A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Novenas and Devotions During Mass
ROME, 28 AUG. 2007 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I have seen novenas prayed together by the congregation, led by the priest directly after the Gospel of a weekday Mass. Is this correct? — C.H., Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Q: I was wondering if it is appropriate to insert the Chaplet of Divine Mercy into the liturgy? Our parish recited this after the homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, led by our pastor. It seemed as if a beautiful, but optional, devotion was forced on a captive congregation. — L.S., Hutchinson, Kansas
A: This topic referred to in these two questions is dealt with in the December 2001 document "Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy," published by the Congregation for Divine Worship.
No. 13 of this document states: "The objective difference between pious exercises and devotional practices should always be clear in expressions of worship. Hence, the formulae proper to pious exercises should not be commingled with the liturgical actions. Acts of devotion and piety are external to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and of the other sacraments.
"On the one hand, a superimposing of pious and devotional practices on the Liturgy so as to differentiate their language, rhythm, course, and theological emphasis from those of the corresponding liturgical action, must be avoided, while any form of competition with or opposition to the liturgical actions, where such exists, must also be resolved. Thus, precedence must always be given to Sunday, Solemnities, and to the liturgical seasons and days.
"Since, on the other [hand], pious practices must conserve their proper style, simplicity and language, attempts to impose forms of 'liturgical celebration' on them are always to be avoided."
Therefore it is incorrect to mingle any devotional exercise such as a novena or non-liturgical litanies within the context of the Mass; this mixing respects neither the nature of the Eucharistic celebration nor the essence of the pious exercise. Novenas or non-liturgical litanies may, however, be recited immediately before or after Mass.
Some readers ask if devotions may be carried out during Eucharistic adoration. The above-mentioned directory suggests in No. 165: "Gradually, the faithful should be encouraged not to do other devotional exercises during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament." It adds, however: "Given the close relationship between Christ and Our Lady, the rosary can always be of assistance in giving prayer a Christological orientation, since it contains meditation of the Incarnation and the Redemption."
Although the rosary is the only devotion specifically mentioned, it is possible that other devotions that can likewise be given a Christological orientation. These include novenas in preparation for Christmas and other feasts, which could be used as vocal prayers and acclamations immediately before Benediction.
This would not be the case for a novena or devotion to a particular saint.
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Follow-up: Novenas and Devotions During Mass [9-11-2007]
In the wake of our column on mixing devotions and Mass (Aug. 28) a priest from Conway Springs, Kansas, asked for a clarification.
I had written: "[I]t is incorrect to mingle any devotional exercise such as a novena or non-liturgical litanies within the context of the Mass." Our correspondent asked: "Could you clarify the difference between 'non-liturgical litanies' and 'liturgical litanies'? Are the only 'liturgical litanies' those in the sacramentary (e.g., at the Easter Vigil or an ordination)? I was taught that certain litanies, such as of the Sacred Heart, were approved for use within a liturgy of the Church."
By "liturgical litanies" I referred to the various litanies specifically found in the liturgical books for the celebration of Mass as well as other sacraments (such as baptism, ordination and anointing of the sick) and sacramentals, such as the crowning of an image of Our Lady.
These would be the only litanies used as a specific rite within Mass, although some other forms of prayer, such as the prayer of the faithful and the Kyrie, are also technically litanies.
As our correspondent says, there are other approved litanies that may be used in public worship, such as during exposition (if consonant with the aims of adoration) and other public devotions and novenas. The principal approved litanies are found in the Roman Ritual and are also listed in the Enchiridion of Indulgences (concession 22.2 partial indulgence).
The litanies (liturgical and devotional) thus universally approved are the litanies of the Holy Name, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Precious Blood, Blessed Virgin Mary (those of Loreto and the Queenship, which is used as part of the order of crowning an image), St. Joseph and All Saints.
Many other litanies have been approved either for private use of the faithful or in some cases for particular groups.
Among such litanies are the litany of Jesus Christ Priest and Victim, much beloved by Pope John Paul II, and the litany of Divine Mercy, both of which are often prayed in common. Others, usually prayed privately by individuals, include the litany of the Holy Spirit, of the Infant Jesus, of the Blessed Sacrament, of the Passion, and for the souls in purgatory.
The distinction between private and public use derives above all from the 1917 Code of Canon Law (Canon 1259.2). It forbade the public recitation of litanies that had not been approved by the Holy See. This prohibition included not only the public recitation of unapproved litanies by priests but extended to particular groups of the faithful who prayed in common without an ordained minister present.
This canon has not been retained in the present code. And while the law today is somewhat more flexible, it does not necessarily mean that all litanies formally approved for private use can now be publicly used.
There were and are good reasons for not multiplying the number of public litanies. Canon 839.2 of the 1983 Code directs the local ordinary to assure that "the prayers and pious and sacred exercises of the Christian people are fully in keeping with the norms of the Church."
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