Honoring Eastern Orthodox Saints

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Honoring Eastern Orthodox Saints

Masses Could Be Offered in Their Name

Rome, 13 September 2017 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university. 

Q: According to Article 355 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), the celebrant has the option, when permitted, of celebrating “the Mass of any Saint inscribed in the Martyrology for that day.” Among the saints listed in the latest edition (2004) of the Martyrologium Romanum, there are a few who were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church: St. Stephen of Perm (April 26), St. Anthony of Kiev (May 3), St. Theodosius of Kiev (May 7), and St. Sergius of Radonezh (September 25). Also included in the Martyrology is St. Gregory of Narek (February 27) of the Armenian Apostolic Church, who was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Francis on February 21, 2015.  Following the guidelines stated in GIRM 355, is it permitted then to celebrate Mass in honor of any of the above-mentioned Orthodox saints? — G.L., Whittier, California

A: An initial consideration can be given by the fact that the Roman Martyrology specifically states in its introduction that it does not include all saints. To wit:

“The list of Saints and Blessed in the Martyrology

“29. It is not intended to offer in the Roman Martyrology — which is to be regarded as a liturgical book — a complete list of all the Saints and Blesseds, nor to offer wordy elogia, from which tracts of ascetical edification or the history of the Church as a family of Saints and a holy people by divine acquisition (cf 1 Pet 2:9; 1 Thess 5:9-10; 2 Thess 2:13) may be elicited or deduced.

“30. The Roman Martyrology however does offer a list of memorials, first, indeed, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of God, then of the Angels and finally of the Christian faithful, who are represented in the present-day veneration of the Church, whether universal or particular and of a particular religious family, but not, certainly, a complete catalogue of all those who enjoy the most blessed and eternal vision of God.

“31. For these reasons, the Roman Martyrology contains those Saints inscribed in the General Roman Calendar, since their universal importance is foremost in the whole Church of the Roman Rite, as well as many, though not all, of those who have been recommended by each particular Church or religious family, and who are commemorated with any liturgical grade. This local or particular status of the ancient Saints and Blessed from the Middle Ages to present times is indicated by an asterisk (*) next to the number which designates the chronological order of the Saints and Blessed on a given day.”

Thus, although the Martyrology includes these four saints, there are at least another 24 saints that are venerated in common by both Orthodox Churches and Eastern Catholic Churches.

As a consequence these four may also be celebrated by Roman Catholics, while the celebration of the others would be reserved to Eastern Catholics.

There could be several complex reasons that would allow Catholics to liturgically celebrate saints who may have been formally canonized according to norms of an Eastern Church not in communion with the Holy See and who may have lived outside of formal communion with Rome.

St. Stephen of Perm (1340-1396), St. Anthony of Kiev (983-1073), St. Theodosius of Kiev (1029-1074), St. Sergius of Radonezh (1314-1392), and St. Gregory of Narek (950-1003) either lived mostly before the separation of the Eastern and Byzantine Churches in 1054 or during periods when adherence to this division was not so cut and dried as might appear. For example, although Rome and Constantinople were not in communion from 1054 (although briefly restored later on several occasions), this did not necessarily affect bishops and communities in Kiev and other isolated areas.

For example, St. Gregory of Narek is the first Doctor of the Church to have lived outside direct communion with the Bishop of Rome. From the history of the relations between the churches we can say that he belonged to a church that was apostolic and in possession of genuine sacraments. Although his Armenian Church at the time rejected the doctrine of the Council of Chalcedon, his writings are orthodox. He also has been used in the magisterium. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for instance, contains a reference to him:

“Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same” (No. 2678).

And Pope St. John Paul II also referred to him in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater:

“In his panegyric of the Theotokos, Saint Gregory of Narek, one of the outstanding glories of Armenia, with powerful poetic inspiration ponders the different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation, and each of them is for him an occasion to sing and extol the extraordinary dignity and magnificent beauty of the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Word made flesh.”

With the formation of the Armenian Catholic Church St. Gregory received his first liturgical veneration within the Catholic Church and was later included in the Martyrology.

They also lived before the advent of the formal process of canonization instituted by the popes and are therefore subject to a process known as equipollent canonization. This can happen when a saint has been venerated since time immemorial and it is no longer possible to instigate a process. For example, St. Ephrem had been honored in Syria since the fourth century. Benedict XV (1914-1922) named him a Doctor of the Church and extended his feast to the whole Church. Something similar was done by Pope Pius XI in 1931 for St. Albert the Great and Pope John Paul II for the beatification of St. Juan Diego in 1990; the requirement for an authenticating miracle prior to beatification was dispensed with, on the grounds of the antiquity of the cult. Although there is no canonization process there is an in-depth study of the candidate before the declaration is made.

Since these saints have been venerated in Eastern Catholic Churches we can therefore say that they are also Catholic saints.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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