Saturday Mass for Sunday

And More on Solemnities, Feasts, Memorials

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ROME, OCT. 21, 2008 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: We know that the Sunday Mass is very important. We know too that the Saturday evening Mass is the Sunday Mass. But what are the criteria to know exactly that it is the Mass of Sunday? It is the hour? It is the readings? Many Catholics who go to a marriage on a Saturday afternoon don’t go to the Mass on Sunday. They think they have already gone to Mass. What does the Church say exactly about the Saturday evening Mass? — J.G., Arras, France

A: The norms permitting the celebration of Sunday Mass on a Saturday evening are not overly detailed and thus different practices and notions have arisen around the world.

Even though this practice is relatively recent with respect to the Sunday Mass, the Church had long maintained the custom of beginning the celebration of important feasts the evening before, with first vespers. This was inspired by the concept of a day in the ancient world which divided our 24 hours into four nocturnal vigils and four daylight hours, the day commencing at first vigil.

For this reason the Gospels mention the haste required to bury Our Lord on Good Friday before the Sabbath began on what, for us, would still be Friday evening.

While this concept offers a certain justification for the norm permitting the celebration of Sunday Mass on Saturday, the modern Church in fact mixes both ancient and modern chronometry and has not simply adopted tout court the ancient measure of the day.

For this reason, although it is permissible to anticipate Sunday Mass, contrary to what some might think, there is no obligation to do so; it is still possible to celebrate the Mass of the day or a ritual Mass on Saturday evening.

For example, if a religious community habitually celebrates its daily Mass at 7 p.m., there is no reason why it would have to celebrate Sunday Mass twice.

Likewise it is theoretically possible for a couple to be wed on a Saturday evening using the nuptial Mass, provided that they did not coincide with regular Mass timetables.

I say «theoretically» because pastorally it is usually advisable to celebrate the nuptial Mass at this hour according to the norms for a wedding celebrated on a Sunday. As our reader points out, even regular Mass goers are likely to presume that a Saturday evening Mass is sufficient to fulfill their Sunday precept and the distinctions between different Mass formulas are likely to be lost on them.

Therefore, except in those cases when the majority of guests are well-formed and committed Catholics, it is better to assure as far as possible that they attend a celebration valid for Sunday, even though this can mean that on some occasions certain aspects of the regular nuptial Mass may not be celebrated.

The general law does not specify the precise time after which Sunday Mass is possible. However, 5 p.m. is the common rule in the Diocese of Rome and in many other places. Any time much earlier is hard to conceive as being Saturday evening in any meaningful sense of the term.

Because of this, a Saturday afternoon wedding would be a different case. Most practicing Catholics would not presume that a noon or 1 p.m. wedding would be valid for Sunday Mass. Since 3 or 4 p.m. are rather awkward hours for organizing a wedding and its attendant festive aftermath, celebrations at this hour are less common, at least in Europe.

A 4 p.m. wedding, however, is probably sufficiently on the borderline as to be celebrated as a Sunday Mass.

It there is real danger of anyone mistaking an earlier Mass as valid for Sunday, then care should be taken so that guests know in advance that the Mass will not cover their Sunday obligation.

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Follow-up: Solemnities, Feasts, Memorials

Our Oct. 8 column on solemnities, memorials and feasts brings to mind a question from a priest based in Oregon. He asked: «[Jan. 3] is listed in the Ordo as an ‘optional memorial’ of the Holy Name of Jesus and it says that this feast was recently introduced into the Sacramentary. I should like to have offered that Mass, but have no approved texts for it. Is there some source where I could have found such a text (e.g., a Website)? There are similar celebrations throughout the year, some of them even mandatory memorials for which no texts are readily available.»

The difficulty of some new celebrations with no corresponding proper texts is a temporary one that should be resolved within a few years.

The cause of this difficulty is that Pope John Paul II, on the occasion of the publication of the new Latin missal, took the initiative to add some new celebrations or restore some older ones that had been dropped from the old calendar. Among these restored celebrations were the Holy Name of Jesus and St. Catherine of Alexandria. Even after the publication of the missal, he added one or two more saints to the universal calendar such as St. Pio of Pietrelcina.

The problem arises because, although they already form part of the calendar, the proper texts of some of them have yet to receive an officially approved rendering into English. There is a certain degree of logic to this situation. Since the translation of the entire missal is currently under review, it makes sense to do everything as part of a single project even though it means that these feasts will not have proper texts for another couple of years.

Some bishops’ conferences have taken a different approach. For example, the Italian bishops have produced an elegant but economic supplement containing a translation of all the new texts with the same typeset as the altar missal. It is thus possible to celebrate these memorials in Italian even though the definitive Italian translation of the missal is still in the pipeline. I don’t know if any English-speaking conference has done something similar.

An Italian-language Website called contains most of these texts online. This site also has large portions of other sacramental rites and blessings and little by little is including the Latin texts of the missals of John XXIII and Paul VI. I am unaware of an English-speaking site that has the translations of these new liturgical texts, and it is likely that their publication would infringe on legitimate copyright.

Therefore, what to do? For some feasts such as the Holy Name of Jesus there appears to be little to do but wait for the definitive translation of the missal.

The new saints can be celebrated using texts from the common of the saints: Martyrs, Pastors, Virgins, etc., as best fits the saint in question.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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