Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: In our parish, I notice that our priest transfers the celebration of the obligatory memorial of a saint to another day (usually the nearest ferial day) because it always coincided with the celebration of the dedication of our cathedral. In the same way, he transfers the optional memorial of a saint to another ferial day because its celebration coincides with the patron saint of our parish who does not figure anymore in the general Roman calendar since the liturgical reform of Vatican II. Does liturgical law require this? Is it really necessary? — T.C., Manila, Philippines
A: Regarding this general topic the Holy See issued a Notification in 1997 regarding some aspects of how to address the increasing number of coincidences in the liturgical year. It says in part:
“1. The Second Vatican Council reaffirmed the principle that the celebration of the Saints, in which the marvels of Christ are continually proclaimed in his servants, although important, should nevertheless not take precedence over the celebration of the mysteries of salvation which recur weekly on Sunday, and in the course of the liturgical year. This awareness, therefore, entailed that the celebration of many Saints should be left to the dioceses, to countries and to religious families (Sacrosanctum Concilium 111). This principle, along with others established by the Council, served in the restoration of the liturgical year and of the General Calendar of the Roman Rite.
“2. The General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, along with the Table of Liturgical Days, have the purpose of applying concretely this criterion, both to the General Calendar and to proper calendars. Further, the instruction Calendaria particularia of the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, of June 24, 1970, explicates some complementary considerations regarding proper calendars.
“3. Since these norms were promulgated two new factors have entered upon the scene. On the one hand, the large number of beatifications and canonizations celebrated in these last years by the Holy Father has resulted at times in a notable increase in the celebrations introduced into the proper calendars. On the other hand, the addition of a certain number of celebrations to the General Calendar or the raising of the grade of the already existing Feasts, have diminished to a corresponding extent the number of unoccupied days.
“4. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments does not judge it opportune, for the moment, to change the norms presently in force; at the same time, however, it considers it necessary to underline some provisions of those norms, provisions whose observance might contribute to avoiding a notable deterioration in the liturgical calendars ….
“5. The appropriate day for adding celebrations to a proper calendar is the same day that the celebration takes place in the General Calendar (General Norms, n. 56a; Calendaria particularia, n. 23), even if the grade of the celebration has to be changed.
“6. A good practice, in regard to the liturgical celebration of traditional devotional titles of the Lord Jesus Christ or of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is to tie them to one of the Feasts or Solemnities of either one that is found in the General Calendar. In the case of the Blessed Mother, it is also customary to associate the Feast with September 12th, which was the date of the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary in the Roman Calendar. At the same time, in the same spirit of integration and clarification, it would be advisable to avoid the creation of new titles or devotional Feasts for the Lord or the Blessed Mother, limiting these to the ones already in use in the liturgical books, unless they respond to a devotional feeling widely diffused among the Christian faithful and have received a prior and careful examination from a doctrinal point of view.
“7. In the case of a Saint, in the absence of a celebration in the General Calendar, the most appropriate day for the proper calendar will be the dies natalis (heavenly birthday) of the Saint. Whenever, however, that date is unknown, or is impeded by a Solemnity or Feast or obligatory Memorial, already present in the General Calendar or in the proper calendar, the new celebration would normally be set on another suitable day: perhaps the day of the Saint’s baptism, his ordination, of the discovery or translation of his or her body, or simply the nearest unoccupied day (General Norms, nn. 56b, 56c). It is preferable, however, that the day of the canonization not be chosen (see below, n. 39).
“8. In the case that an optional Memorial of the proper calendar is impeded on the most appropriate day by another obligatory Memorial, found in the General Calendar or, for example, in the national calendar, one of the two following solutions is advisable (cf. Calendaria particularia, n. 23); in certain circumstances it would be possible to obtain a reduction of the grade of the obligatory Memorial to that of an optional Memorial; this would permit an appropriate pastoral freedom to choose between the two celebrations; otherwise it would also be possible to unite, though this would be done rarely, two celebrations of a similar kind.
“9. The Beatified do not occur, obviously, in the General Calendar; but their addition to a proper calendar follows, in general, the same principles enunciated above for a Saint.
“10. In the last few years the Dicasteries of the Holy See concerned with liturgy, following requests presented with sound reasons by the diocesan bishops, and on pastoral grounds, have conceded a certain number of transfers, even of celebrations which are found in the General Calendar. Now, however, it seems opportune to offer some brief reflections on this subject.
“11. The integrity of the General Calendar must be maintained, as the expression, among other things, of the substantial unity of the Roman Rite (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 38). The risk, in fact, is that too broad a practice will result in the weakening of the unity and the internal coherence of the General Calendar and, at their different levels, of each of the national calendars or those covering regions that transcend a single diocese.
“12. In the future, therefore, the Congregation intends to insist more strictly on maintaining the celebrations of the General Calendar on the days assigned to them, and not to allow the transferral of the impeding celebrations to a different day, except for altogether exceptional pastoral reasons involving a considerable number of the faithful. The same will hold true for the national and the regional calendars when they come into conflict with diocesan calendars.
“13. Whenever, in fact, it is a question of a celebration to take place at a more local level being impeded, the principle should normally be followed that the impeded celebration rather than the one which is impeding it be transferred.
“14. A case is sometimes made for the transfer of impeding celebrations by the existence of processions or other festive observances of a popular tradition among the Catholic faithful. These cases require special consideration. Nevertheless, when such manifestations are of a nature more popular or folkloristic than liturgical, they may take place independently of liturgical functions, and therefore create no need for the transference of the celebration. Still, there remain local Solemnities and Feasts where a deeply rooted and immemorial popular tradition will constitute sufficient grounds for the transferral of the impeding celebration (cf. Calendaria particularia, n. 23b).
“15. More rarely the motive advanced for the transferral of a celebration is the idea of ensuring coordination with a similar celebration present in the liturgical or popular calendar of a non-Catholic Christian community. Except for truly exceptional reasons, such a motive should not be deemed sufficient. That holds true, in a special way, in respect of the General Calendar, which is an expression of the communion existing between the local Churches of the same rite. However laudable these may be in themselves, considerations prompted by ecclesial communities with which there does not exist full communion should not be given precedence ….
“17. In obedience to the desire of the Council, the norms insist that the period that usually falls within Lent, and the days of the Octave of Easter, as well as the days running from the 17th to the 24th of December, should be left free of celebrations of the Saints. These norms, however, may admit of exceptions to the general rule. Above all, on this point, a certain liberty obtains regarding proper Feasts and proper optional Memorials.
“18. It is important to note that the celebrations to be included in proper calendars are regulated in precise terms by the norms currently in force.
“19. In the diocesan calendar should be included: the Feast of the (principal) patron of the diocese, the Feast of the dedication of the cathedral church, as well as the obligatory Memorial of any secondary patron. There should also be included the celebrations of those Saints and Beatified who have a special connection with that diocese: for example, if they were born there, engaged in a long service to the Church there, or if they died there, especially if their bodies or the major relics are kept there; or again if they are the subject of an immemorial and still living cult in that place (cf. General Norms, n. 52a; Table of Liturgical Days, nn. 8a, 8b, 11a; Calendaria particularia, n. 9). The request that is not rarely made for the (principal) Patron of the diocese to be celebrated with the grade of Solemnity is not in full harmony with the norms (cf. Table of Liturgical Days, n. 8a), and is not advisable ….
“22. From all this, it follows that, in the absence of a truly exceptional pastoral motive, it is not appropriate to introduce other celebrations into the proper calendars. Such exceptional cases require an indult from the Holy See.
“23. The legal norms are much less developed regarding other calendars. This would include, on the one hand, interdiocesan (regional, national) calendars, or intradiocesan ones (of a city or of other places, of specific churches) and, on the other hand, those of the congregations or provinces that make up religious families, or the calendars common to the various branches of a single religious family. Basic indications can be found in the Table of Liturgical Days, and also in Calendaria particularia (nn. 8, 10, 11).
“24. One of the things most commonly overlooked is the existence of calendars proper to individual churches, which comprise the celebrations recognized by the Table of Liturgical Days. Besides the Solemnity of the anniversary of the dedication of that church, and of the titular Solemnity, there can also be proper celebrations with the grade of Feast.”
Coming now to the precise question at hand, we see above that the preference is to move the local rather than the general celebration. However, this would also depend on the particular feast. The titular saint of a parish is a solemnity in that church and therefore has precedence over memorials, feasts, Sundays of Ordinary Time and even some solemnities.
If this were to occur every year, then it would be permissible, but not required, to move a general obligatory memorial to the closest free day. This would be especially advisable if the impeded saint is an object of great devotion in the parish.
The dedication of a diocesan cathedral is a solemnity in the cathedral. In the rest of the diocese, it would depend on whatever its liturgical status happens to be. If, for example, the title of the cathedral is also the patron saint of the diocese, then it could be a feast throughout the dioceses and, following the pastoral criteria given above, an obligatory memorial could also be transferred.
If the diocesan celebration is an obligatory memorial in the diocese, then, in accordance with the norms given above, the local celebration would be preferably transferred.
If the dedication of the cathedral is celebrated liturgically only in the cathedral itself, then there is no need for any transfers.