases it might be enough
to mention the feast in the prayers of the faithful and the homily; on
others it might be pastorally more useful to actually celebrate the
feast on Saturday morning instead of using the Sunday texts.
The other question, regarding the proper calendar to follow when the
local one is different, is something of a conundrum. In such cases the
local bishops would be the ones to decide. If need be, the bishop would
ask the Holy See for permission to change the dates of certain
liturgical feasts that are tied to the Gregorian calendar, such as the
solemnity of the Sacred Heart.
Since practices such as the first Friday or first Saturdays are
devotional and not official liturgical practices, I see no difficulty in
adjusting the practice to local needs.
Finally, a reply to our reader from Sri Lanka: Since the patron saint of
a parish is usually ranked as a solemnity within the parish church
itself, it is permitted to transfer the celebration to the nearest
Sunday so as to allow as many parishioners as possible to attend.
* * *
Follow-up: Shifting or Substituting the Sunday Liturgy
Related to our column on shifting the Sunday liturgy (see
Jan. 6), a priest residing in the United States asked the following:
"I searched the GIRM [General Instruction of the Roman Missal] for
some light on the patronal celebration of the feast on a Sunday. In
Mumbai, India, we observe the solemnity of the feast of the patron saint
on the following Sunday so that the entire parish can take part in the
"I am at a parish dedicated to St. George, and we are celebrating the
diamond jubilee of the parish. I suggested to the pastor to have the
celebration of the feast, which falls on April 23, on the following
Sunday, April 26. He wants to know how it can be done. Could you throw
some light on this?"
Actually, this question is not addressed in the GIRM but in No. 58 of
the introduction to the Roman calendar published in 1969.
This document states: "For the pastoral advantage of the people, it
is permissible to observe on the Sundays in Ordinary Time those
celebrations that fall during the week and have special appeal to the
devotion of the faithful, provided the celebrations take precedence over
these Sundays in the Table of Liturgical Days. The Mass for such
celebrations may be used at all the Masses at which a congregation is
Therefore, it is legitimate to transfer the celebration of a parish's
patron saint (which has the rank of solemnity in the parish itself) to
the following Sunday if this is a Sunday of ordinary time.
In the concrete case mentioned by our reader, however, the Sunday
following April 23 always falls in Eastertide or, as will occur in 2011,
2038 and 2095, is Easter Sunday itself. This Sunday, therefore, always
has a higher rank in the table of liturgical days than the feast of the
patron saint. Thus, in this case it is not possible to transfer the
feast to the following Sunday.
It is still possible to organize other activities of popular devotion
on this Sunday if this is the only day that people can gather, but the
Mass must be that of the corresponding Sunday of Easter.
Another priest raised an intriguing question to the follow-up article
on Communion under both species: "Further to the question/answer of Jan.
6, as 'the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ are present in both
the consecrated bread and wine,' is there anything
apart from the fact that 'it isn't done'
against administering only the Blood of Christ, and not the Body of
Christ? I never see the question raised this way round."
I would say that, strictly speaking, this could be done. It is quite
regularly done in case of those who are intolerant to wheat and to those
incapable of receiving solid food. I would also suppose that it could be
done if, in admittedly highly unusual circumstances, a group of isolated
Christians found themselves with little bread and a lot of altar wine.
As far as I know, there is no explicit prohibition against this,
probably because nobody ever thought of doing it before. But the law
presumes that it is not done and that if Communion is given under one
species, this species is ordinarily the species of bread.
There are myriad practical reasons that justify the Church's present
custom of not distributing only the species of wine, but I think that
the reasons go beyond the practical and the budgetary.
Many Old Testament types of the Eucharist, such as the manna in the
desert to which Our Lord himself refers to in Chapter 6 of the Gospel
according to John, plus the reference to the Eucharist as the "breaking
of the bread" found in the Acts of the Apostles, indicate that there is
a clear preference toward the species of bread from the very beginning.
Likewise, the species of wine is not easily conserved, and
distributing only the species of wine would have made the development of
Eucharistic devotion and adoration almost impossible.
I think we can therefore conclude that the prevalence of distributing
the consecrated bread rather than just the consecrated wine is a
practice guided by the Holy Spirit for the greater good of the Church.