Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and sacramental theology and director of the Sacerdos Institute at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: The major relics of St. Thérèse and her parents are coming to our parish. We use the old rite, and I was wondering whether we can offer the votive Mass of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, although it would be in Lent. I can’t find any documents relating to this question. Could the local ordinary give permission for the main Mass and would it also be allowed for private Masses? — D.W., Australia
A: Although our reader refers to the extraordinary form, I will begin this reply by quoting the General Instruction of the Roman Missal regarding votive Masses (in the ordinary form):
“374. If any case of a graver need or of pastoral advantage should arise, at the direction of the Diocesan Bishop or with his permission, an appropriate Mass may be celebrated on any day except Solemnities, the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, days within the Octave of Easter, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day), Ash Wednesday, and the days of Holy Week.
“375. Votive Masses of the mysteries of the Lord or in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary or of the Angels or of any given Saint or of all the Saints may be said in response to the devotion of the faithful on weekdays in Ordinary Time, even if an Optional Memorial occurs. However, it is not permitted to celebrate as Votive Masses those that refer to mysteries related to events in the life of the Lord or of the Blessed Virgin Mary, with the exception of the Mass of the Immaculate Conception, since their celebration is an integral part of the course of the liturgical year.
“376. On days when there occurs an Obligatory Memorial or on a weekday of Advent up to and including December 16, of Christmas Time from January 2, and of Easter Time after the Octave of Easter, Masses for Various Needs and Occasions and Votive Masses are in principle forbidden. If, however, some real necessity or pastoral advantage calls for it, in the estimation of the rector of the church or the Priest Celebrant himself, a Mass appropriate to the same may be used in a celebration with the people.
“377. On weekdays in Ordinary Time when an Optional Memorial occurs or when the Office is of the weekday, it is permissible to celebrate any Mass for Various Needs and Occasions or use any prayer for the same, but to the exclusion of Ritual Masses.”
The above norms repeat to some extent the general rubrics of the Mass of the extraordinary form which states:
“VII – Votive Mass for a Matter of Public Importance
“366. A votive Mass ‘for a matter of public importance’ means a Mass which is celebrated with a large attendance of the people, by order of the local ordinary or with his consent, for some serious need or spiritual or temporal advantage which affects the community or a notable part of it.
“367. Only one votive Mass for a serious matter is permitted in any one church; and the Mass corresponding to the need is taken, or, if there is no such Mass, the ‘Mass for Any Necessity,’ according to what is indicated at no. 366, for his own parish.”
Both sets of norms grant the local ordinary authority to order or permit the celebration of a votive Mass even during weekdays of Lent for a “grave need or pastoral advantage.” The extraordinary presence of major relics in a Church could be esteemed as an occasion for a spiritual or pastoral advantage.
Although the bishop could grant permission for the votive Mass to be celebrated, any such permission must respect the proper norms of the extraordinary form and therefore the permission would be for a single celebration with the presence of the faithful.
Finally, as an aside, both ordinary and extraordinary calendars do not usually permit votive masses during Lent, but for different reasons, due to the structure of each calendar.
The ordinary form has a proper ferial structure for the whole year whereas in the extraordinary form a ferial cycle is found only during Lent, in which each weekday of Lent has its own Mass formulary. The Lenten ferias are also deemed as being third class, unlike the ferias of the rest of the year which are fourth class. In practice, this makes it impossible to celebrate votive Masses and the saints with commemorations on those days without some special reason.
The ordinary form, although structured differently, has incorporated this traditional reality as a specific norm forbidding votive masses during Lent.