Commemorating Saints in Lent

Fr. Edward McNamara

Q: Several questions have arisen at a seminary regarding the proper way to commemorate the saints during privileged seasons, such as Lent. I was wondering if you could lay out the proper or at least suggested ways in which this can be done for the Liturgy of the Hours, the Mass itself, and if the office (for example, morning prayer) is combined with the Mass. — R.C., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A: During Lent all memorials of saints, whether obligatory or optional, are deemed “commemorations” and their celebration is more limited than in other times. In all cases, their celebration is optional even for memorials that would be obligatory outside of Lent.

The applicable norms for Mass are found in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) No. 355:

“a. On the weekdays of Advent from 17 December to 24 December, on days within the Octave of Christmas, and on the weekdays of Lent, except Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week, the Mass for the current liturgical day is to be used; but the Collect may be taken from a memorial which happens to be listed in the General Calendar for that day, except on Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week. On weekdays of the Easter Season, memorials of Saints may rightly be celebrated fully.

“b. On the weekdays of Advent before 17 December, the weekdays of the Christmas Season from 2 January, and the weekdays of the Easter Season, it is possible to choose either the weekday Mass, or the Mass of the Saint, or the Mass of one of the Saints whose memorial is observed, or the Mass of any Saint listed in the Martyrology for that day.”

Therefore, to commemorate, for example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, whose March 18 feast almost always falls during Lent, only the proper collect or opening prayer is used. All the rest is taken from the current weekday: the readings, prayer over the gifts, preface, prayer after communion, and proper antiphons. Violet vestments are used and not white or red as is usual with the saints.

If a saint has the category of solemnity or feast, for example, St. Joseph or St. Patrick in some countries, then it is celebrated as normal with vestments of the corresponding color, the recitation of the Glory and, on solemnities, the Creed. The readings and the Liturgy of the Hours are those proper to the feast.

On Ash Wednesday and during Holy Week and the Easter Octave, all celebrations of saints are excluded.

Regarding the Liturgy of the Hours, the General Introduction to the Divine Office says:

“Memorials During Privileged Seasons

“237. On Sundays, solemnities, and feasts, on Ash Wednesday, during Holy Week, and during the octave of Easter, memorials that happen to fall on these days are disregarded.

“238. On the weekdays from 17 to 24 December, during the octave of Christmas, and on the weekdays of Lent, no obligatory memorials are celebrated, even in particular calendars. When any happen to fall during Lent in a given year, they are treated as optional memorials.

“239. During privileged seasons, if it is desired to celebrate the office of a saint on a day assigned to his or her memorial:

“a. in the office of readings, after the patristic reading (with its responsory) from the Proper of Seasons, a proper reading about the saint (with its responsory) may follow, with the concluding prayer of the saint;

“b. at morning prayer and evening prayer, the ending of the concluding prayer may be omitted and the saint’s antiphon (from the proper or common) and prayer may be added.”

Later are some specific norms for special seasons:

“247. In the office for Sundays, solemnities, feasts of the Lord listed in the General Calendar, the weekdays of Lent and Holy Week, the days within the octaves of Easter and Christmas, and the weekdays from 17 to 24 December inclusive, it is never permissible to change the formularies that are proper or adapted to the celebration, such as antiphons, hymns, readings, responsories, prayers, and very often also the psalms.

“252. Everyone should be concerned to respect the complete cycle of the four-week psalter. Still, for spiritual or pastoral advantage, the psalms appointed for a particular day may be replaced with others from the same hour of a different day. There are also circumstances occasionally arising when it is permissible to choose suitable psalms and other texts in the way done for a votive office.”

Thus, if Morning Prayer is united to Mass, then there is no change in the office at all on a commemoration. Everything would be taken from the day except the saint’s collect at Mass.

As seen above, it is possible to change the psalms of the day while maintaining the proper Lenten antiphons. Making use of this option requires careful discernment and a liturgically literate community able to both understand the reason for the change and easily navigate the Book of Hours.