Patron Saints in Mission Lands

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


Patron Saints in Mission Lands

Rome, 11 December 2018 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I have been a missionary priest in Nigeria since Independence in 1960. Recently we celebrated our patron saint, Francis Xavier. I was asked by a younger missionary why the liturgical calendar specifies that all six patron saints of Europe are to be celebrated as feasts in Europe, and elsewhere as memorials; but the two patron saints of the missions (Francis Xavier and Thérèse of Lisieux) are to be celebrated only as memorials in territories subject to the Congregation for Evangelization. I could not answer him. — R.H., Jos, Nigeria

 A: At the risk of flippancy, I think that a first answer is that nobody has ever bothered to ask for it.

 A second possible answer could be that the European patrons are of a physical territory, whereas the patrons of the missions are of an activity or apostolate of the Church. In that sense, they are primarily patrons of the people who engage in missionary work, not so much of the territories under the aegis of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

 However, this second reason would not necessarily exclude the possibility of the first, and perhaps we can gain some clarity by examining the criteria for territorial patrons.

 According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 394:

 “Each diocese should have its own Calendar and Proper of Masses. For its part, the Conference of Bishops should draw up a proper Calendar for the nation or, together with other Conferences, a Calendar for a wider territory, to be approved by the Apostolic See.

 “In carrying out this task, to the greatest extent possible the Lord’s Day is to be preserved and safeguarded, as the primordial feast day, and hence other celebrations, unless they are truly of the greatest importance, should not have precedence over it. Care should likewise be taken that the liturgical year as revised by decree of the Second Vatican Council not be obscured by secondary elements.

 “In the drawing up of the Calendar of a nation, the Rogation Days and Ember Days should be indicated (cf. no. 373), as well as the forms and texts for their celebration, and other special measures should also be kept in mind.

 “It is appropriate that in publishing the Missal, celebrations proper to an entire nation or territory be inserted at the proper place among the celebrations of the General Calendar, while those proper to a region or diocese should have a place in a special appendix.”

 The above norms are based above all on the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, Nos. 48-51, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in the instruction Calendaria Particularia, June 24, 1970, a subsequent decree on patrons, “De Patronis Constituendis” promulgated on March 19, 1973, and a notification updating some norms published in 1997. Calendaria Particularia says:

 “48. The arrangement for celebrating the liturgical year is governed by the calendar: the General Calendar, for use in the entire Roman Rite, or a particular calendar, for use in a particular Church or in families of religious.

 “49. In the General Calendar the entire cycle of celebrations is entered: celebrations of the mystery of salvation as found in the Proper of the Seasons, of those saints having universal significance who must, therefore, be celebrated by everyone or of saints who show the universality and continuity of holiness within the people of God.

 “Particular calendars have more specialized celebrations, arranged to harmonize with the general cycle. [15] The individual Churches or families of religious should show a special honor to those saints who are properly their own.

 “Particular calendars, drawn up by the competent authority, must be approved by the Apostolic See.

 “50. The drawing up of a particular calendar is to be guided by the following considerations:

 “a. The Proper of Seasons (that is, the cycle of seasons, solemnities, and feasts that unfold and honor the mystery of redemption during the liturgical year) must be kept intact and retain its rightful preeminence over particular celebrations.

 “b. Particular celebrations must be coordinated harmoniously with the universal celebrations, with care for the Liturgical Days. Lest particular calendars be enlarged disproportionately, individual saints may have only one feast in the liturgical year. For persuasive pastoral reasons, there may be another celebration in the form of an optional memorial marking the transfer or discovery of the bodies of patrons or founders of Churches or of families of religious.

 “c. Feasts granted by indult may not duplicate other celebrations already contained in the cycle of the mystery of salvation, nor may they be multiplied out of proportion.

 “51. Although it is reasonable for each diocese to have its own calendar and propers for the Mass and office, there is no reason why entire provinces, regions, countries, or even larger areas may not have common calendars and propers, prepared with the cooperation of all the parties involved. This principle may also be followed in the case of the calendars for several provinces of religious within the same civil territory.”

 From the above, we can see that the initiative for changes in the calendar comes above all from local and national communities and is then ratified by the Holy See. It is not an automatic procedure, and this is the basis of my first answer above.

 This procedure can be seen in the proclamation of St. Benedict as the first patron of Europe. Pope St. Paul VI wrote in his proclamation in 1964:

 “It is natural, then, that We also give our full assent to this movement that tends toward the attainment of European unity. For this reason, we gladly welcomed the requests of many cardinals, archbishops, bishops, superior generals of religious orders, rectors of universities and other distinguished representatives of the laity from the various European nations to declare St. Benedict the Patron of Europe. And in the light of this solemn proclamation, today’s date appears to Us particularly appropriate, for on this day We re-consecrate to God, in honor of the most holy Virgin and St. Benedict, the temple of Montecassino, which having been destroyed in 1944 during the terrible world conflict, was reconstructed through the tenacity of Christian piety. This we do most willingly, repeating the actions of several of Our Predecessors, who personally took steps throughout the centuries towards the dedication of this center of monastic spirituality, which was made famous by the sepulcher of St. Benedict. May so remarkable a saint receive our vow and, as he once dispelled the darkness by the light of Christian civilization and radiated the gift of peace, may he now preside over all of European life and by his intercession develop and increase it all the more.

 “Therefore, as proposed by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, and after due consideration, in virtue of Our apostolic power, with the present Brief and in perpetuity we constitute and proclaim St. Benedict, Abbot, the Principal heavenly Patron of all Europe, granting every honor and liturgical privilege due by law to primary Protectors. Notwithstanding any provision to the contrary. This we make known and establish, deciding that the present Letter remain valid and effective, that it obtain its full and integral effect and be respected by all those it regards or shall regard in future; so also, may whatever judgment or definition be in accordance with it; and henceforth, may whatever contrary act, by whatever authority it was established, consciously or through ignorance, be deemed invalid.

 “Given in Rome, at St. Peter’s, the 24th of October in the year 1964, the second of Our Pontificate.”

 The addition of new patrons of Europe, however, was more of a personal initiative of Pope St. John Paul II. First, he added Cyril and Methodius as co-patrons on December 31, 1980. Then, in 1999, he added three holy women who also had significant meaning for Europe:

 “Through the Communion of Saints, which mysteriously unites the Church on earth with the Church in heaven, they take our cares upon themselves in their unceasing intercession before the throne of God. At the same time, a more fervent invocation of these Saints, and a more assiduous and careful attention to their words and example will not fail to make us ever more aware of our common vocation to holiness and inspire in us the resolve to be ever more generous in our commitment.

 “Wherefore, after much consideration, in virtue of my Apostolic Authority I establish and declare Saint Bridget of Sweden, Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross heavenly Co-Patronesses of all of Europe before God, and I hereby grant all the honors and liturgical privileges belonging by law to the principal patrons of places.

 “Glory be to the Holy Trinity, whose radiant splendor shines uniquely in their lives and in the lives of all the Saints. Peace to men and women of good will, in Europe and throughout the world.

 “Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on the first day of October in the year 1999, the twenty-first of my Pontificate.”

 In an analogous process St. John Paul II named Our Lady of Guadalupe patron of the Americas on January 22, 1999, responding to a petition of the Special Synod of Bishops of America in 1997. The proclamation was formalized by a decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship on March 25, 1999, which included the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the universal calendar as an optional memorial and as a feast in all countries of both American continents except where it has a higher ranking such as in Mexico.

 Therefore, if the bishops of countries under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples were to consider it opportune that the celebrations of St. Francis Xavier and St. Thérèse of Lisieux be elevated to the rank of feast within these territories, then they would have to petition the above-mentioned congregation to take up the matter with the Holy Father.

 It is not impossible, but it will not happen unless the bishops themselves take the initiative.

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