Readings on a Feast of the Lord


Readings on a Feast of the Lord

ROME, 6 NOV. 2007 (ZENIT)

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

Q: When a feast of the Lord, which may or normally does occur on Sunday, is celebrated on a weekday, how many readings are used at Mass in addition to the Gospel? Examples would be the Baptism of the Lord, the Transfiguration, and the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. The default taken by readers, because there are two readings in the lectionary and no indication of what to do, is to read both. I am inclined to say that since the proper number of readings on a feast is one, only one need be read. This would be in conformity with all the other changes made for these feasts when they occur on a weekday: no Creed, no first vespers, etc. Next, if I am correct, is the Old Testament or the New Testament reading to be taken? Or is it a choice of the celebrant? — A.T., Charlottesville, Virginia

A: This question is probably best answered by referring to the general principles found in the calendar.

Two things must be considered: 1) the table of precedence that determines which feasts are celebrated whenever two celebrations coincide, and 2) the elements proper to each class.

A feast is distinguished from an ordinary day or the memorial of a saint by its proper formulas and by adding the Gloria. It has the same number of readings as other weekdays (two, including the Gospel) but these are almost always specifically chosen to reflect the feast.

If a feast, for example, the Visitation of Our Lady or the feast of an apostle or the Evangelist Luke, happens to coincide with a Sunday, then it is omitted for that year because Sunday has precedence.

However, when a feast of the Lord, such as the Presentation, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and the other examples given above, coincide with a Sunday of ordinary time, it has precedence and is celebrated instead of the corresponding Sunday.

When this happens, however, all of Sunday's specific liturgical elements, such as the two readings and the Gospel and the profession of faith, are conserved. This is why the lectionary provides two readings (rather than one) plus the Gospel for these feasts.

When the feast of the Lord falls on a weekday it reverts to the normal liturgical elements proper to a feast and has only one reading and the Gospel. The celebrant can freely choose which of the two first readings is to be read, along with the prescribed Gospel text.

This freedom of choice is not always specified in the lectionaries. But it is clearly stated in official guides and calendars published by many bishops' conferences such as the one published by the Latium ecclesiastical province that includes Rome.

If two readings and the Gospel were to be read, then we would then have three rather than two classes of festive celebrations: solemnities, feasts, and feasts of the Lord, a distinction not contemplated in any liturgical document.

Finally, the dedication of St. John Lateran is counted as a feast of the Lord because Rome's cathedral was first of all dedicated to "the Most Holy Savior" while the dedication to Sts. John the Baptist and the Evangelist were added at a later date.

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Follow-up: Readings on a Feast of the Lord [11/20/2007]

With regard to the number of liturgical readings on a feast day (see Nov. 6) some readers asked about All Souls' Day, Nov. 2.

This celebration is a class of its own. It is not a feast as such, since it intercedes for, rather than celebrates, the faithful departed. The Mass has liturgical precedence over Sunday. But unlike a solemnity or feast of the Lord, this precedence does not extend to the Liturgy of the Hours. Whenever the commemoration falls on a Sunday, the Glory and Creed are omitted.

All Souls' Day has three readings even when it falls on a weekday. Some lectionaries provide only one set of readings, indicating that the readings for the other two Masses that a priest may celebrate that day are to taken from the ritual for funeral Masses. Other lectionaries, such as the Italian, helpfully offer three possible schemes of readings, each one with three readings.

In my earlier reply I had mentioned that the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica was considered a feast of the Lord. Several readers replied that the dedication of any church is a feast of the Lord, arguing that the preface of the dedication of a church is placed before the prefaces of Our Lady.

I beg to differ on this point. I do not believe that the location of these prefaces, and the similar fact that the common of a dedication of a church is located before the common of Our Lady in both missal and breviary, necessarily means that it becomes a feast of the Lord. Rather, the dedication of a church is a particular class of celebration.

In the universal calendar, only the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is classed as a feast. The celebrations of the dedication of the other Roman basilicas are classed as optional memorials.

In all other cases, the anniversary of the dedication of a church is considered as a proper solemnity within the church in question. As such, it has precedence over Sundays of ordinary time and even over feasts of the Lord, but not over other solemnities found in the general calendar.

The anniversary of the dedication of a cathedral is a solemnity in the cathedral itself, but is usually celebrated as a feast in the other churches of the diocese.

One reader asked about the annual calendar provided by the Web site of the U.S. bishops' conference. The reader stated that it "explicitly specifies that two readings are to be used for feasts of the Lord on weekdays. … Are the U.S. bishops following some norm you overlooked, or are they in error? What is the appropriate liturgical document to resolve this question?"

I think that the calendar in question, which is a base text used as a resource for the formation of diocesan or regional versions rather than an exhaustive repository of all the norms, merely indicates the biblical references of the three readings found in the lectionary. The calendar does not explicitly address the question of whether all three are to be used.

However, because of its widespread use I do think that it would be wise to add to this calendar a note similar to the one found in the guidelines used in Rome. When a feast of the Lord falls on a weekday it simply says: "Prima lettura a scelta," which means that either of the two first readings may be chosen.

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