Last Sunday was observed as Mission Sunday. Yet this is not, strictly speaking, a liturgical observance. I have often seen observances such as this take center stage at Sunday liturgies in parishes and I have always felt that this was wrong. (I have nothing in particular against Mission Sunday, I only give it as a recent example).
Apart from the many liturgical observances that the Church celebrates our Ordo lists other non-liturgical observances, often called “Days of Prayer.” This year, the Liturgical Calendar for Ireland 2022 lists 16 international and 7 national Days of Prayer. This is an average of two observances a month
It is possible to add such observances to the liturgical calendar. For example, the US calendar contains observances such as Thanksgiving, Independence Day and the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. Yet most countries do not add such observances to their National Calendar. So, my question is how should those observances (or Days of Prayer) that are not on the National or General Calendar be observed liturgically?
My own feeling is that these observances should have only a minimal influence on the liturgy (a mention in the Prayer of the Faithful or the Announcements) and certainly not in the Kyrie invocations, hymns or homily. However, as is often the case with Mission Sunday, the Day of Prayer takes over from the given Sunday’s liturgy eclipsing the prayers from the Roman Missal and the readings from the Lectionary. Occasionally fundraising for some good cause takes center stage (such as a Diocesan fundraising appeal or a charitable appeal).
I think that every day, and in particular on Sundays, we need to celebrate and focus on some aspect of the Paschal Mystery. Yet all too often we are like Martha and “worry and fret about so many things … [while] few are needed, indeed only one.” We need to realize that “it is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42, RNJB).
I don’t lite “themed” liturgies. Although I will admit that there can be a certain pastoral value in celebrating the Eucharist at a particular place for a specific need, such as a weekday Mass for Catholic Community Services outside of the regular Mass schedule of a parish or cathedral.
Yes, the Church is involved in many charitable and good causes. But the announcement of the Paschal Mystery and the love of God must take pride of place in particular in Sunday liturgies. Each and every Sunday so many people come to church spiritually wounded and in need of hearing Good News. It is no service to the People of God when we hijack the captive crowd at liturgies in order to mark some occasion other than an aspect of the Paschal Mystery and especially when we use the liturgy to guilt people into contributing economically to good causes.
Public Domain Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs available on Flickr
Then there are annual diocesan fund raising appeals, compete with video on screen of the ordinary, who might provide a concise homily for the readings if done on a uniform Sunday and then proceed to his business.
It seems to me that the “Days of Prayer” are intended to be alternatives for, or applications of, the Rogation Days and Ember Days (cf. Roman Missal for Ireland of 2011, page civ). As such they are not at all part of the Calendar of saints, but the Liturgical Year built around Sundays, Easter and Christmas. The customary Rogation Days (25 April; Monday to Wednesday before Ascension) and Ember Days (Wednesdays, Friday and Saturday at four points in the liturgical year) are overwhelmingly weekday observations which permits their observance largely independently of Sunday Mass. Here in Italy, the Ember Days remain, although the weeks in which they occur have been changed once again with the new (2020) Roman Missal for Italy, and I’m told they are observed in parishes through extra, devotional celebrations. The official Prayer of the Faithful book (Orazionale per la Preghiera Universale) includes four Prayer of the Faithful formulae, one for each ember period, with a helpful reminder of the alternative dates for Italy (3rd week of Lent, Trinity week, after the 3rd Sunday of September, 3rd week of Advent).
The Ordinariate’s Roman Missal has restored the traditional ember days to the calendar with the proper Masses for each day. This missal, designed under Benedict XVI was promulgated by Francis.
“I don’t li(k)e ‘themed’ liturgies.”
That said, the Roman Missal provides many of them–four dozen Masses for Various Needs and Occasions. In fact, the cause of evangelization, the 18th of these, has this rare and telling rubric:
This Mass may be used even on Sundays of Ordinary Time, whenever there are special celebrations for the work of the missions, provided it does not occur on a Sunday of Advent, Lent or Easter, or on any Solemnity.
Clearly, the framers of the Missal considered a green Sunday expendable in readings and prayers for the cause. My own sense is that unless a parish or diocese is willing to make it a long-term commitment, it becomes a mere curiosity as a one-off event.
I would think that the Missal’s provision suggests the cause is serious enough that it should be observed in some way, on some ordinary weekday, probably in most communities, especially schools and monasteries. There is no greater cause outside the walls of a church, and possibly even within them, than evangelization.
The “Ordo” which priests use to determine what Mass to use, makes suggestions for Ordinary Time weekday Masses which have no proper Masses. These suggestions are based upon the readings of the day which suggest a particular “theme” as “for the Church” for vocations, for the sick, etc. I’m not sure how many follow these suggestions though.
Your observation points out the problem with most priests: daily Mass is planned day to day, if not at the moment. A good liturgist–bishop, priest, or lay person–would have it prepared ahead of time.
Keeping to the daily Lectionary is fine for a daily community. For a school, it makes much less sense.
I suspect there’s a long-lived practical reason for the rubric: members of missionary orders would historically preach at all the Masses of a missions-oriented Sunday (something different from a parish mission Sunday), and collections would be shared or offered to them for so doing.