All Souls' Day and the Vigil Mass

And More on Masses for the Deceased

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

Q: This year, All Saints’ Day falls on a Saturday and All Souls’ Day falls on a Sunday. Should a regularly-scheduled parish vigil Mass on Saturday, Nov. 1, employ the proper for the Solemnity of All Saints or the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed? — J.Z., New York

A: It depends in which country you are living and on the liturgical dispositions in force.

For the United States the following clarification was issued by the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship:

«In 2014, the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1 falls on a Saturday, with the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day) taking place on the following Sunday, November 2. The Secretariat of Divine Worship wishes to clarify the situation regarding the correct Mass and Office to be used during November 1-2. Both All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are ranked at no. 3 on the Table of Liturgical Days. Thus, on Friday evening, October 31, Evening Prayer I of All Saints is celebrated. On Saturday, November 1, both Morning and Evening Prayer II of All Saints Day are celebrated, though for pastoral reasons where it is the custom, Evening Prayer II may be followed by Evening Prayer for the Dead. For Sunday, November 2, the Office for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time is said, especially in individual recitation; the Office of the Dead may be used, however, if Morning or Evening Prayer is celebrated with the people (see Liturgy of the Hours, vol. IV, November 2). On Friday evening, Masses are that of the Solemnity of All Saints. On Saturday evening, any normally scheduled anticipated Masses should be for All Souls’ Day. (If desired for pastoral reasons, a Mass of All Saints Day outside the usual Mass schedule may be celebrated on Saturday evening.)

«Since Saturday is a common day for the celebration of Marriage in the United States, it should also be noted that Ritual Masses are forbidden on All Saints’ Day (General Instruction of the Roman Missal [GIRM], no. 372). While the Ritual Mass for the Celebration of Marriage is forbidden, the Mass of the day with the ritual itself and the nuptial blessing could be celebrated. Alternatively, the Rite of Marriage outside Mass could also be used if the celebration of Marriage is to take place on this day. (Ritual Masses are also forbidden on All Souls’ Day.) As a reminder, All Saints’ Day is not a holy day of obligation this year, owing to the 1992 decision of the USCCB abrogating the precept to attend Mass when November 1 falls on a Saturday or Monday. Therefore, funeral Masses may be celebrated on this day (see GIRM, no. 380).»

If, however, you are living in England and Wales, whenever a holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday or a Monday, it is transferred to the Sunday. And so this year All Saints will be celebrated on Sunday, Nov. 2, and All Souls on Monday, Nov. 3.

In Italy and many other countries, the dates are kept and All Saints remains a holy day of obligation even if it falls on a Saturday. Therefore the faithful should go to Mass twice that weekend beginning on Friday, Oct. 31.

The most complete liturgical calendar available to me for Italy suggests that there is no Saturday evening celebration of All Souls. On all other Saturdays of the year this calendar, which includes the Diocese of Rome, specifically mentions that the Saturday evening Mass is done according to the formulas of the following day. On this day this notification is omitted.

It does recall that where it is customary, public vespers of the dead may be celebrated, after the vespers of All Saints.

On the other hand, this year many, but not all, parishes celebrate a Saturday evening Mass for the dead, anticipating the Sunday, and the Holy Father is scheduled to celebrate in Rome’s principal cemetery on Saturday evening.

I have been unable to find any clarification from the Italian bishops’ conference such as the one from the United States above. It would be useful to clarify this technical point so that all work with the same criteria.

The difficulty arises in part because All Souls is a somewhat special celebration. In a way it is, like Ash Wednesday, without a specific rank. It is not a solemnity, feast or memorial, as it does not honor any divine mystery or any saint, yet it has precedence over Sunday and other eventual celebrations. As a Mass for the dead the Gloria is omitted even if it falls on a Sunday, as the Gloria is never used in requiems. Whenever it falls on a Sunday the Divine Office is that of the Sunday except for public celebrations.

In the extraordinary form calendar this problem does not arise as the celebration of All Souls is transferred to Nov. 3 whenever Nov. 2 falls on a Sunday.

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Follow-up: Funeral Masses by Another Name

In the wake of our Sept. 30 column, a reader from Dublin, Ireland, asked for the following clarifications regarding funerals:

«In line with funerals and Masses for the dead, can you please clarify the difference between funeral Masses and Masses for the dead? We find in the Ordo particularly during Lent and some solemnities, instructions that no Masses for the dead are celebrated except funeral Masses. Does ‘no Masses for dead’ imply that during these seasons the faithful cannot make requests for anniversary or memorial Masses for their deceased ones during the weekday Masses of the parish? If so, what is the reason?»

A «funeral Mass» is usually the Mass in which the remains of the deceased are present and at which the rites of aspersion, incensing and final commendation may be celebrated. On some occasions, for example, if the body is unavailable for burial, a funeral Mass can also be celebrated, obviously omitting the rites that imply the presence of the remains.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), No. 380-381, says:

«380. Among the Masses for the Dead, the Funeral Mass holds first place. It may be celebrated on any day except for Solemnities that are holy days of obligation, Holy Thursday, the Easter Triduum, and the Sundays of Advent, Lent, and Easter, with due regard also for all the other requirements of the norm of the law.

«381. A Mass for the Dead may be celebrated on receiving the news of a death, for the final burial, or the first anniversary, even on days within the Octave of Christmas, on obligatory Memorials, and on weekdays, except for Ash Wednesday or weekdays during Holy Week.

«Other Masses for the Dead, that is, ‘daily’ Masses, may be celebrated on weekdays in Ordinary Time on which optional memorials occur or when the Office is of the weekday, provided such Masses are actually applied for the dead.»

Therefore the Church distinguishes three classes: funeral Masses, Masses for the dead for the specific reasons mentioned in 381, paragraph 1, and all other Masses for the dead.

The possibility of celebrating each kind effectively depends on the liturgical season. This is done to respect the importance of the liturgy’s message during these seasons, so that its continuity is not lost by the celebration of Masses for the dead. After all, every day of the year is somebody’s anniversary.

So the answer to our reader’s enquiry is that effectively during the restricted liturgical days it is not possible to ask for a Mass for the dead except in the cases foreseen in 381, paragraph 1.

However, this does not mean that there is nothing that the priest can do.

We must distinguish between offering a Mass for the Dead and celebrating a Mass whose intention is the eternal repose of a particular soul or souls.

Since the latter is basically the private intention of the priest, albeit offered at the request of others, almost any intention can be admitted and on any day. This private intention has no effect on th
e formulas of the Mass which follow the liturgy of the day but is no less efficacious than the Mass for the Dead, properly speaking.

In such cases, although the names of the deceased are not mentioned either in the prayers of the proper or in the Eucharistic Prayer, they may be recalled at the beginning of Mass and/or during the prayer of the faithful.

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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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Fr. Edward McNamara

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

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