All Souls and Clericalism

by Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue 

November 2nd falls on a Sunday this year. The Mass will be taken from the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.  However when preparing for Sunday, I noticed the following rubric in the Liturgy of the Hours:

“When November 2 occurs on a Sunday, even though the Mass for All Souls may be celebrated, the office is taken from the current Sunday in Ordinary Time; the Office for the Dead is not said.  However, when Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer are celebrated with the people, these hours may be taken from the Office of the Dead.”[1]

I am quoting from this edition as it is translated from the Second Edition (Editio Typica Altera) of the Liturgy of the Hours published in Latin in the year 2000.  However the translation is exactly the same as the one provided in the 1975 US edition.

This rubric started me thinking.  I wonder why is there a difference between a celebration “with the people” (Latin “cum populi participation”) and one that is not with the people?

Is it presumed that only a priest or a religious would be praying alone? Or does the rubric hold even if a layperson was praying alone?  Does this imply that a priest is expected to be above the simple spirituality of the layperson who would be scandalized by the Sunday prayers on All Souls’ Day? What happens if two people are praying together (maybe two priests in the rectory before Sunday Mass, or a husband and wife before going to church), are they allowed to pray the Office of the Dead or must they pray the Office for the Sunday in Ordinary Time?

Worse still does this imply that by virtue of my Ordination, I no longer form part of the “people”?  On Sunday, I intend to pray for all the faithful departed.  Also as I am now ministering in my mother’s native town, after spending most of my life in the United States, I intend to go the grave of my grandparents and say a prayer there.  Ought I as a priest not do so?

Admittedly, this criticism is a little tongue in check, and maybe I have a totally mistaken reading of the rubric.  I appreciate the primacy of Sunday and the importance of emphasizing the Lord’s Day.  However, given that PrayTell readers are reflecting on the section on the Liturgy of the Hours in Fr. Joncas’ commentary on Sacrosanctum Concilium this week, I thought that this might complement the discussion there.

Is this an instance of where the revisers of the Liturgy of the Hours fell into the trap of considering it to be a prayer book for clerics and not part of the liturgy of the People of God?  Surely it would have been possible simply to give both the option of the Office of the Dead and the Sunday Office, and let those celebrating the liturgy decide which is better for their spiritual needs (whether it be an individual praying alone or a large assembly). If those in Holy Orders of Religious Life consider their spirituality to be superior to that of the People of God, then we have a problem.  Pope Francis has warned that seminary formation can foster clericalism and create priests who are “little monsters.” Does this rubric feed this attitude?  Surely the Liturgy of the Hours ought to foster a true spirit of ministry among the clergy as that proposed by St. Augustine: “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian. The former title speaks of a task undertaken, the latter of grace; the former betokens danger, the latter salvation.” (Sermo 340, 1: PL 38:1483)


Fr. Neil Xavier O’Donoghue is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, NJ. He currently serves as Vice Rector of Redemptoris Mater House of Formation in Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland and as a curate in Holy Redeemer parish.



[1] The Liturgy of the Hours According to the Roman Rite (Nairobi, Kenya: Paulines Publications Africa, 2009) Volume 4, page 1385-86.


  1. This is one time when I think the old calendar has it right, and All Souls, is transferred to Monday.


  2. This rubric has not on the surface made much sense to me, either. While your theory may be true, I think there is a chance that may be reading too much into it, and perhaps it is just a manifestation of the tension between All Souls and the Sunday celebration. By celebrating one of these at Mass and the other in the Hours, perhaps the reformers of the Liturgy of the Hours assumed both would be accounted for in one’s spritual life.

    The option to celebrate the Office of the Dead with the people is give as just that – an option. It does not say that the Office of the Dead must be celebrated with the people, but simply provides a pastoral option. For example, in the spirit of the rubric, I think that if a parish celebrates Sunday Vespers every week then they should use the Hours for the 31st Sunday. If this is not a custom, but it is a custom to say always hold Vespers on All Souls, then it would make sense to me to use the Office of the Dead. If a parish does both, well, in that case, I might be inclined to choose to follow the same rubric as the clergy themselves are instructed – but there is still a valid choice the other way – in other words, which is more attended – the weekly Sunday Vespers or the annual All Souls Vespers? What will the congregation be coming for?

    Do clergy deserve the same pastoral option with their choice of liturgical prayer that day? Perhaps. But in this case I don’t choose to view it as a case of clericalism, but rather as a case of a pastoral option provided to the congregation.

  3. Exactly Earle. That the revisers changed the observance of All Souls when it falls on a Sunday to be on that day rather than transfer it to Monday, as had been traditional, seems odd. Especially since in the revisions, very few feasts could now take precedence over a Sunday. It seems strange that All Souls would be one of them.

  4. I think the rubric largely reflects indecision on the part of the reformers – either All Souls is compatible with/outranks Sunday observance or not, so whatever decision was made ought to have been held to consistently for the whole liturgical day. (Though in the reformers’ defense, I believe this expectation of consistency on All Souls between Mass and Office is relatively modern idea – it is called the “commemoration” of all the faithful departed because originally it had no full office.)

    That said, though, I do think the way things are worded betrays a suspicious double standard. Are we saying that clerics must be expected to do the “proper” thing unless they have to bend to the intransigence or ignorance of the lay folk who insist on celebrating an office where it doesn’t really belong? Or if it’s simply about bowing to a pious desire, why is the cleric not free to act on such a desire on his own? Fishy.

  5. As a lay woman who prays the Office (and has for three decades), and for most of those years have been a strong advocate for the reclamation of the Liturgy of the Hours by all of the People of God, this is the least of my worries when it comes to clericalism and the Liturgy of the Hours. The Office is sprinkled with various reminders that the assumed user is male and a cleric. I wince weekly, sometimes more frequently.

  6. Glad to see this since I’d wondered about that rubric too. Sacrosanctam Concilium and the General Instruction for the LOTH do seem to focus on lay participation when it’s a communal act–in church and preferably with a priest. At the same time, it has also made it clear that praying without clergy and even privately is still a liturgical act for us laymen. But I think the authors of those documents weren’t visualizing us suburban Americans who aren’t going to hop into our cars two or three or more times a day for a twenty minute round trip in order that we may participate with the community in prayer services that last between 5 and 10 minutes. Our reality is much that of the average parish priest, who prays the hours privately because the group ideal is not easy to achieve. As to All Souls mass on Sunday–I can see the sense of going over to Monday, but doing it on Sunday gets more people actually observing All Souls, both praying for the dead and thinking/praying about their own deaths, so there is merit in that as well. I hope those instructions about cum populi vs. non cum populi were not clericalist in intent, but who knows? But I’m glad to see a cleric worrying about it! Thanks, Father.

  7. This is one priest who will be praying the entire liturgy for All Souls Day — Mass and Office. The rubric makes no sense, and by the way, I believe the same thing happens next Sunday for the feast of the Lateran basilica when I will be celebrating the entire liturgy for the dedication of a church — Mass and Office!

  8. @Daria Sockey

    You are right that it gets more people observing All Souls, but it is absolutely strange to be having this mass offered on a day associated with the Resurrection.

    If one reads Bouyer’s diary, he mentions this, and I believe he said that it was done this way so that people would hear the same collect.

  9. I don’t wish to start a theological disputation, but it is precisely the paschal mystery that grounds the possibility of efficacious prayer for the dead, that they might come to share in the mystery of Christ’s resurrection — and hence a commemoration that draws attention to Christian hope seems to me to be eminently appropriate for a Sunday observance given its paschal character. And besides, this won’t happen again until 2025 when any number of us might well be among the faithful departed and quite grateful for the additional prayers!

  10. I have always used the Office for the Dead on Nov. 2, no matter what day of the week it falls on! Any other practice seems absurd.

  11. Michelle Francl-Donnay : The Office is sprinkled with various reminders that the assumed user is male and a cleric.

    Michelle, I’m not disputing, but asking out of genuine interest: what things project the assumed user as a cleric? The androcentrism is, lamentably, obvious to me, and I would have thought that given I’ve been an aner much longer than I’ve been a cleric, I’d be more attuned to clericalism than androcentrism.

    1. @Adam Booth, CSC – comment #11:

      Adam, yes, it’s lamentably androcentric, far more than it is clerical. Whatever else I might be, I am not and cannot be Christ’s brother, but various intercessions pray that for me.

      It’s the intercessions that rankle most, there are one or two that crop up on feasts and memorials that simply assume “priest or deacon” and a few more that seem to have it as a not too deeply buried subtext.

      That said, as much as I wince, it’s not driven me away from praying the LOH these many years, and as the intercessions seem to vary widely in their style, at times I imagine who it is who might have drafted a particular set.

  12. To my mind, the peculiarity of All Souls’ Day, as a “commemoration,” is that it concentrates on the penitential and intercessory aspects of our relationship with the dead, reflecting the place of the notion of purgation after death in our theology and worship. Consequently, violet vestments would be appropriate, and it would appear to be too nonpaschal to replace a Sunday in Ordinary Time. That seems to have been the thinking before, when it was observed on November 3 if November 2 was a Sunday—and, as this post reveals, clerics still aren’t supposed to give it full force in the Office. But if All Souls’ Day is now thought of as strongly paschal, what’s the difference between it and All Saints’ Day?

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