Commemorating Saints in Lent

And More on Confession

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ROME, MARCH 2, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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.

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Follow-up: Annual Confession

Related to the question on annual confession (Feb. 16), a Canadian reader had asked about his personal situation. Baptized into a Protestant denomination as a child, he had not completed the RCIA yet. He wanted to know at what point he could go to confession — “I mean officially, so it’s recognized; so I can be absolved, do penance, etc. It’s going to be some time yet before confirmation, etc., and I really need to go to confession, my heart is very heavy with 55 years of life without God, and I’m despairing that I’ve got months and months yet to live with my sins. I can’t find anything specific on this in the Catechism.”

The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults has an appendix with a rite for admitting an already baptized person into the Catholic faith. The norms attached to this rite require that the candidate receive an adequate doctrinal and spiritual preparation adapted to the reality of each case. The candidate should strive for an ever more sincere adherence to the Catholic faith in which he will find the fullness of his baptism.

The norms suggest that during this time the candidate may already have some share in sacred things according to the norms established in the Ecumenical Directory. This directory does not deal specifically with the case of those undergoing a conversion process, but allows for a Protestant who shares Catholic beliefs regarding the sacraments to receive the Eucharist, penance and sacrament of the sick in grave situations such as danger of death.

In the above-mentioned rite of admission, No. 9 of the appendix in the Italian edition states that if the person is to be admitted during Mass (as is by far the preferred practice), then considering his personal condition he should confess his sins, informing the confessor of his imminent admission. Any lawful confessor may be used.

Thus, we can deduce that it is possible for someone to be validly admitted to confession before formal admission into the Catholic faith. In the precise case above, our reader could request permission from the bishop to anticipate first confession so as to continue the process of preparation for admission and confirmation with greater peace of soul.

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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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