Liturgical Year Chaos?

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.


  1. I thought the Dedication of the Lateran archbasilica was also classed as a Feast of the Lord because of its first and foremost title being that of the Most Holy Savior. So I’ve read over the years, and made sense given that its placement in the universal calendar in years when it fell on Sunday accorded with that reasoning.

    The USCCB newsletter in early 2017 offered this analysis on the more general issue:

  2. Yes the Dedication of the ArchBasilica & ArchCathedral of Our Most Holy Savior and SS John Baptist & John the Evangelist….is most definitely a feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ. ALL DEDICATIONS OF A CHURCH ARE FEASTS OF THE LORD regardless of the titular patrons name.

    1. Karl and Matthew —

      It seems that more than one Ordo compiler does not agree with your analysis, on the grounds that the dedication of a building cannot of itself be a feast of the Lord. The fact that the formularies for the dedication of a Church occur not in the Feasts of the Lord section of the Missal and Lectionary but in the Commons makes the argument for treating this day as if it were in the sanctoral cycle a compelling one.

      Whatever the case, this disagreement only serves to point to the need for a new Table of Liturgical Days and accompanying norms, which was the main point of my post.

      1. I don’t have access to Notitiae, but it would appear from the following that the classification of the Lateran feast was addressed in 1974:

        “[R13] (59, 3 and 5). Query: [This year] 14 September and 9 November will fall on a Sunday in Ordinary Time. What should the celebrations be on these dates?

        Reply: On 14 September, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross; on 9 November, the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran. Notitiae 10 (1974) 40, no. 3.”

      2. But isn’t part of your argument that the Dedication of the Lateran is not properly classed as a feast of the Lord so it would not take precedence over the Sunday in Ordinary Time when it falls on Sunday, i.e., your analysis implicates not on Saturday but Sunday?

      3. I take your point, Karl. This is a conundrum. It seems that even in 1974 people were unsure about how this feast fitted in.

      4. But again, it only makes sense if you interpret things completely in a vaccum, Paul….. the placement of the Common of the Dedication has a history in the Roman liturgical books, and the Dedication of a Church was treated as a celebration of the Lord for a good number of centuries before 1970. Further in support of the fact that it is a celebration of the Lord is that it is placed before the Common of the Virgin Mary, and the Commons are ordered hierarchically.

        I think the argument you have put forward is rather weak. In the first place, there is no “Feasts of the Lord” section in the missal – there are the Solemnities of the Lord which fall during Ordinary Time, and which may be transferred to Sunday. Other Feasts of the Lord (Presentation, Transfiguration, etc. ) occur in the Proper **of Saints**. Secondly, the Common section does not say “Common of Saints” but simply “Commons” and thus placement there does not imply that the Dedication is not a feast of the Lord. Even if it did say “Common of Saints”, that no more implies that the Dedication must be ranked among the saints than it implies that the Presentation, Transfiguration, Holy Cross, etc. are sanctoral feasts because they fall within the “Proper of Saints” rather than the “Proper of Seasons”.

  3. I think an updated version would be good to incorporate insights and gaps seen over the years, but in this case, it seems to me that the problem is more with interpretation rather than the text. There is ample flexibility allowed, and the CDW has said that the bishop should determine the practice for the diocese on which Mass is to celebrate. When this is done (usually through the Ordo) and clearly communicated, there is a certain uniformity while allowing regional variance (e.g. areas where the Feast of the Cross might have a certain resonance) for pastoral reasons.

    As noted by Karl Liam Saur, the Lateran Basilica Dedication is a celebration of the Lord (as is the dedication of any church/cathedral) , and so its Eve.Prayer II takes precedence over Eve.Prayer I of Sunday. This is also seen in replies given in Notitiae, and bolstered by the fact that the Mass formulary used is that of the Common. (cf. the years 1972, 1974, 1975).

    The reverse is true however, for All Souls: although ranked higher in the Table of Precedence, it yields in the Office to Sundays in occurrence and concurrence (cf. the special rubric under All Souls). However, if Vespers is celebrated with the people the Office of the Dead may be used. So November 2 would actually be Evening Prayer I of Sunday.

    As for the Saturday evening and Sunday: the majority of the canonists I think support the principle of “two obligations, two Masses”, with a very small minority supporting “one Mass, two obligations”. However, linking the obligation to worship at the Eucharist with the Mass formulary used is only a mistake that I see many pastoral ministers make – although certainly confusing to many, because of the legitimate expectation that the formulary should coincide with the obligation. But I don’t know who it is “contentious” among, unless you mean between canonists and pastoral ministers.

    Frankly to me all this seems rather beside the point in some countries, because it is hard enough in those places to get people to come on Sundays. Those who come on other Holy Days are also those who are likely to take the trouble to find out whether it is obligatory or not.

    1. What should be done away with are complicated byzantine multiplications on the local level such as in the US regarding the Ascension, and the obligations on Monday and Saturday. The reasoning is clear enough, but they confuse everybody [including on occasions the Ordo compilers!].

    2. The reverse is true however, for All Souls: although ranked higher in the Table of Precedence, it yields in the Office to Sundays in occurrence and concurrence (cf. the special rubric under All Souls).

      Joshua, please provide chapter and verse for that statement, and the “special rubric”, neither of which are to be found anywhere in GNLY, the Roman Missal or the General Instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours.

      As with my reply to Karl and Matthew, above, some Ordo compilers seem not to agree with you.

      1. I have now found the reference (in the same issue of Notitiae referenced by Karl above), but it applies only to the case where All Souls is celebrated on a Sunday, when the Office yields to that of the Sunday. No mention of what happens on a Saturday.

        One more reason for an updated TLD!

      2. If the Ordo compilers have indicated a different Mass for Saturday evening, they are well within their rights to do so (assuming they are giving the directives of the Bishop), since the Congregation has left the specification of the Mass to the diocesan bishop in such cases – he may choose the Mass of the feast for which Evening Prayer II or the Mass of the Sunday.

        If they have indicated that it is the Evening Prayer I of Sunday – I think they may have simply got mixed up, since (thanks KLS for the citation; there are others also in Notitiae) the Dedication is a Feast of the Lord.

        As for the rubric for All Souls, it occurs in the Proper of Saints itself “…even though Mass may be of the Commemoration of All Souls, the Office celebrated is that of the Sunday, and the Office of the Dead is omitted. However, Morning and Evening Prayer for the Dead, in which the people participate, may be celebrated.” I note that the CLV Roman Ordo seems to follow this logic, since it indicates First Vespers of Sunday.

  4. Consider the day begins in the evening: whether ordinary weekday, Sundays, feasts or solemnities? Having first and second vespers doesn’t make much sense in the first place, an unfortunate jarring of two systems of counting days.

    1. For what it’s worth, liturgical days are normally deemed to begin at midnight in the Roman rite, per No. 3 of the General Norms of the Liturgical Year and the Calendar (1969):

      3. Each day is made holy through the liturgical celebrations of the people of God, especially through the eucharistic sacrifice and the divine office. The liturgical day runs from midnight to midnight, but the observance of Sunday and solemnities begins with the evening of the preceding day.

  5. The rubrics that govern the Ordinary Form are not complicated. Not remotely so.

    9 November is a Feast of the Lord, because all Dedication of Church feasts are feasts of the Lord.

    It replaces Sunday (like any Feast of the Lord). Vespers on a Saturday, 9 November are of the Dedication.

    If ordo compilers disagree, they’ve simply erred on this point.

  6. Whatever the various ordos say, the calendar for the Diocese of Rome is now showing the mass for the dedication feast at the Lateran will be at 5:30 in the evening presided over by Pope Francis. (Last year it was the Vicar General.) As I plan on being in Rome that weekend, I’m guessing that liturgy will fulfill any obligation (not to mention longings of my liturgy/history loving soul.) Thanks for having this thread which prompted me to check the diocesan calendar, since this doesn’t show up on the Pope’s regular calendar.

  7. Just to help fill in the documentation, here’s a link to the issue of Notitiae containing KLS’s reference (on its last page of text) about the Nov 9 Dedication outranking Sunday:

    And here’s a response that explicitly identifies anniversaries of cathedral dedications as (particular) feasts of the Lord:

    1. Thank you for our helping of daily minimum allowance of liturgical fiber!

      I was an early teen that the time, but I do recall vaguely now that the period between the first and second editions of the Roman Missal (English language) and related ritual books did seem to involve some ironing out of kinks, as it were, from the the first to second, as it were. I couldn’t get my own hardbound personal missal in a bookstore until after that was done, which I wanted because my then parish relied entirely on Monthly Missalettes and I curious for a larger frame of reference, as I had hand-me down hand missals for the preconciliar Mass and my own summary Missal sans readings for the so-called Interim MIssal period when I received First Communion.

      These morsels you provided reference for illustrate that ironing out in practice.

    2. Thank you, Aaron. The first of these two links is the one KLS and I referred to above and is well known.

      The second merely adds to the confusion by confirming that the anniversary of the dedication of a cathedral, though a proper feast (of the Lord), may not replace a Sunday in Ordinary Time because it is of a lower rank in the Table, except when the bishop for a good and exceptional pastoral reason (for example, the refurbishment of the cathedral) declares it to be a diocesan celebration.

      I note in passing that the article on Feasts of Christ in Fink’s New Dictionary of Sacramental Worship makes no mention of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in the section “Solemnities and Feasts of Christ Which Do Not Focus on a Saving Event”…. Indeed, as far as i can tell, this feast is not referenced in Fink at all.

  8. This post is perhaps a little off-topic, but it does illustrate the conflicts that can arise between the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and local celebrations.

    In each diocese, the anniversary of the dedication of the cathedral is observed as a Feast throughout the diocese and as a proper Solemnity in the cathedral parish. The anniversary of the Dedication of our Cathedral is June 28th. (Its titular feast is the following day, June 29th.) In recent years, if the anniversary falls on a weekday, we observe it on the preceding Sunday when a larger congregation can be present. Unfortunately, there are three Solemnities in the General Calendar that can fall on the Sunday before June 28th. This has happened several times in recent years.

    This year, our celebration was doubly impeded. Friday, June 28th was the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, and Sunday, June 23rd was Corpus Christi. I suggested that we should observe the anniversary on a weekday before June 28th. My suggestion was not taken up, and the celebration was omitted altogether this year.

    Next year, the anniversary falls on a Sunday and is not impeded by any other celebration.

  9. Other complications and questions coming to light.

    Can you anticipate a non-Sunday holyday of obligation the evening before, no matter on which weekday it occurs?
    Yes, apparently — see Eucharisticum Mysterium, para 28.

    But suppose the holyday is a Monday: can you still do this on the Sunday evening?
    Seems doubtful!

    What about other feasts that are not of obligation, such as November 9 or the Sacred Heart? Can you anticipate those the evening before as well?
    No — that does not seem to have been the intention of the legislator, but you still find it happening quite a bit.

    1. It can be tricky to apply 1967 legislation such as Eucharisticum Mysterium, since it is probably either modified for the OF or subsumed in subsequent rules. For example the current RM has far more Vigil Mass formularies than in 1967, and para.28 is interpreted (regrettably) in my diocese to deprecate their use for Holydays of Obligation.

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