ROME, 2 MARCH 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Several questions have arisen at a seminary regarding the proper
way to commemorate the saints during privileged seasons, such as
Lent. I was wondering if you could lay out the proper or at
least suggested ways in which this can be done for the Liturgy
of the Hours, the Mass itself, and if the office (for example,
morning prayer) is combined with the Mass.
R.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A: During Lent all memorials of saints, whether obligatory or
optional, are deemed "commemorations" and their celebration is
more limited than in other times. In all cases, their
celebration is optional even for memorials that would be
obligatory outside of Lent.
The applicable norms for Mass are found in the General
Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) No. 355:
"a. On the weekdays of Advent from 17 December to 24 December,
on days within the Octave of Christmas, and on the weekdays of
Lent, except Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week, the Mass for
the current liturgical day is to be used; but the Collect may be
taken from a memorial which happens to be listed in the General
Calendar for that day, except on Ash Wednesday and during Holy
Week. On weekdays of the Easter Season, memorials of Saints may
rightly be celebrated fully.
"b. On the weekdays of Advent before 17 December, the weekdays
of the Christmas Season from 2 January, and the weekdays of the
Easter Season, it is possible to choose either the weekday Mass,
or the Mass of the Saint, or the Mass of one of the Saints whose
memorial is observed, or the Mass of any Saint listed in the
Martyrology for that day."
Therefore, to commemorate, for example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem,
whose March 18 feast almost always falls during Lent, only the
proper collect or opening prayer is used. All the rest is taken
from the current weekday: the readings, prayer over the gifts,
preface, prayer after communion, and proper antiphons. Violet
vestments are used and not white or red as is usual with the
If a saint has the category of solemnity or feast, for example,
St. Joseph or St. Patrick in some countries, then it is
celebrated as normal with vestments of the corresponding color,
the recitation of the Glory and, on solemnities, the Creed. The
readings and the Liturgy of the Hours are those proper to the
On Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week and the Easter Octave, all
celebrations of saints are excluded.
Regarding the Liturgy of the Hours, the General Introduction to
the Divine Office says:
"Memorials During Privileged Seasons
"237. On Sundays, solemnities, and feasts, on Ash Wednesday,
during Holy Week, and during the octave of Easter, memorials
that happen to fall on these days are disregarded.
"238. On the weekdays from 17 to 24 December, during the octave
of Christmas, and on the weekdays of Lent, no obligatory
memorials are celebrated, even in particular calendars. When any
happen to fall during Lent in a given year, they are treated as
"239. During privileged seasons, if it is desired to celebrate
the office of a saint on a day assigned to his or her memorial:
"a. in the office of readings, after the patristic reading (with
its responsory) from the Proper of Seasons, a proper reading
about the saint (with its responsory) may follow, with the
concluding prayer of the saint;
"b. at morning prayer and evening prayer, the ending of the
concluding prayer may be omitted and the saint's antiphon (from
the proper or common) and prayer may be added."
Later are some specific norms for special seasons:
"247. In the office for Sundays, solemnities, feasts of the Lord
listed in the General Calendar, the weekdays of Lent and Holy
Week, the days within the octaves of Easter and Christmas, and
the weekdays from 17 to 24 December inclusive, it is never
permissible to change the formularies that are proper or adapted
to the celebration, such as antiphons, hymns, readings,
responsories, prayers, and very often also the psalms.
"252. Everyone should be concerned to respect the complete cycle
of the four-week psalter. Still, for spiritual or pastoral
advantage, the psalms appointed for a particular day may be
replaced with others from the same hour of a different day.
There are also circumstances occasionally arising when it is
permissible to choose suitable psalms and other texts in the way
done for a votive office."
Thus, if morning prayer is united to Mass, then there is no
change in the office at all on a commemoration. Everything would
be taken from the day except the saint's collect at Mass.
As seen above, it is possible to change the psalms of the day
while maintaining the proper Lenten antiphons. Making use of
this option requires careful discernment and a liturgically
literate community able to both understand the reason for the
change and easily navigate the Book of Hours.
Follow-up: Commemorating Saints in Lent [3-16-2009]
Subsequent to our comments on the celebration of saints during
Lent, an attentive reader apportioned a small correction.
She wrote: "In your column of March 2, you stated that the feast
of St. Cyril of Jerusalem on March 18 'almost always falls
during Lent.' However, in reality the feast of St. Cyril
always falls during Lent, since the earliest possible date
for Easter is March 22, in which case his feast would be
Wednesday of Holy Week."
Our correspondent is correct. This is also true for April 25,
the latest possible date for Easter. In this case, Ash Wednesday
falls on March 10.
The two extremes are quite rare. Easter last fell on March 22 in
1818 and won't fall again on that date until 2285. The April 25
occurrence is slightly more frequent; it last occurred in 1943
and will return in 2038. At least some people will twice
experience the latest possible Easter.
Another reader asked if my answer also applied to the
extraordinary form. I answered according to the norms of the
ordinary universal calendar.
It is beyond the scope of this column to explain the complex
rules of the extraordinary form's liturgical calendar. However,
both forms follow the same basic principles, and weekdays of
Lent are ranked higher and have precedence over third-class
feasts of saints of the universal calendar. Third-class feasts
correspond roughly to the memorials found in the ordinary form.