"Blessed" Instead of "Saint"

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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Q: I have noticed that for virtually all the prayers for the common of the saints, the word “blessed” is used instead of the word “saint.” This strikes me as a bit confusing. Is it proper to substitute the word saint for blessed when celebrating the memorial of saint that does not have any (or all of the) propers? — L.P., Tampa, Florida

A: I believe that the translators opted here for a literal translation of the Latin text which also distinguishes blessed and saint.

The distinction between a blessed and a saint is very important in the process of canonization, and each state has precise liturgical consequences insofar as the liturgical veneration of a blessed is highly limited. However, in the context of the missal the terms are often used as synonyms for those who have reached the glory of the heavenly state.

While the distinction between blesseds and saints might not have been uppermost in the minds of the translators, one imagines that a concern with making the common Masses suitable for celebrating both saints and blesseds played some role in this choice of terms.

That the translators made an objective choice can be seen, for example, in the common of Doctors of the Church. Since canonization is essential for the qualification of Church Doctor, then there is no doubt that no blesseds are contemplated. The collect of this Mass says:

“Almighty and Eternal God, who gave your holy Church blessed (Beatum) N as Doctor, grant that ….”

Sometimes both terms are used within the same prayer. For example, in the common of one saint we have the following collect:

“O God, who in your Saints (Sanctis tuis) have given an example and brought us protection in our weakness to help us tread the path of salvation, mercifully grant that we who honor the heavenly birthday of blessed (beati) N, may, through his (her) example, make our way to you .…”

Considering these and many other possible examples, we must conclude that the use of the term blessed is quite deliberate. It is possible that the translators are deliberately making use of synonyms so as to cover all situations. This might occasion a slight confusion every now and then, but it could also represent an opportunity for offering an explanation of the terms. It must also be remembered that it is the approved text, and therefore it would not be correct to substitute saint for blessed while praying it.

It is noteworthy, however, that in the proper or calendar of saints the missal itself consistently takes the other option. For example, on April 21 we would celebrate St. Anselm if it were not the Easter octave.

The opening prayer of this Mass begins: “O God, who led the Bishop Saint Anselm to seek out and teach the depths of your wisdom.” The Latin text says, however, “Deus, qui beato Anselmo episcopo.”

This is substantially true of all the saints in the universal calendar. Blessed is practically always translated as saint. Certainly all those included in the universal calendar are saints, and the term blessed is uncommon when referring to them in English. For this reason the choice obeys a certain logic.

Another recent use of the term blessed is the introduction of the expression “with Blessed (beato) Joseph, her spouse,” within Eucharistic Prayers II-IV. In this case the translation was provided by the Holy See itself. The choice of Blessed Joseph rather than Saint Joseph in English is certainly in conformity with the earlier choice to refer to the apostles as “blessed” in the Eucharistic Prayers. The same expression was translated as “Saint Joseph” in the official translations in Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese and Polish. German, like English, uses the same expression (seligen) for Mary and St. Joseph.

It is also perfectly possible that in spite of all my speculations, the difference boils down to no more than that the two sections were done by different translators, and our reader is the first one to notice the difference in word choice.

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Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. 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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Fr. Edward McNamara

Padre Edward McNamara, L.C., è professore di Teologia e direttore spirituale

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