Invoking Old Testament Figures

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Invoking Old Testament Figures

ROME, 30 OCT. 2007 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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."

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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 impart.

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. 17."

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.

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