This is the year when we run into a number of instances of feasts occurring on Saturdays. As usual, there have been divergences between diocesan ordos, and much discussion online as to how these intersections with Sunday should be handled. These reflections were prompted by a report in one forum that some pastors, on September 14 this year, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, had even said, unbelievably, that on the Saturday evening it was correct to celebrate the 1st Mass of Sunday but with the readings of the feast! This is, of course, completely false.
But other questions remain. Do you have Evening Prayer II of the feast, or Evening Prayer I of Sunday? On September 14 and November 2, you should celebrate Evening Prayer II of the feast, followed by 1st Mass of the Sunday; but on November 9 you should celebrate Evening Prayer I and 1st Mass of the Sunday. The reason for the difference is to be found in the Table of Liturgical Days, but the problem is that it is not always easy to tell, even from that Table, what should be done. We will return to this later on.
The ultimate root of the confusion that we often encounter today lies as far back as 1948, when Pius XII set up a Pontifical Commission for the Reform of the Liturgy. One of the fruits of its work was to be seen in the papal encyclical Christus Dominus of 1953. Although this document was primarily concerned with changes in “the discipline to be observed with respect to the Eucharistic Fast”, it also contained the seeds of what we are now discussing.
Rule VI gave bishops the power to authorize Masses in the evening (though not earlier than 4:00pm), and from this spread the custom of Sunday evening Mass. Prior to this, it had not been permissible to celebrate a Mass later than 12 noon, except with special dispensations (for example, in cases where an entire workforce could not attend Mass except in the afternoon or evening, or in particular instances during World War II).
Fast forward now to 1967 and Eucharisticum Mysterium, an instruction from the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Sunday evening Mass is by now normative in many places, but para 28 for the first time allows for the celebration of Sunday and feastday Masses on the previous evening, but only in places where permission had been granted by the Apostolic See and with the express approval of the local bishop.
This obviously proved successful very quickly, because on January 10, 1970, the Sacred Congregation for Clergy authorized this as a general practice, provided that there was a valid reason for attending Mass on Saturday rather than on Sunday.
The requirement for a good reason to celebrate on Saturday evening rather than Sunday was removed in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, so that celebrating Sunday Mass on Saturday evening is now a matter of choice on the part of those who attend. Canon 1248 §1 states: “The obligation of assisting at Mass is satisfied wherever Mass is celebrated in a Catholic Rite either on a holy day itself or on the evening of the previous day.” Some have suggested that this means that it does not matter if the euchological prayers and scripture readings of are those of the Saturday or Sunday because Canon Law only requires that the celebration of Mass be on the evening of the previous day, without specifying anything else . However, this seems a contentious interpretation.
Now we come to the fundamental reason for the confusion which persists to this day. It is this: the General Norms for the Liturgical Year (including the Table of Liturgical Days) had already been promulgated by Paul VI in early 1969 with the motu proprio Mysterii Paschalis before the general permission for Sunday and feastday Masses on Saturday evening came into being. In other words, GNLY and the TLD were overtaken by changes in practice within a year of their issuance. Since then, the situation has gradually deteriorated.
The confusion has been compounded by the frequent transference of solemnities and holydays of obligation to the nearest Sunday, and from the practice in some countries of always transferring to the nearest Sunday if the solemnity or holyday occurs on a Saturday or Monday. Furthermore, the revival of interest in major Vigil celebrations, such as the Pentecost Vigil (whose Vigil Mass may be celebrated either before or after Evening Prayer I of Pentecost!), has only added to the confusion, with every year people asking on online forums what they should be doing at various times on a Saturday, the eve of a solemnity, or on Christmas Eve.
To return to September 14, November 2 and November 9: and which Evening Prayer you should celebrate, the Table of Liturgical Days included in para 59 of GLNY gives the answer.
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is classified as a feast of the Lord, and both this and the Commemoration of All Souls are ranked at #3 in the order of precedence, outranking Sundays in Ordinary Time at #6. No real difficulty here.
However, it is at first sight difficult to see where the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica fits into the Table, since it is neither a solemnity nor a proper solemnity, nor is it a feast of the Lord. The clue is in # 7, listed as “Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of the Saints in the General Calendar”.
What has this got to do with the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica? Well, in the Common Masses, the Dedication of a Church is to be found —indeed in first place, even before the Blessed Virgin Mary and the celebrations of different categories of saints, so the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica is in practice part of the Sanctoral. At #7, it is outranked by a Sunday in Ordinary Time at #6, (except when celebrated at the Lateran Basilica itself, when it becomes a proper solemnity, ranked #4).
Let us also briefly consider nomenclature. People often refer to Anticipated Mass of Sunday or Vigil Mass, or Vigil Mass of Sunday. Some have said that “Anticipated Mass” is a misnomer because Sunday has already begun with Evening Prayer I, and you can’t anticipate something that is already underway.
And the potential for the utmost confusion between Vigil Mass of Sunday, Vigil Mass of a solemnity, Mass of the Vigil, Easter Vigil, etc, scarcely needs pointing out. John Paul II, in Dies Domini (1998), said “the liturgy of what is sometimes called the ‘Vigil Mass’ is in effect the ‘festive’ Mass of Sunday” (para 49). Perhaps we should reserve the word “vigil” for formularies that are specific to particular Vigils, like Pentecost.
I wonder if those places that use the term “1st Mass of Sunday” for the Saturday evening celebration have found the answer.
And don’t let’s even start on what happens on a Saturday evening that happens to be a holyday of obligation! Different camps have different views. Some say that you cannot fulfil two obligations in the same celebration; others say that you can (although a priest may not receive two stipends for the same celebration!). Others point to the fact that every Sunday is de facto a holyday of obligation, so which Mass to use on a Saturday evening Sunday Mass should not be an issue. You use the Sunday Mass, and must attend an earlier, different Mass to fulfil the obligation for the other solemnity. (Of course, countries where the Saturday solemnity is transferred to the Sunday do not have any of this to worry about!) Yet others say that, because all this mess only started with Saturday evening Mass of Sunday, the Saturday evening is really the Mass of the holyday as it was previously, and if you want to fulfil the Sunday obligation you have to come back again the next day.
This and so much else could be avoided if SCDWDS were to produce a revised, updated, and detailed GNLY and TLD that would take into account the circumstances in which we now live. Perhaps these pages of the Pray Tell blog could be a springboard for a concerted request for this to happen as a matter of some urgency.